A Poteet Moment

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comNovember 12, 2013 

Turn in any direction and there's a story to be told, a memory to be recalled. Betty Poteet's walls are covered with them. The Monterey Bay scene she created while sitting quietly on a bench at the little park in Pacific Grove; the Pismo sand dunes; Montana de Oro; her late husband, Gene, relaxed on a bench in Arkansas with an open bag of peanuts, shooting the breeze with a new friend dressed in striped engineer overalls with cap to match.

It's all there in her paintings ... a moment of time captured in precise and flawless detail.

Poteet had plans to become an art teacher after graduating from Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant, OK. However, all that changed with one art class.

"During my junior year in 1941, my teacher told us that we were going to work with watercolors and would need to bring a photo to class," Poteet recalled. "So I found a black and white photograph in the Sunday newspaper, cut it out and painted what I saw. It was the first painting I ever created and I got an A+."

It's ironic then, that even though she wanted more than anything to become an artist, Poteet didn't pick up a paintbrush or produce a drawing for 40 years. Life got in the way.

World War II began and she found herself working for the war effort in a Richmond shipyard. Following the war, she relocated to Fresno, which she had previously visited in 1941 during a family vacation. She married, raised two children and worked for Pacific Telephone for 25 years.

It was only after she retired that she could refocus her attention on a dream she never gave up on or forgot.

Wanting to become the best she could be, Poteet sought out the best art teachers she could find — teachers like Darwin Musselmann, Jack Fon, Jerome Grimmer, Jane Burnham, and Carlene Kostiw.

Darwin Musselmann's classes in oil painting concentrated on the basics — perspective, the color wheel, composition and the use of materials. His influence can be seen in Poteet's paintings with structures or buildings.

Her florals and still lifes show the influence of teacher Carlene Kostiw, who helped her develop a sense of design and color.

Completely by chance, Poteet began experimenting with pastels and soon discovered that they gave her the control of oils, yet had the fluidity of watercolors. Once she learned that she could work them on a special artist grade sandpaper, a special union was formed that worked well with her particular realistic style.

As her passion for painting grew, Poteet became more active in the local art community, joining Yosemite Western Artists (YWA).

In the late 60s, YWA rented out one room in the Golden Chain Theatre (the old bowling alley). In lieu of rent, the artists painted all the scenery and sets for the melodrama.

"Jane Gyer designed the sets on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, which would be blocked off in one-inch squares," Poteet recalled. "We would then create the backdrop using this guideline, where a one-inch square was equivalent to one-foot of backdrop space. The backdrops are usually painted over and over for future use, but because these particular backdrops are such beautiful works of art in themselves, they have been placed in the Golden Chain Theatre archives."

During the early 70s, Poteet served as YWA president for two-and-a-half terms. Under her leadership, the group grew from 20 to more than 100, and the old Gertrude Schoolhouse in Ahwahnee was secured, and continues to be used today, as a meeting place. As president, Poteet arranged for many well-known western artists to demonstrate or offer workshops for the organization.

Physical issues forced Poteet to slow down a bit about 10 years later, when she had three surgeries, one a year, on both shoulders and her knee. Still, she continued doing what she loved.

"I painted through my surgeries," Poteet said. "When I paint, I don't feel any pain ... I just get my paintbrush and start painting, and I go to wherever the scene is that I'm painting."

That is, until the pain just became too much to handle.

"You know, I could become very comfortable just sitting in my recliner, watching television," Poteet admitted, "but I started feeling so weak. When I went to see my doctor, he gave me a prescription for Tony (McLean, physical therapist and owner of Oakhurst Physical Therapy)."

"By the time Betty came to see me, she was in tears. She had been living with terrible pain in her right shoulder for some time," McLean explained. "She couldn't hang her clothes up in the closet, shampoo or brush her hair, or put dishes away without using both arms — her left arm having to help her right arm."

"Like many people, Betty thought that physical therapy was just lying on a table and having someone do things for you. She didn't realize that she would have to work at it."

Poteet worked hard, followed McLean's instructions and did her exercises faithfully at home. "Working together, she was able to paint again," McLean said, "and her first painting was for the staff of Oakhurst Physical Therapy — her way of saying thank you."

While Poteet has dabbled in all mediums, but acrylic (which she likens to a bucket of house paint), she considers herself today as a true transparent watercolorist. She uses no white paint. The white in her artwork is actually the paper surrounded by color to create the desired shape. The challenge of determining the white space dimensions, combined with the freshness of color, are the main reasons Poteet prefers to work with this medium.

At 93 years of age, she paints by commission only and no longer shows in galleries. However, her art is currently on display for a limited time.

"Her work can be seen at United Security Bank through Thanksgiving," Juanita Smith, YWA venue coordinator for United Security Bank said, "largely through the efforts of her friends as a way to surprise and honor her for her amazing talent and her many years of dedicated involvement in the local art community."

Some of this artwork is privately owned and had to be pulled from owner's homes to pull this event together.

"Everyone loves her art. She's like a legend around here," Jennifer Riggs, Operations Supervisor of United Security Bank said. "We're very proud to display her work. People see her name on a piece of art and they know who she is. Her intricate detail, the contrast, the leaves, the water ripples ... she's just so humble ... when she gets a compliment, she acts like 'oh, come on, I'm just painting' ... well, I put my hands on my hips and say right back 'you come on ... I can't do that.'"

"I paint because I want to paint," Poteet explained. "My troubles disappear. I don't think about getting older or my physical problems. I lose myself in my painting. It's like therapy to me.

"I'm not trying to send any messages or comments on society. I want the viewer to look at my paintings with joy ... feel what I felt ... as I share with the viewer a moment in time ...."

Poteet is the recipient of many awards, including: Society of Western Artists — San Joaquin Charter; The San Francisco Annual; Yosemite Western Artists; Fresno District Fair; Clovis Art Guild; Madera County Fair; and "A Retrospective of 58 Years" — Mariposa County Arts Council. She was also active in the Society of Western Artists, earning signature privileges.

"There's just no need to give up, no matter what age you are," Poteet summarized. "Keep doing what you've always done. If you give up, say you're sick, say you're old — you may as well get that tombstone ready."

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service