Painting "God's Children": An Interview with Artist Betty Ludwig

Betty Ludwig- I have pancreatic cancer. The tiredness, the weariness (and) pain, they're there all the time. It isn't something that goes away, it isn't something you can build up for, it's just there all the time. And that's the way it works. You just get more and more tired, and one day, they say, you just go to sleep. And that's the way it works. So, if that's the way it goes, I'm not too scared.

It's easy enough to be frightened, but it's a better thing to be strong, and try to accept each day as it comes. We had a son who died of a brain tumor a couple of years ago, and I wish anybody and everybody could know the way he lived. He lived as though every moment counted, he enjoyed every moment as much as he possibly could.

JG- Sitting at Betty's bedside, I asked her how she first became interested in painting.

BL- I've always wanted to do something to let people know that I'm a Christian, and when I started doing all the portraits, I figured every portrait no matter how old or how young the person is, is a child of God. And that was where it all came from.

JG- When did you start painting?

BL- Probably around 1972. When I was a little girl, I remember wanting to paint portraits; I don't know why, I had no idea. In 1972 we lived in Mentor, and there was a little shop called Pencil and Brush, run by Dottie Guisart, and she all types of art and I went in there, and she gave me the where-with-all to get started, and watched me, and if I needed help, gave me the help I needed. She's a great believer in letting people learn for themselves.

JG- Describe to me a couple of the paintings that are on display today.

BL- Probably the major one I would describe would be "Old Man With a Violin." For some reason or another, it just took off on it's own. It has more detail than just about any of the other paintings, and yet when I was doing it, it was just like the strokes came naturally, and there was nothing I could do that was wrong - everything went right.

JG- How many paintings do you have on display here?

BL- I don't really know.

JG- Have you had other displays or other shows?

BL- Never, never. These pictures have all been stuck in a corner in our house and I never dreamed of having a show - this was the farthest thing from my imagination. When I first went out there I was so pumped up, I thought I was going to last the whole day. Then a little while later, I found that I just couldn't go any farther. I had to rest for awhile. It feels overwhelming, overwhelming. People are so kind and so nice, and they've said such nice things to me - I just feel like I owe everybody something, and I just don't know what to give them.

JG- Up until how recently had you been painting?

BL- Until about five or six years ago. We started to have some family problems, physically and so forth, and I just couldn't do it anymore.

JG- Do you still feel sometimes that there are paintings in you that haven't come out?

BL- Oh yeah, oh yeah. I find myself wishing more and more that I had spent more time painting, and wish that I had the energy right now to do it. I'd be in my glory. I'd love it.

JG- When you became ill, did you think about other things you might have wanted to paint?

BL- Probably. I makes you think about everything in your life that you could have done, and haven't done, and certainly this is one of them. But the one thing I'm glad about is raising my children.

JG- Are any of them artists?

BL- Some of them have a great deal of artistic ability, but they're busy with their own lives, doing their own things, and not showing any interest in doing any artwork right now.

JG- If you could paint one more portrait or picture, do you have any idea of what it might be?

BL- Oh my goodness, what a question. One of the things that I've regretted most is that I didn't paint more of my family. That would take in alot more that just one painting. It would probably run along those lines, starting with the family - the best life was raising my children - it was the most meaningful to me.

JG- Connie Krug is an art therapist at Hospice of the Western Reserve. In addition to spending several days and nights putting this show together for Betty and her family, she's also created a number of books containing photos of Betty's work, to be presented to her children.

Connie Krug- The book is the beginning of our work together. When I first met Betty, I saw her paintings before I saw her, this was about five weeks ago. And I realized that she was, in all likelihood too ill to create a body of work that was new, and she had twenty or more paintings in her home. So I offered the idea of her creating a legacy for her children with photographs of the paintings, she was extremely eager to follow up on this idea. And so what transpired over the next couple of weeks, and I really worked quickly for her because I felt that I really wanted her to see at least one copy of the book before she died, so I photographed in natural daylight, all the pictures that she had painted, and then we created this little book with a color photograph of each of her paintings. She wanted all of the little children to be together, and there are several paintings of adults, and it finishes with some landscapes. Betty's not one for flowery words, she didn't ever title her paintings, she's "just plain and simple" as she told me. She just wrote a very brief dedication of the book to her family. She says:

"I have no desire to say anything about the paintings. They are just images that I liked and collected. While many of them were inspired by photographs of people of many cultures, I did not paint with this intention. I call them God's Children, because they are from all over the world. I dedicate this book to my family for all your loving support. As always, with love, Mom."

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