Painter of stories: EMMA artist Betsy Moakley

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“Garden Wall” painting by Betsy Moakley


By Janelle Faignant

There’s a painting of a little girl sitting on a wooden bench looking down, lost in thought. Her pensive expression contrasts the cheerful tutu she’s wearing, with a Hawaiian lei over a bathing suit.

To Betsy Moakley, there was a story there that belonged on canvas. The painting she made came from a photo of a girl whose mother she knew and contacted for permission to paint it.

“I don’t do portraits,” Moakley said. “So it’s just a picture of a little girl. I didn’t try to do her exact face or her exact bathing suit, but it’s an impression of her.” Moakley was moved by the joyfulness of her clothes and the thoughtfulness of her expression. As a painter of stories, it was the perfect subject for her.

Moakley was principal for New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut for many years before the demanding hours and stressful nature of the job gave way to retirement and opened the door to time. She painted for years, but after retiring there was more time to do it, and she joined the group of local artists in East Mountain Mentoring Artists (EMMA) a few years ago to foster her talent and interest.

“This is the first time I’m painting every week and it’s because I have the time and I’m surrounded by a lovely community,” Moakley said. “EMMA is not a competition, it’s a support group.”

The ten women meet monthly to work on their art and share ideas about workshops, marketing techniques, educational resources, technical skills, and educate one another on what’s happening in the arts. “The support and input of the other artists is very valuable,” she said. “And practice makes you better.”

The subjects of her oil paintings are scenes that evoked an emotional response in her.

“I like pictures that tell a story,” she said. “If I see a picture that moves me I want to paint it. And then I’m able to reinterpret that story to the audience.”

Facebook has been a surprising asset to her as an artist, “people post the most amazing pictures,” she said, and she will often write friends whose pictures inspire her for permission to paint them.

Her artwork is currently featured in “What EMMA Loves,” an exhibit of the group’s collective works, at the Compass Art Center. EMMA’s exhibit extends out beyond the display room and into the hall for now; it comes down at the end of the month.

The Compass Music and Arts Center is located in Park Village at 333 Jones Dr. in Brandon. (Park Village used to be the Brandon Training School, located 1.5 miles north of downtown Brandon off Arnold District Rd.)

Janelle Faignant

Janelle Faignant is a freelance writer living in Rutland.

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