Senior artist's life is a colorful mosaic

News-DemocratOctober 6, 2013 

Charlotte Turley doesn't consider herself an artist.

But her guitar mosaic is good enough to be part of Southwestern Illinois College's Senior Art competition and exhibit Oct. 11 to 16.

"The artwork caught our attention, because the media and the abstract style was so unconventional," said Nicole Dutton, Schmidt Art Center curator and facility coordinator. "Aside from its unique qualities, the execution of the composition was very successful."

Charlotte is one of 64 artists.This is how it came about.

"I just sat her down with a bunch of National Geographics," said daughter Judy Smith, a Realtor with Wooff Realtors. "I said, 'You can do that yourself. It's simple. You can't make a mistake. If you put a color on and don't like it, put another color over it."

"The whole thing is a mistake," said Charlotte, 92, who shares a sunny Edwardsville townhouse with her daughter, and their dog, Scruffy, a Shih tsu-poodle mix. That morning, they displayed the 11-by-14 mosaic on a wrought-iron stand.

Charlotte is sweet, sometimes teasing. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago, after she fell and broke her leg.

"The trauma of that, the surgery, the painkillers. It took such a toll," said Judy.

"I have no balance," said Charlotte, who walks with a cane.

"Pretty shortly after, I noticed," said Judy. "I thought, 'We are on our way to a real interesting journey.' It can change minute to minute."

Judy's daughter Kelly Rayman helps out a couple days a week. So does granddaughter, Carly Bank, 19. A mosaic they had worked on gave Judy the idea.

"I did help her with the guitar, but I am over 70 and certainly qualify," said Judy, who also has a son, Chris, who lives in Nashville, Tenn. "I sketched the guitar in, and she started on the background. My daughter-in-law plays the guitar. That was our original purpose. 'We will send it to Sara.'"

Charlotte Lucille Holley Turley grew up in East St. Louis during the Great Depression.

"It wasn't easy, but we didn't know it," said Charlotte.

"You have never had anything but wonderful things to say about your childhood," said Judy. "You have never complained."

"What good does it do to complain?" said Charlotte, who remembers complaining aout her two younger brothers. "I asked Mom why she did it. We didn't need another kid. One kid was enough. She said, 'What if we would have said that about you?'"

One brother was 11 months younger, the other, seven years younger.

"They are the main people you talk about now," said Judy, "your brothers and your mom and dad. She was a tomboy. She used to fight all their fights for them."

Charlotte's dad was a streetcar man.

"Part of the time he was on what they call the extra board," said Judy. "He would go in. If he didn't come home, they knew he was working that day and that they would have something good for dinner.

"If he did come home, they didn't care if they had peanut butter, he was such a fun guy."

Charlotte attended Morrison Grade School, Clark Junior High, both Eastside and Lincoln high schools and a couple semesters at University of Illinois.

"She had a beautiful voice," said her daughter. "She was director of the choir for years at a Baptist church in East St. Louis."

"Southern Missionary Baptist Church," said Charlotte. "I thought I was pretty smart standing up there singing. That was so many years ago."

Now, she's a Jehovah's Witness.

Charlotte's Alzheimer's symptoms come and go.

"Sometimes, there are periods that are really sad," said Judy. "Something misfires. She won't know who she is or where she is for a few minutes. We talk it through a little bit. Change the subject. Get busy.

"So far, it's manageable. That's the best you can say about it."

A sense of humor carries them through.

"If you lose your sense of humor and can't laugh, those are the days that get grim."

Judy's bedroom is on the lower level. Charlotte is up before her, sometimes trying to make breakfast.

"When I come upstairs, I see the sign, 'Keep calm and walk the dog.' Some days, I am able to and sometimes not."

Sometimes, mother and daughter play cards.

"Her real love is cards," said Judy. "Our family always played pinochle. Now, it's 500 rummy."

What does Charlotte like about playing cards?

"I like to win."

"When it comes to playing cards, she still has that down pat," said her daughter, sitting across from her. "She was someone who never did arts and crafts or sewing. It's been a real challenge to get her interested in something."

Like creating another mosaic.

For inspiration, a vase of flowers sat in the middle of the table. Plastic bags held cut-up magazine pieces.

"When you are finished, it will be a vase of white tulips," Judy told her mom.

"No," said Charlotte. "One time was enough."

A few minutes later, Judy opened a bag of cut-up colored magazine bits, and handed one to her mom.

"Put a little glue on it," she said.

Charlotte pressed the piece into place.

If you go:

What: Life Experienced -- A Senior Art Competition. More than 60 artists, ages 60 to 92, took part. Awards range from $50 to $200. Artists include sculptor Herm Griesbach, Bob and Jill DeFrates, of Picture Eye Gallery, and watercolor and Michael Anderson.

Where: Schmidt Art Center on the SWIC Belleville Campus, 2500 Carlyle Ave.

When: Oct. 11 to 16; public reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday; award ceremony at 7 p.m.

Categories: Painting, drawing and prints, fine crafts, photography and sculpture

Art Center Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays

Information: 618-222-5278, or visit

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