November 17, 2012 6:47:47 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
"Most of us are living in the Kingdom of Stuff. Well, this is my stuff," Mary Betts Williams smiled, opening wide the door of her home in east Lowndes County. Once inside, the visitor soon understands. Mary Betts Williams has been a busy woman.
From the doorway, where a wide expanse of hand-hooked rug cushions the step, even the first room is a wonderland of hooked wool wall hangings, oil paintings, collages, mosaics and other objets d'art the largely self-taught artist and retired librarian has imagined and made with her own fingers.
Energetic and direct, Williams conducted a head-turning tour through the flowing maze of rooms filled with more and more evidence of her rampant creativity. "I never sit down and fold my hands," she said.
How does one produce such an eclectic, prolific body of work? For this octogenarian, it's thanks to a lifetime of curiosity, motivation and fearless get-up-and-go. Add to that a knack for frugality and a clever eye for turning "nothing" into "something."
Williams sat down at the kitchen table and talked a bit about it.
The kingdom more or less began about six decades ago, with rugs. The Alabama native was in her 20s, a fairly new bride, living with her now-late husband on his family farm, Valley View.
"I came from Vernon. I wanted to get away, and you see how far I got, don't you? But I fell in love with a little boy," she said, smiling.
As she adjusted to her new community and began raising a family, Williams took up rug hooking. The craft dating to early 19th century England requires pulling individual loops of wool or yarn through a stiff woven base like burlap or linen. It takes time and patience.
Before long, Williams was designing her own patterns and has never looked back. Her collection now includes personalized wall hangings, like one of Valley View Farm, populated with family members, and later ones with scenes of her grandchildren fishing and riding bicycles.
"This building in the background is where his daddy works," she said, pointing to a skyline behind a waving boy on his bike she did for one grandson.
The self-starter is happy to talk about her latest hanging -- Adam and Eve and the infamous tree of apples. Like almost all of her rugs and hangings, it's made from salvaged wool clothing or blankets she cut into strips.
"I'm a Depression-era baby, and my mother never threw anything away. I'm still just as conservative as I can be," the mother of three stated.
Studying Adam, she remarked, "I had trouble with his legs; I just couldn't get them quite like I wanted -- and then I decided he was cute bow-legged and just left it," she said, a twinkle in her eyes.
"If anybody's got any artistic something in them, it's going to come out somehow," Williams believes. There's no question her artistic spark found mutliple outlets. A major one has been oil painting. From landscapes and outdoor scenes to portraits, her canvases hang in every room. Two of her favorites are of her late mother, among her flowers, and her father, busy at his bee-keeping.
And then there are the mosaic pieces -- vases, tabletops, tall columns and large urns covered in a carnival of glass and ceramic shards. A similar project, a "memory jug," sits in the center of the kitchen table.
"It's a vinegar jug my mother saved, and I covered it in pieces of my daughter's childhood doll china," Williams explained.
Elsewhere in the house are her hand-sewn hobnail bedspreads, more than a dozen quilts, bed headboards made from reclaimed doors, furniture she's reupholstered, chairs she's re-caned, and mirrors attractively framed with "driftwood" found along the property's creek. A larger mirror in the home is ingeniously framed by a mantelpiece she found on the side of the road and refinished.
She delights in found objects. Some she spots on her daily bike rides; other finds come from yard sales.
"I've gotten some nice stuff out of garbage," she grinned.
Between the pages
Williams' 41 years as a part-time librarian at the Caledonia Library dovetailed with her unflagging interest in learning new artistic techniques.
"I was my very best patron," she stated. "I read every how-to book I could get my hands on. I've educated myself on many subjects."
Her retirement about seven years ago allowed her more time to explore possibilities. More time to spend with her husband, Gene, a retired pharmacist from Aberdeen, her children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
And there's always another project brewing in her home studio.
"For the next wall hanging, I want to do Moses in the bullrushes; that's been in my mind," she said with relish, still at the kitchen table. "And right now I'm cutting out paper dolls. I don't know what I'll do with them, but I'm going to come up with something!"
She paused, looked around, smiled and added, "It's so fulfilling to me to keep my hands busy ... and I like my kingdom of stuff."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.