By Luke Voogt
Anne Bell’s 85-year artistic journey began at age five with a special gift from her grandmother, Catherine McKenzie.
“At Christmas time I had a granny who gave me a tube of paints and off I went,” said the Belmont local, who will turn 90 during her latest exhibit.
Even at an early age, growing up in East Gippsland, Anne knew painting was her calling.
“I announced to a very startled pair of parents – who were very good farmers but far from any form of visual arts – I was going to be an artist,” she said.
“And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
Her love of art grew during home schooling by correspondence and learning to spell words.
“If the word was cat you drew a cat beside it,” she said. “That kind of illustration starts something.”
Anne shone as a child prodigy at the Royal Melbourne Show, entering the adult pastel section after winning under 12 art prizes.
“(I) took that as well!” she said. “It was quite a shock!”
She became a teacher but had to give up the profession for several years after the birth of her first child in 1955.
“I came through at the time when if you were pregnant, and you had even the slightest bump, you had to resign,” she said.
But she continued her artistic pursuits, selling paintings overseas and even to a ballistic missile engineer in Alice Springs, while her husband worked there as a padre.
“I’m certainly not a grandma Moses!” she said.
“I’ve had more than seven years training (in art) – longer than the average GP!”
But Anne has nothing but respect for modern medicine and the doctors who have kept her painting through cataract surgery on both her eyes.
“I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many paintings I’ve done – hundreds,” she said.
“You’ve got a modern 90-year-old here – I’ve never been busier in my lifetime. Oh wait – yes I have – when I had five children.
“I’m going to paint as long as my sight and my health carry me.”
She will display 56 paintings, many of them new, at Shearers Arms Gallery from 18 March to 15 April as the Geelong Art Society’s Artist of the Month.
The exhibition tells Anne’s life story in paint and shows her love for the unique landscapes of Australia.
“I know Australia very well,” she said. “My husband and I have caravanned all the main roads.”
But most of all, Anne hopes her story can get some support for her beloved Geelong Art Society.
“It’s a very, very valuable asset,” she said. “We don’t get the coverage that footballers and sportspeople get.”
Age is no barrier to art or following a life passion, she adds.
“We’ve got a lot of interesting 90-year-olds doing things.”