By Matt Monarca, The Sanford Herald.
SANFORD - "From the time I can remember, the books that have empty pages I was drawing on them, I was drawing on anything I could get my hands on, but my mother said, 'nice girls don't become artists.'"
Those are the words of Yvonne George recalling her youth and her love for the arts that were, in a sense, repressed until her later years.
"(My mom) was very old school and adamant and I became a nurse. I was a registered nurse and got married shortly after graduation and had four kids and was a stay-at-home mom basically. I tried going back to nursing periodically, but me and my husband felt very strongly that raising the children was the most important thing, but they all turned out well so it was worth the effort."
George now teaches at Central Carolina Community College, offering several painting classes that are critically acclaimed by students. She has also been involved with the Brush and Palette Club in Sanford and was elected artist of the year in 2016. Although many in Sanford know her for her talents with a brush, her history in the arts started in a different medium after her move to Florida in 1972.
"We moved to Florida in '72 for a job change for my husband and I found out the following year that the community college was right down the road," George said. "I thought, hmm, all the kids are in school, now is the time to do something for myself and I took four years of studio classes there. I took painting seven times. I took everything, printmaking, sculpture, woodworking, everything."
George's artistic skills thrived in several mediums, but her artistic mastery began in the medium of clay.
"In my third year I walked into the clay studio one day and I saw someone working on the wheel and was mesmerized and I had to learn how to do that, so the next 30 years I did clay," she said. "I was in galleries across the country from California all the way to the East Coast. I worked with interior designers, some big names. I had one of my pieces in the Fisher Island malls. That was probably a highlight in Florida. In Texas I got involved in the ceramic league there, so I was pretty much just doing clay. When we moved back to Florida near Orlando, I got involved with Arlington Builders and worked for them doing sinks, tiles, fireplaces, anything clay."
Her intricate works are placed inside of several beautiful homes in Florida and she recalled one home selling for $2.3 million, a surprise to her. Although she loves the work, she realized she was getting too old for the labor-intensive art and lifting the 25-pound bags of clay around. Upon moving to Sanford she sold her clay equipment except for the kiln, which she uses to make jewelry, another craft she taught herself and excels in.
"I'm more excited by the newer challenges," George said. "I did that for 30 years so enough is enough. Now I'm enjoying the challenge of learning pastels to the point where I can teach them well. I will keep going until I can barely lift the brush anymore." ...
Despite never planning to teach, George has enjoyed every minute of this new experience. Her career in nursing allowed her to open up and easily socialize. She makes friends easily with her lively spirit and creates a great atmosphere for those to thrive in their art.
"I have a passion for it. Some people will say, 'well I can't draw a straight line,' I say, 'anyone can be an artist, how good an artist is another story.' Some of that comes from talent. You can learn so much in art if you want to do art. Some people don't do it until they retire. That's stupid, do it your whole life. Why not do it your whole life?" said George.
George teaches students of all skill levels, those with no experience at all to retired teachers looking for time to paint.
"The first thing is to have fun and while they are having fun I teach them the basics. It is all done on an individual level," she said. "I don't have a class of beginners. I have a class of some that have never done anything before and some that have been with me for eight years, so I have to find a common ground. I'm around to each person many times during a class. I just try to get them to enjoy themselves. I also teach alcohol inks to help free them up. The first class I usually do that. I say this is just color, play with it, put it on paper and pour it and see what happens. Sometimes they say, 'I see,' and go in there, a cloud in there and they get in to it and it loosens them up so they aren't so intimidated by art."
George includes a show-and-tell at the end of the class that everyone has to participate in and they are only allowed to point out the positives of the work before they criticize or make suggestions.
George now paints regularly in every medium, including watercolor and alcohol inks. She is a part of the Pastel Society of North Carolina and has a piece that will appear in the show in Charlotte. She relies on photography for her paintings, taking photos of anything she finds interesting and welcomes photographer friends to send her photos that they think may be a good subject for her to paint. George is interested in painting any type of subject and has recently taken an interest in old rusted cars and has taken several photos of them in preparation to paint them.
"We all have a story and I look at these old jalopies rusting on the side of a field and think what is the story behind it. Who had it, what did it do, where did it take them? My mind isn't capable of keeping up with all the things I want to paint," said George.
The arts and college community hold a deep appreciation for George and her dedication to the arts. She was an active participant in helping develop the art scene in Miami Beach, Fla., during its pivotal moments.
George was surprised how much energy the arts could create in a city and hopes Sanford will invest a little more into creating affordable spaces for local artists.
At the age of 98, George's mother was finally able to see why her daughter held this passion.
"I have to laugh because she didn't see much of my art until the year before she died," George said. "I was taking work to a gallery in Morehead City and I had about eight or nine paintings in the car. We were sitting around and I said, 'I went to the gallery and brought some paintings.' We started talking about that and I said, 'you have never seen any of my paintings have you?' I said, 'would you like to see some?'
"I brought her this big painting and she sat it up and looks up at me and says, 'this is beautiful,' so I had a laugh. My mother loved everything pink and I hate pink. I had this painting of a double iris, which was pink on a dark background. She fell in love with that. She finally did get to see my artwork and she finally did understand and appreciate that, yeah, maybe there is something there."
Matt Monarca, The Sanford Herald. Yvonne George has been teaching at Central Carolina Community College for nine years. She welcomes those of any skill level to her classes and offers a class in any medium.