82 years old and still going strong
When you see Charlene Welker for the first time, you feel you’ve seen her before. A pair of soft, blue eyes welcomes you cordially with an unspoken language from behind dainty, metal-framed glasses. A face full of time-etched lines of laughter breaks into a half-smile.
And you feel connected at once.
What Welker’s humility belies, however, is her unusual artistic abilities and zest for life. At 82 years of age, she’s an active painter, as well as a new author, busy marketing her first book, a memoir.
On a 32-acre-property on the San Juan Ridge, Welker’s studio stands at a distance from the cottage where she’s lived with her husband since 1955. The interconnecting dirt road winds uphill – a path she negotiates almost every day without any support. Inside her studio – a cozy bungalow where her eldest daughter, Glenna Shields, lives with her two cats – Welker merrily shows you paintings from her various series.
“I cover everything from portraits to landscapes to whatever I think will make a good painting,” she said.
Welker has painted series on moths, on the women in her family, on mountains, on old cars … the list goes on. She is now all set to do a fresh series on underwater life.
“We have a neighbor who does underwater diving, and he showed me some of the beautiful pictures he took,” she explained. “And he’s given me permission to paint from there. I always get permission.”
Painting is an old passion of Welker’s. Though raising her four children – three daughters and a son – and looking after her farm compelled her to take a sabbatical from paint and canvases, she did pursue her interest “on and off.”
At one point, Welker, a lover of fall colors and an admirer of Rembrandt, even enhanced paintings of Thomas Kinkade in her studio.
“Kinkade brought his stuff to a studio in Nevada City where my daughter worked, and I picked it up from there,” she said, admitting she never met the artist in person.
Over the years, Welker has maintained a surprising commitment to her craft.
“She is just so excited about it and anxious to do something new,” said Ann Bandimere, artist and friend of Welker. “She tries different mediums. She focuses on something and does not give up on it till it looks real and beautiful.”
Before she got busy writing her autobiography, Welker used to get up early in the morning every day to paint, her daughter recalled. This went on for almost a period of eight years. In fact, her enthusiasm led her to even attend a workshop from 2002 to 2004 taught by Martin Bettin, an artist in Brownsville.
“She was so enthused to be a better artist that she would drive over an hour to my class,” Bettin recalled. “And in wintertime, some of those roads are snowy and rainy. For a woman of her age, she may be old in body but young in spirit.”
Indeed, there is more to Welker than her art. She is one of the founding members of the North San Juan Senior Center.
“She is a beautiful soul,” Bandimere said. “She struggled through life a lot, as far as they came up here, bought property and built their house. It wasn’t easy to do that.
“She’s always there to help with any project that is to be done in the community. She is just a good person.”
Welker’s memoir, titled “Make it, make it over, make do, or do without,” recounts colorful details of her life – from her childhood during the Depression to the present, where she has nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. After undaunted efforts by Welker to ensure the book reaches the right audience, it will soon be available at Booktown Books & Tomes in Grass Valley.
“I guess (I’ve) just (been) eating right and living right,” Welker said, about her energy and stamina. “I guess the doctors are doing a good job.”
To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros @theunion.com or 477-4229.
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