Pasadena painter Celia Poteet remembers her mother, commercial artist Elsie Cullins, creating works of art at the family’s kitchen table as she and her siblings watched.
“Mom would sit down with just a page out of a coloring book, and we would watch as she would turn that black and white drawing into something with depth,” Poteet said.
Cullins’ love of art was something she shared with her children as often as she could. Over 50 years later, the mother and her middle daughter, Poteet, are sharing their artwork with the community as featured artists through the end of February at Mountain Road Library.
The Pasadena residents are exhibiting more than 30 acrylic and watercolor paintings of still life and naturescapes. Works of bright gerbera daisies, docile sheep eating grass in a green field, rowboats on the beach, village scenes and wild white lilies are free for public viewing in the library’s meeting room.
“I think sitting around that table together drawing, it was a teaching moment without being intentional at all,” said Poteet, 62, who was surprised to discover after taking an art class that she had a talent for watercolor painting.
“She has not been studying with me for that long, but her work is at a superior level,” said senior center art instructor David Lawton of Poteet’s work.
Lawton received the 2019 Annie Award for Visual Arts, an annual award given by the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and teaches at the Pasadena Senior Center through an Anne Arundel Community College adjunct program.
Cullins, 87, had been taking classes for years from Lawton before Poteet joined the class. Lawton noticed Cullins’ sound drawing skills, gained from her professional training as a commercial artist at the Abbott School of Fine and Commercial Art, and her brief career as a commercial illustrator.
“Her strength is in her drawing from her early days at Hecht Company,” Lawton said. “That was back in the day when you actually had to draw the logos that would go in the paper.”
Cullins’ art training started well before college. She recalls sketching Clark Gable’s face on the back of a discarded envelope after one of her sisters took her to see “Gone With the Wind” in the movie theater.
“That was when I was a kid,” said Cullins. “I was so impressed … being a farm kid.”
Paper for drawing was scarce on her parents’ tobacco, grain and cattle farm. Envelopes the family received from the Department of Agriculture, once emptied of instructions on growing and canning, became her first sketch pad.
“Once my mother realized that my drawings were something, she found me some crayons and eventually some watercolors,” Cullins said.
After graduating high school in 1950, Cullins told her father she wanted to be a commercial artist. He was confused by her announcement.
“He said, ‘It seems awfully silly to go to school to learn how to draw,’” Cullins said.
She held up his daily newspaper to show him the type of advertising illustrations she would produce. Convincing her father of her decision “took some talking,” she said, but eventually, he came around.
She paid her full tuition with the $1,000 he gave each one of his five daughters before they moved out. Cullins worked as an ad illustrator after she finished school and heard from neighbors that once her work was printed in the Times-Herald, a long-ago disbanded D.C. newspaper, her father would share her illustrations with them.
During the many decades between then and now, time for art in her life was as scarce as the paper supply on her parents’ farm. Cullins married Millersville farmer James Wood and stopped making art to make a life with him. They had three children, and when James died at 40, she ran the farm with the help of the children and her mother-in-law.
She didn’t rejuvenate her connection to art until after her second husband, Billy Joe Cullins, died in 2012, but she said she always knew she would.
“In the back of my mind, as soon as I had some time, I didn’t care how old I was, I was going to start learning what I wanted to in my own time,” Cullins said.
The Mountain Road Library will have Poteet’s and Cullins’s paintings on display through the end of February.