At almost 96, Barbara M. Collins has painted across two centuries. An Orange County, Virginia resident, she has traveled the world and with her watercolors, she has explored its wonders and its secrets. “Once our children went away to college, my husband and I signed up for an oil painting class. I went on and took another class. And another.”
After raising four children, she was eager to travel. She combined that interest when she saw an advertisement for a five-week painting trip in Umbria, Italy. “We stayed in a former monastery, painted every other day, and toured the countryside. The teacher was from Bristol, Virginia. They drove us into the hills in a van to paint, complete with picnic lunches. At the end of the trip, they invited me to visit their daughter in Rome.”
La Romita was the first of a dozen painting trips where Collins learned how to convey light and shadows to evoke the unique character of a location by painting en plein air. “My favorite trip was Greece. Carolyn led two of those trips. A veteran of 20 years, she knew the islands and took us to tiny harbor towns.”
By that time, Collins’s paintings were being accepted into the Virginia Watercolor Society annual show. The third show acceptance results in your being honored as ‘an artist member’ of the association. Before each show opens, the juror describes her/his selections from slides. Collins remembers one juror’s comment about her painting of a friend’s Vermont house and orchard. “This painting is just pure, beautiful watercolor.”
“I loved the group. No meetings, a week of classes before the annual show and one big awards banquet. My paintings were accepted for the shows at Virginia Tech, Bristol and Abingdon.”
Once Collins moved to Virginia, she worked as a school librarian. A founding member of the Central Virginia Watercolor Society, she prepared the newsletters and helped organize local shows. The group drew artists from the Harrisonburg and Charlottesville area.
A great fan of the Olympics, Collins traveled to five summer Olympics, including Moscow, Barcelona and Korea, where she began to create travel postcards as presents for friends and family.
In 2014, the Art Center in Orange published a book of her watercolor postcards that depicted Christmas scenes around the county, paintings that spanned her thirty years as a resident there.
Her paintings have won prizes in Harrisonburg and Fredericksburg. But Collins insists that the friendships from her painting career are the true gold. “Nancy Browning and I carried paintings in my little Subaru over to the Blue Ridge school shows. Millie Lane invited us to lunch and to paint by her pier at Lake of the Woods. Jean Dobie, a nationally recognized watercolorist, and I painted in Provence.” Collins describes those days as ‘work.’ “Jean wouldn’t even break for lunch. I would go and get us both sandwiches. She could paint two or three paintings a day and go back to the B & B and paint some more.”
Collins last painted with the Blue Ridge Artists in Culpeper, VA where her paintings sold in fundraising auctions for $350 to $600.
Because Collins celebrates her 96th birthday in June, the TAG show is priced to reflect her ‘downsizing’ of her home studio. Her framed paintings will be offered at $96 each and matted paintings at two for $96.
Still in her own home, planting tomato seeds and watching for bluebirds, she says she feels better than she’s ever felt. Behind her, her first heart attack lastAugust. Ahead, whatever adventure lies in store.
Her latest show opens at The Prince Street gallery in Tappahannock on Thursday May 26 with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and runs through July 5.