by Barbara Sherf
Flourtown artists Betz and Jim Green met at Tyler School of Art and have been making beautiful creations for 40 years since then.
Blessed with two grown children, a son and a daughter, and two grandchildren, Jim is blunt when he says, “The only good thing I got out of the four-year art school education is my wife.”
Jim, 62, admits he felt pressure to provide for his family, so he put down his palette and joined his father in the family sheet metal business.
“I liked working with my hands, and my father was truly an inspiration, employing dozens of workers and running a successful company,” Jim said while sitting in front of a canvas in his studio.
On the side, he pursued sculpting and then turned to impressionistic oil painting.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night and paint or sculpt for three or four hours, where time would fly, before going off to work in the morning,” Jim said. “The creativity just takes over.”
Eventually, Jim bought into his father’s business, which employed up to 30 workers in its heyday. After the economy turned south in 2009, Jim decided to close the business and retire in 2014.
Betz, 60, says there had been no question in her mind: She’d always known she would be an artist.
“As a kid, I would get pencils and papers and just draw, and if I got a good teacher who was interested in art, then that was a good year,” she said.
At Tyler, Betz was introduced to a method called silverpoint by professor Chuck Schmidt, who was well known for his skill in the ancient art form. Using silver wire inserted into a stylus, a silverpoint artist must be meticulous as she drags the wire across a specially prepared surface without the ability to erase the resulting lines, as one would with a graphite pencil.
Betz is always collecting objects that can be used to create art.
“I’ve amassed many of nature’s small scale castoffs, such as tiny animal skulls and skeletons, seed pods, discarded birds’ nests and eggs, insect casings and beetles, along with beach finds like crab claws, shells and seaweed. I make drawings of these relics using silver wire combined with other mediums to create portraits with story lines, emphasizing the intriguing qualities of decomposition. The tarnishing silver contributes to this illusion, as does the mottled, freely-torn collaged paper background.”
The couple married young, and Betz started participating in art shows and doing house and children’s portraits. She also painted covers for Montgomery County Town and Country magazine and worked for poster companies, and she co-founded the advocacy group Montgomery County Guild of Professional Artists. Working with metals ran in Betz’s blood, as her father, grandfather and uncle were all metallurgists (scientists who specialize in metals). Her dad even taught her how to weld and solder.
For several years, Betz designed stained glass windows, an activity that involved the use of copper and lead and her soldering skills. But in more recent years, she has reconnected with her retired professor and a few fellow Tyler graduates who were interested in pursuing work with metal and silver. For kicks, Betz has added pastel colors to her silverpoint work. Betz’s artistry has graced the walls of many local exhibit spaces, among them Chestnut Hill Gallery, Artman House in Ambler and Immaculata University in Malvern. She has also worked as a drawing instructor at Woodmere Art Museum.
While Betz had more experience, Jim is catching up with her through his colorful, impressionistic oil paintings depicting regional landscapes, quirky character portraits and the occasional still life. “People either love the subtle beauty of decomposition or turn away to look at Jim’s whimsical pieces,” Betz said. “The difference between our works is if I drew a vase, I would do a portrait and paint what I see and Jimmy would do a colorful impression, his interpretation. But as they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
The pair exhibited at the 2018 Montgomery County Studio Tour in the Ambler Activities Center, where they also teach once a week.
“When people ask our advice on becoming an artist later in life, we tell them to look at books, go to museums to see what they might want to try and then to experiment,” he said. “You need to try several mediums like watercolor, painting, drawing, stained glass, woodworking or sculpture. There is something you will find a passion for, and when you do, just run with it.”
For more information on Betz and Jim Green, visit betzgreen.com or artbyjimgreen.com. Flourtown author, speaker and writer Barbara Sherf tells the stories of businesses and individuals. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corp. for Aging.