Betty Mears’ Legacy Lives On

Betty Mears

On Sept. 8, 2011, Tacoma lost one of its more colorful residents with the passing of artist Betty M. (Margaret) Bowman Mears.  Her enthusiasm for art was unbounded as fearlessly she explored a variety of mediums, from slumped glass to enameled copper, from oils to water colors, from pottery to photography, to name only a few.  To learn more about this extraordinary, larger-than-life woman who devoted 60 years to teaching others what she had learned, I talked with Pacific Gallery Artists (PGA) artists Pat Ducolon, Mary Schossow Shumaker, Kim Shuckhart Gunns, JoAnn Dorsey-Hayden, and long-time student, Myla Montgomery as we sat around a table at Gallery Three in Puyallup.

Betty Bowman was born in 1919 and grew up on a farm in Buckley, WA during the Depression.  The family moved to Tacoma in time for Betty to attend Stadium High School.  She met and married Nelson (“Nels”) Mears who had served in WWII, one of the soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge.  When he returned home, they began their 50-year life’s journey in art.  Nels graduated from North West School of Art and attended UPS as did Betty.

Betty was eager to learn as much as she could and took classes also at TCC and PLU.  In turn, she began teaching others, hoping to instill in them the practice of laying down a feeling about the subject of a painting rather than trying to faithfully duplicate details—details are for the camera.  Eventually, her students who had heard her often enough began to think in terms of “Bettyisms:”  cool against warm, dark against light, hard against soft; put it down, hit it hard and leave it alone; the rule of nine; there is such a thing as quitting when you’re done! True artistic talent, she thought, was God-given and should be nurtured but anyone’s life can be enhanced by getting involved in some form of art.

In northeast Tacoma, Betty and Nels established a lovely home which became the base for their work, providing inspiring views and plenty of room for studio work and teaching.  In spite of their ideal setting, the Mears worked hard and were out and about, giving lectures, judging shows, traveling and teaching in over 50 countries and on 13 cruises.  In addition, they were part of the Puyallup Fair each year.  Twice a year they opened their home studio for viewing their art for either sale or rent and held seasonal sales. They traveled to different local venues, being participants, for example, in the annual juried art show and sale in Bellevue.  Twice, in 1980 and 81, Betty traveled with students to China.

Betty and Nels belonged to various professional organizations such as PGA where both were past presidents.  Betty also was a member of Women Painters of Washington,  past president of Lakewood Artists, member of Tacoma Art Museum, and National League of American Pen Women, to name a few.  In 2001 she received Pierce County’s Margaret K. Williams Arts Award for Support of the Arts.

Things changed for Betty. Her main supporter and the love of her life, Nels, passed away in 2003.  It became necessary and prudent for her to move from her long-time home to Franke Tobey Jones where she continued to give lessons.  Gradually her output lessened as she could no longer spend a whole day painting; her work day diminished to two hours and then became even shorter as her health deteriorated.  Although still driving at 92, she sadly realized that 2011 would be the first time in many, many years that she would not be putting anything into the show at the Puyallup Fair.
She bequeathed a large number of her works to PGA which is currently authenticating and preparing the work to be sold at silent auction on April 21.  In addition to leaving behind friends, a large number of former and recent students and several who have included her work in their private collections, Betty also leaves a legacy in the form of educational funds to be derived from the proceeds of the auction.

Silent Auction

A silent auction will be held on April 21 to benefit PGA educational projects.  The auction will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Franke Tobey Jones, Lillian Pratt Wellness Center, 5340 N. Bristol in Tacoma.  Refreshments will be served.  Up for auction will be many of Mears paintings as well as items from her personal collection.   For more information, contact Kim Gunns (253) 759-9298.