Lifelong love of art: At 88, artist still has passion for her craft

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Polly Forbes sits with an unfinished watercolor at Benton House, an assisted living home in Covington where she lives.

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Polly Forbes sits with an unfinished watercolor at Benton House, an assisted living home in Covington where she lives.

COVINGTON -- Polly Forbes remembers well how she used to craft figures out of clay on the tobacco farm where she grew up. She was born with a passion and talent for art, it seems.

It would take more than 40 years before she had the opportunity to hone those skills and do what she loves professionally. Now, as she is about to turn 88, Forbes is still creating works of art and teaching others how to do so as well.

She is a resident of Benton House, an assisted living facility in Covington, where she teaches a weekly art class and paints watercolors for sheer pleasure in her small apartment. Though she can't paint as often as she'd like, Forbes finds great fulfillment in practicing her art whenever she's able.

"I have to wait until I feel like painting now. But I can't go a month without painting. I have to do something creative," she said.

Forbes began taking art classes at Rawls Museum Arts in Courtland, Va., in 1969.

"I just started taking classes, and I couldn't get enough," she said.

She started with oils, then moved on to acrylics and once she discovered watercolor, "I fell in love and forgot about the rest of it," she said.

Forbes and her fellow artists formed an art league, critiquing and encouraging each other. They were allowed to hold a free show annually at the museum in exchange for volunteering at other exhibits.

Soon Forbes was asked to teach a community art class at a local technical college. She became so prolific and successful, winning numerous awards and receiving commissions, that her hobby turned professional.

"There, if you show a certain amount and sell so many you are considered a professional," Forbes said.

She wound up opening a small business, selling paintings out of her home studio. To be so successful doing what she loved was a dream come true.

"I just think I've been the most blessed person in the world," she said.

Forbes' daughter, who lives in Social Circle, encouraged her to come to Georgia after her husband's death. She moved here in 2006, first living at Remington House in Conyers. She immediately joined the Georgia Watercolor Society and the Southern Heartland Art Guild.

It was at the guild that she met artist Elise Hammond. The two became fast friends. But Forbes' health made it more difficult for her to make it to the gallery, and she withdrew her membership. Hammond happened to be visiting a friend at Benton House one day when she ran into Forbes.

"She said, 'I want to paint with you.' I said Elise, we'll have to paint in the bathroom," Forbes recalled. "But they made a space for us."

Hammond started a monthly art class for residents that proved very popular. Soon, the staff asked Forbes to make the class a weekly event. Forbes decided that since Hammond teaches painting by having the students copy a photograph, she would teach them the basics. They are currently learning how to draw shapes.

"Some were so inhibited at first, saying 'I can't even draw a straight line.' They get so excited when they see those cylinders and squares," Forbes said.

Some residents will join other local artists in displaying their work at the April in Paris art show to be held at Benton House, located at 7155 Dearing Road, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. Forbes will not participate, as she will be on a trip to visit family. The free show is open to the public and will include wine, cheese, hors d'oeuvres and piano music.

Hammond said the show, along with the art classes, is a chance for these seniors to shine.

"Some of them have never had a chance to do art their whole lives. They're in their 80s and 90s," she said. "Sometimes you don't even know until you try something that you may have a propensity in a particular direction. Evidently, you're never too young and never too old."

Forbes knows that's true. She has no intention of giving up her passion while she can still pursue it.

"It's just so exciting. It's so exhilarating when you put that paint on the paper ... It's so fulfilling that you simply cannot think about anything else or worry about anything else while painting. I'm lucky, I'm happy and I'm fulfilled," she said.