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Slapping paint around: 91-year-old art teacher sparks creativity in senior adults

91-year-old Betty Nellius is renowned among fellow Buckner Villas residents for her green painter’s smock, contagious smile and passion for art.  

Betty, an art teacher of nearly seven decades, leads regular painting classes at the North Austin senior living community and inspires residents to find their inner creative voices.

“I’m delighted that I can continue to lead art classes in my retirement,” Betty said. “Some of the attendees didn’t know they had a creative fiber in their being! It’s fulfilling to watch them explore that hidden talent and see them smile when they’re happy with what they are doing.”

Betty taught high school, and even led two trips to Europe so her students could see famous works firsthand. Teaching senior adults, she said, is more about cultivating creativity than following a curriculum.

“We pick a theme or subject for the class and everyone does their own thing,” Betty said. “Sometimes residents are hesitant about trying the class and tell me they can’t even draw a straight line. But I’ll ask them this: ‘What’s pretty about a straight line?’ Nothing! Our goal is to have fun with the class anyways.”

Judy Jackson, also a Buckner Villas resident, regularly attends Betty’s classes in addition to teaching her own jewelry making classes at the community. Judy’s uncle was an artist, so getting dirty and creating something new comes naturally.

“I know I certainly get inspired when I learn new techniques or create something fun in Betty’s class,” Judy said. “There’s enough creativity going on around here for it to be dangerous!”

“We were thrilled when Betty agreed to host weekly painting classes at the community,” said Doyle Antle, executive director of Buckner Villas. “The residents really cherish these creative outlets. It’s rewarding to see so many seniors trying new things and challenging themselves in this way.”

Read more of Betty’s story featured in the Austin American-Statesman.

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