While retirement might for some signal a time to slow down and take it easy, for former corporate executive Judy Greenwald, 85, it meant embarking on a magical new chapter in life—and fulfilling a childhood dream.
“I always wanted to be an artist, from the time I was a little child,” Greenwald, a Florida native, said. “But I was a single mother of three, and you have to make money to support a family. So I said, ‘When I retire, that’s what I’m going to do.’”
Greenwald is the featured artist at Central Vermont Council on Aging (CVCOA)’s “The Art of Creative Aging” exhibit, part of the CVCOA’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. Greenwald’s show runs Feb. 3 through March 27 at the CVCOA’s main office in Barre.
The CVCOA first introduced the exhibit in May 2010 as an annual show featuring visual artists from Central Vermont aged 60 and older. Last year, the program was reformatted into smaller exhibits focused on one or two artists at the CVCOA’s Barre office.
“We plan to continue with our new venue,” said Jeanne Kern, Director of Community Services at the CVCOA.
Before reinventing herself as an artist in Montpelier, Greenwald ran a successful Miami clothing company in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Her showroom featured “glitzy clothes,” and attracted buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and other fashion industry giants, she said.
“It got too big, I had too many people working for me,” she recalled. “I was traveling all of the time.”
After retiring at 65, Greenwald moved to Vermont to be closer to her children and took up a new craft: painting.
“I took one pastel class, and that’s all it took,” she said. “That very first class, I said, ‘This is for me.’”
Greenwald’s late-life return to her childhood interest in art is not uncommon, said Kern.
“There are so many older artists who were interested in art in their younger years, but life intervened,” Kern said. “They were raising families and focused on careers. But now that they’re retired and have additional time, they’ve rediscovered the creative aspect of their lives.”
Greenwald, who described herself as “a colorist,” said pastels are a great medium for artists who don’t want to be burdened with a lot of tools and equipment.
“I paint outside a lot, and pastels are so easy to transport,” Greenwald said. “I have a portable easel in the car, so I just grab my box of crayons—I call them crayons—and I’m ready to go.”
Inspiration for her paintings comes from pictures taken by friends and her own observations of the Vermont countryside, Greenwald said.
“I’ll drive around and see a sight that I like, or a barn,” she explained. “I’ve done abstract paintings of Woodbury Lake, little places in Waitsfield, and the shores of Lake Champlain at sunset.”
Greenwald even found inspiration in a friend’s backyard turkeys.
“Being an artist takes a lot of focus, a lot of mental acuity,” she said. “It’s something that keeps you very busy and active at my age. I’m not just rotting away on a couch, watching TV.”
Kern agreed that artistic endeavors play an important role in stimulating the aging mind.
“There’s so much focus on the problems of aging, and a tendency to deny the potential of aging,” Kern said. “These artists are taking classes, learning new techniques, taking chances. They’re playing with ideas and learning how to look at things differently.”
Taking part in central Vermont’s vibrant art community also helps ward off the dangers of reclusion, Kern said.
“There is the social aspect of taking a class with others, getting out of your homes, engaging, and breaking down that possible isolation,” she explained.
There can also be financial benefits. As Greenwald discovered, selling original art can provide a much-needed source of income for retired Vermonters.
“My paintings sell from $795 to $1,200,” Greenwald offered. “Selling my art has allowed me to stay in my house.”
Greenwald’s painting, “Something Fishy” recently won the People’s Choice Award from the Vermont Pastel Society, and the Artist’s Choice Award from the Northern Vermont Artist Association. Prints of “Something’s Fishy” and other paintings are on sale for $50 each.
“A painting is a living thing, you see it come alive, and then you see that somebody wants to buy it,” Greenwald said of her life as an artist. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It feels good.”
To purchase a painting or print by Judy Greenwald, or to commission a new work, contact Judy at email@example.com.
For more information on the Central Vermont Council on Aging, visit cvcoa.org
Artists interested in being featured in the Creative Aging exhibit should contact Jeanne Kern at firstname.lastname@example.org