DALEVILLE — Helen Hubler always kept painting, whatever else was going on in her life, whether she was working as a lab technician or a school teacher, or creating newspaper layouts the old-fashioned way, by cutting (with a real blade) and pasting (with real glue).
"I always painted at least one day a week,” said Hubler, 82. “I always did that.” The number of paintings she’s produced over six decades can’t be easily counted. “I've done so many, and I can't even remember them,” she said.
Examples of her painterly yet photorealistic art fill the hallway outside Lackey Studio and Gallery, a year-old business recently relocated and reopened in Botetourt Plaza across from Lord Botetourt High School. Even more of Hubler’s paintings hang inside. They vividly capture everyday scenes: a waitress taking an order, tourists milling outside a historic house, an immigrant mother holding her toddler.
“People say that I have a distinctive style. I never consciously did that, it’s just what happened,” Hubler said. “It’s all just an inner feeling that I have. If someone moves me or something seems meaningful to me, a relationship, then that’s what I put in. I love faces. I love complicated faces.”
Even after 58 years with brush and easel, Hubler continues to evolve, gallery owner Cheryl Lackey said.
“I see pieces that she’s doing now and I see this new technique — they’re more colorful,” Lackey said.
Lackey is both Hubler’s friend and a huge fan of her art. Hubler is “just at the top of her game,” Lackey said.
Lackey, herself a Botetourt County artist — and a retired vice president of finance for Virginia Western Community College — said she was excited to have Hubler as her first guest artist in the gallery’s new location. A three-hour, meet-the-artist reception takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Growing up in Chicago, Hubler showed skill at drawing when she was still small. “My parents didn’t know anything about music or art or anything like that. I grew up in a Midwestern family, where none of that was considered very important. So I kind of surprised them.”
In college, she had studied to become a nurse, which did not pan out. “I was not efficient and I was squeamish.”
She married her first husband at age 22 and moved to New York City. “I said to my husband, can I take art lessons? And he said, of course. So on Saturdays, I started. And once I started painting, I never stopped.”
Quickly she encountered encouragement. “Maybe this is immodest, but the teacher said to me, you have enough talent to last you a lifetime. It was a perfect thing to say.”
She raised two daughters as she attended art school and tried her hand as a school teacher, before deciding that wasn’t a good fit and pursuing a career as a commercial artist, while teaching art to others. She and her second husband, Linwood “Bud” Hubler, moved to Buchanan from New Jersey. Her husband told her, “I just can’t stand the stress of this area anymore.” He picked the Roanoke area because he was a train buff.
Hubler landed an ad designing job with the Roanoke Times, in the days when layout was “paste-up and mechanical,” and she worked at the newspaper for 10 years. Her husband worked for the Roanoke Times as a production manager.
A U.S. Navy veteran and lifelong newspaperman, Linwood Hubler died in 2015. Helen moved to Daleville.
All the while, she painted. She mostly works from photographs.
“The subject matter is just so comprehensive,” Lackey said. “She has this ability to paint and to tell stories. You can see in the faces of people, their expressions, how she captures that. It just speaks volumes about the moment, that moment in time, that particular incident, that particular experience, and you just feel it.”
Hubler has sold many paintings, executed many commissions, and won numerous art show awards through the years. Nonetheless, she said, she’s been asked why she continues to paint when she has so many paintings already.
She replied, “Because it’s so much fun.”
'The Buddy Bridge'
Bud Grey, senior vice president at Carilion Clinic, will be giving a talk Sept. 25 at the 33rd annual gathering of the Presbyterian Women organization, with the Presbytery of the Peaks.
Grey's topic might come as a surprise. He has self-published a children's picture book, "The Buddy Bridge," illustrated by Maryland-based artist Tom Arvis, that details the fanciful adventures of a princess who travels across land and water to visit her grandparents. "The Buddy Bridge" of the title constitutes all the people, animals, mythological creatures and even sentient trees who help her along the way.
Our heroine is named "Princess Double-C," and it's perhaps not a coincidence that Grey's real granddaughter, Cece, lives in the United Kingdom. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.
One of the Presbyterian Women gathering's topics is "What My Grandmothers Taught Me." Event moderator Helen Dean thought the book "would be a nice fit," he wrote. The Presbytery of the Peaks covers 118 Presbyterian congregations in Southwest and Southside Virginia.
Anyone interested in Grey's presentation, or any other aspect of the program, which includes music, prayer and Bible study, is welcome to attend. The event is being conducted virtually via Zoom. For more information, call Dean at 362-5169.
"Everybody's very excited about the book," Dean said.