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Art goes on for the Rockwood Three: Best friends devote talent to the church

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By Katie Hogin

Rockwood’s Fran Scandlyn Henley and Kay Lamb have been blending painting and friendship for more than 50 years.

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“She and I are best friends,” Henley said. “And we painted together all these years, since the early ’50s. And we have never, never been mad at each other. Now that’s pretty good.”

Something else that’s pretty good is their artwork. The two, along with Henley’s niece, Anne Powers, are helping raise funds for Rockwood Christian Church by selling notecards that feature their works.

The work of another friend, the late Virginia Bilbrey, will also be included on the notecards.

“Virginia’s gone now, but she was a member of the church, and Anne is, and Fran and I are,” Lamb said. “So it’s just the four members to paint in the church or had painted,” Lamb said. “We donated our pictures to the circle (Fellowship of Christian Women), and they’re doing this to make money for the circle because they do a lot of good.”

Henley and Lamb have been as close as sisters since 1956, when Henley moved from Harriman to Rockwood, about three doors down from Lamb.

When they started painting together, they each painted “The Blue Door,” a kind of paint-by-numbers lesson they ordered.

“We sort of inspired each other, really,” Lamb said.

“I had always doodled, but I had never actually painted,” she added. “I poster painted, but I really hadn’t done a whole lot with it. And then when she moved in there and she was interested in it, and I was, we kind of went together.”

“I can’t say enough about her,” Henley said. “She’s just a wonderful person.”

Started young

While attending a small, two-room grammar school in Emory, Henley, 83, was introduced to art by her teacher, Alice Hembree, who encouraged her to create using various media at a young age.

“She’d let us go out and paint the flagpole or paint something outside,” she recalled.

Henley shows off her first painting on oil cloth, produced around fifth grade from what she said looked like a calendar photo.

Henley’s love of art was also influenced by her cousin, Billy, and brother, Herschel.

“When we were kids, he’d (Billy) entertain me forever just sitting around drawing, like rabbits and ducks or a certain kind of duck, even.”

Painting is not always easy.

 “It can be very frustrating ... But I like that part of it, being able to solve problems and watch how the paint flows on the paper or how you put the colors down, and they flow together. It’s just so exciting to be able to do that, I think,” she said with a laugh.

Working with acrylic, her favorite medium, Henley prefers abstract work.

“It’s more fun. And it’s harder actually, if you really want to know,” she said, adding that the artist has to be aware of composition and how the colors blend.

When it comes to painting “representationally,” she said, “It’s almost as if I’m painting by number when I do realistic paintings now — if you want to call it realistic — representation, we’ll say, representational paintings,” she clarified. “I don’t enjoy it as well.”

There’s another difference: Henley prefers the abstract, Lamb does not.

The two friends took oil painting night classes from a number of teachers, including Kermit Ewing in Harriman and Anita Woods in Knoxville, where Bilbrey joined them. The trio became known as the “Rockwood Three.”

“We had a really wonderful time, though, because our husbands were compatible,” Lamb said. “We did everything together. They were so supportive of us, the whole way.”

Years of work on the wall

“Would you like to see some of my paintings?” Lamb asked. “Just look. These are all my pictures.”

The years of creating art can be seen on the walls of the painters’ homes.

Lamb looked through all her paintings and showed one she made of White’s Creek and a barn, along with a watercolor painting used with salt to soak up the color. Another painting depicted the Crossville train station, one of the scenes on the note cards the church is selling.

“This is one I’m working on now that I like. This one here,” she said, pointing to the canvas set up on a table easel. The nature scene fills the canvas and includes what looks like a creek bed.

“I’m looking at it now because I may work on it, and I may not,” Lamb explained. “You know, it depends. I like to sit it for some time and really study it before I decide to go on with it or not because you can overwork something if you’re not careful. I either lean it up against the TV on the floor and look at it, or I leave it here” on the easel.

Lamb has worked with various media through the years. She enjoyed working with oil paints the best, though she was not fond of the strong smell and mess that comes from it. Now she works mainly with acrylic.

Lamb took care of her husband, who suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy for nine years before he died in 1994. She had a hospital bed set up in his room, and she didn’t leave unless she had someone else sit with him.

“I would paint awhile until I got kind of bored, and then I would do my genealogy,” she recalled. “I did that so I never got bitter about being tied down all those years. I was very happy doing what I did. Besides, he had taken very good care of me, and it was time for me to take very good care of him. So, it worked out beautifully.”

“That’s really the story of my painting.”

The notecards featuring the works of Henley and Lamb are on sale in sets of 10 at Live and Let Live Drug Store and Home Made in Rockwood. They may also be purchased by contacting Regina Durham at 354-5140.