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Granny Takes an Art Class

My Journey with Elizabeth Layton

Although it was nearly 40 years ago, I remember seeing Elizabeth Layton’s drawings for the first time as if it were yesterday. I was a young reporter for The Herald newspaper in Ottawa, Kansas, when I saw two of these drawings. They made me laugh and cry at the same time. Drawings of an old woman with big green eyes that reached out to me.

Then, I learned from her art teacher at Ottawa University that Elizabeth Layton was 68 years old and taking her first art course. This, I realized, would be a good story for my newspaper, “Granny Takes Art Class.” Meeting her, however, I realized that this was more than a one-time story for the Ottawa Herald. It would be my life.

When the story appeared in The Herald, I had also arranged for a dozen of her drawings to be shown at the local library. Visiting her weekly, I learned more of the story. She had been depressed half her life and undergone shock treatments. Learning to draw helped to cure her depression. It was gone six months after she began drawing by looking at herself in a mirror and drawing not only what she saw but what she felt.

I was able to arrange for one-person exhibitions of her work in about 160 museums across the country, including the Smithsonian. And I was able to get coverage of her in Life, People and Parade magazines, as well as NPR and Good Morning America.

She and I had an understanding and a mission.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.