Inside the Artist’s Studio: And so become yourself.
Lifelong Learning: Betty Briggs
By Derrick White
“I guess you could say retirement actually lead me on the path to being an artist. I have always loved art but life kept getting in the way, family, practical priorities, but now at age 70, I can pursue my interests. TJC is once again there for me, as it has been for the past 36 years. I think the Audit Program is a wonderful opportunity for seniors to continue to learn and enjoy the many diverse classes our community college has to offer,” encourages artist Betty Briggs. This article celebrates the non-traditional student actively involved in studio art classes and enriching the creative learning environment. Lifelong learning is seeking continuous experiences building knowledge and skills during one’s life. This is an excellent use of the fine arts for staying healthy and well mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is great for a creative studio environment to have students ranging in age. At TJC, these students discuss and exchange ideas, work socially, and volunteer collectively, and it is always interesting to see different approaches to ideas and materials. “While waiting to enroll, I enjoy visiting with seniors, and we share our interests. Besides art classes, seniors sign up to exercise at the Ornelas HPE center, while others enjoy auditing government, english, voice, history, etc.,” explains Briggs.
Betty Briggs enjoys abstract and landscape painting in acrylic and watercolor. She also works in clay and enjoys creating with her hands. She is a valuable asset to have in the studio and around campus. She is helpful and encouraging to other students. Briggs first started college in 1965 at Oklahoma State University. “I just wanted to be a housewife and mother. I was always interested in art but never got any encouragement, so I eventually dropped out and became a secretary,” recalls Betty. Eventually, Betty and her young family were brought to Tyler. A family friend suggested Betty check out TJC because it was sociable and rewarding. So when her youngest started kindergarten, she enrolled.
“Tuition for six credit hours in 1982 was $25. It was so rewarding, and I signed up for six more hours in the spring. My teachers were so encouraging, and I enjoyed learning so much I decided to go for my associate’s degree in general studies. By the time I graduated, my teachers were emboldening me to continue my education at UT Tyler. Since I didn’t have a major, I decided to major in journalism,” states Betty. Adding, “I was never urged to pursue art. So, as I worked towards my degree, I promised myself I would come back and take all the art classes I had been longing to take.”
“I occasionally returned to TJC to take classes interesting to me, from tennis to real estate and, of course, art,” informs Briggs. While adjusting to a new and independent life and taking a free TJC career workshop, the director of career planning encouraged her to go back to college and get a master’s degree. Betty earned her master’s in just over a year while working part-time at the local newspaper and adjunct teaching journalism at TJC. All of this happened because her journalism professor had come to an art exhibition and was interested in buying her ceramic piece. “I was so excited, and when I updated her, she got me a job at the paper and hired me to teach mass communication. After I received my master’s, Linda Ziegler told me there was an opening as alumni director and encouraged me to apply,” states Betty. Years later she retired and among the things on her bucket list was to come back and again take more art classes. “That is exactly what I am doing,” claims the artist. By the way, Betty had given the ceramic piece to Ziegler as a gift of gratitude and years later, after Linda passed away, her daughter contacted Betty and sent the piece back to her. “That is an example of how art changed my life, that and my very special journalism teacher. And my ceramics teacher, Nancy McCain, who taught me how to throw on the ceramics wheel,” explains Betty.
Betty finds inspiration in travel and enjoys visiting museums. She has been to the Louvre, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Getty, the Legion of Honor Museum, and the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. On a trip to Italy, she had the opportunity to saunter the streets, explore the churches, statues, ancient buildings, and magnificent fountains. Betty is a member of the Tyler Museum of Art and enjoys going to the exhibits and attending events showcasing artists.
“These classes have me painting and working in clay again. I always say I’m going to paint at home, but I never do unless it is for class. My brother-in-law, Rodger Helt, is a very talented artist who has made his living as an artist and my daughter Kristin Clement is an elementary art teacher in the Dallas Area,” states Betty. Besides starting her career at 50 as TJC’s first Alumni Director, Briggs has volunteered for everything from Blue Bird leader to fifth grade Art Mom. She has been in charge of the TJC Charitable Giving Campaign. For many years she also organized TJC employee volunteers for the United Way Day of Caring and Ringing the Bell for the Salvation Army. Betty has served on numerous boards including United Way, Sister Cities, ARK, Tyler Executive Women’s Network (TEWN), Champions for Children, and Women of Tyler.
“I enjoy being on campus again. Seeing old friends and making new friends with the students in my classes. It is always such a diverse group. Some of my classmates are very talented art majors, and some students have managed to squeeze in a fun class among their required core classes. This fall, when I once again signed up for my art classes, the TJC lady assisting me said, “I bought one of your paintings, and it’s hanging in my office,” I felt like I had just won the grand prize,” she exclaims.