91-year-old artist's work has a humorous touch
Betty Kimble is a first-class cartoonist known for an imaginative line of note cards that capture everyday moments in a whimsical and humorous way.
"You smile and are happy when you walk away from my work," says Kimble. "It's called happy cartooning, not silly."
Kimble has been at it for a long time.
On July 2, she turned 91 years old, making her one of the oldest artists – if not the oldest – on the island still earning a living with her art. A small birthday celebration, open to the public, was held in her honor at the island's Keep In Touch gift shop, where she can be found, the resident artist, selling and working on her notecards.
Drew for her friends
As a child in Kettering, Ohio, Kimble made paper dolls and copied games, like Monopoly, for herself and her friends.
"It was the Depression. Back in those days, if you couldn't make it, you didn't get it," says Kimble.
In school, she doodled during her lessons, sometimes attracting the negative attention of her teachers, but once her talents were recognized, she was asked to decorate the classroom chalkboards.
"I drew Santas for Christmas and turkeys for Thanksgiving and pumpkins for Halloween."
By the time she reached high school, there was little she could not draw. Kimble has never had any formal training and describes her abilities as "a God-given talent."
After the war, Kimble married, raised three boys and sketched for pleasure whenever she could find the time. Much of her art was given to family and friends. Then tragedy struck, changing her life. Kimble's husband was killed in a car accident.
Now a young widow, Kimble found a job as a secretary in an insurance office during the week and on weekends sold her art at outdoor craft shows. Her work drew a lot of attention, and as her reputation grew, she developed a client list that extended beyond the craft-show circuit and included several real estate agents, country clubs, a major department store, even the Kettering Medical Center.
Eventually, she realized that selling her art "was a lot more fun and profitable" than any day job and worked on her art full time.
Marco home studio
In 2002, Kimble moved to Marco Island, set up a home studio and began selling her art at local craft shows. But the difficulty of setting up her booth and working in the Florida climate proved too much for her and she quit doing craft shows.
One day, while mailing a package at the Keep In Touch satellite post office, Kimble found herself telling co-owners Mike Held and Jiri (pronounced Yuri) Mikulinec about her art.
One thing led to another, and soon she was selling cards at a small table in the store for a few hours each week. Her cards now fill several racks, and she is at the store three days a week in season and once a week the remaining months to meet and greet interested buyers.
"Over the years, her space and card selection have grown as the demand for her work has increased," says Held.
Kimble has "so much to pour out there is no lack of subject matter" and hundreds of designs to choose from. Flowers, dogs, occupations and hobbies, especially golfing and fishing, are always popular, as are typical Marco scenes: the Jolley Bridge, bathing beauties, sunsets, dolphins.
A lady playing a slot machine, originally designed for a Campbell soup heiress, has also been a best seller.
The cards can be purchased singly or in boxed sets of six, tied in gold ribbon and ready to give as gifts. For an extra charge, Kimble can print by hand a specific message or name in elegant calligraphy, even add more color with the touch of a felt tip pen.
For example, Marco resident Dina Jeanette bought a graduation card — a girl in cap and gown, diploma in hand — but asked Kimble to draw in long, brown hair so as to resemble the real-life graduate.
"Graduation cards, birthday cards, holiday cards — Betty has customized them all for me and I absolutely love it," says Jeanette. "In fact, everyone I send them to ends up framing them."
If a special, one-of-a-kind card is required, Kimble can do that as well, on the spot and in a matter of minutes.
One day, a customer asked for a card to memorialize the day his boat got stuck on a sandbar and his three female guests stripped to their underwear, got out and pushed. Just then a dolphin swam by and one of the woman, who was not up on differing fish species, started screaming, "Shark!" While the customer browsed through the shop, Kimble drew the scene as he described it, making sure to capture the terror on the women's faces and, of course, the clueless dolphin. The result: an original piece of artwork that delighted the boat owner and was sure to poke fun at the women.
Kimble considers Keep In Touch her second home, its owners her second family.
"I am so grateful to both Mick and Jiri," says Kimble. "They are so good to me."
Held and Mikulineo share the same feelings: "Betty's relationship with us has evolved into more than what we ever imagined it would be."
When asked if she ever plans to retire, Kimble responds, "Never, never. I might stop for a good reason, perhaps something I could not control. But I plan to keep on working; my art makes me happy."
See Betty Kimble's artwork
Keep In Touch, Shops of Marco, 135 S. Barfield Drive, 393-6300