Elizabeth “Betty” Loehle, 90: Artist was ‘bold and adventurous’

Betty Loehle wasn’t afraid to try different things.

In life and in art, Loehle was “bold and adventurous,” said her son, Alan Loehle, of Decatur

As a young woman, she challenged tradition when she left Montgomery, Ala. to pursue an art degree in Nashville, Tenn., her son said. And she managed to have a career and a family in a time when it was not commonplace for mothers to work outside the home.

“Those were pretty bold moves for her, coming from her background,” Loehle said of his mother. “She was part of a generation of women that were navigating, in their own way, how to juggle family and dedication to a career. That is something we take for granted today.”

Loehle found that balance and it made her happy, said her daughter, Lynn Bell, of Little Rock, Ark.

“She was a great mom and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in that house,” Bell said. “She had a really good work and home life.”

Elizabeth Barnes Loehle, called Betty by most, died Dec. 6 in her residence at the Montclair in Decatur, of complications from heart failure. She was 90. No services are planned at this time. A.S. Turner & Sons was in charge of cremation arrangements.

While the former Betty Barnes was enrolled at the Harris School of Art in Nashville, she met Richard Loehle, who was also an art student. By the time she graduated, military service had moved him to China. So she moved to New York.

“She didn’t know a soul there,” her son said. “That is another sign of her adventurous spirit. And she would have stayed, except my father proposed.”

The couple married in Decatur in 1948 and moved to Chicago, where they worked as artists for 19 years. They returned to Decatur in 1967 and continued raising their four children while producing art. The couple was married for 63 years before Richard Loehle died in 2011.

Art was something Betty Loehle “just had to do,” her daughter said. Her mother frequently had art displayed in the former Abstein Gallery and did custom work for private homes and corporate clients.

“She could just see things, things other people don’t notice or take for granted,” Bell said.

And she could be inspired by everyday objects, her son said, remembering a series of crushed beer and soda cans his mother painted. Loehle’s paintings varied from abstract to photorealism.

“She felt free to try different approaches,” Alan Loehle said. “And she not only used color as an expressive force, but also the substance of paint itself, the brushstroke.”

Betty Loehle was in her 80s when she finally had to put down her brushes, her daughter said. Loehle’s sight was failing, but her will to create was still strong.

“But even then, she still managed to get her work into one last art show,” Bell said. “That’s kind of neat. And if her vision hadn’t been going, I think she would have gone on painting as long as she could.”

In addition to her daughter and son, Loehle is survived by sons Craig Loehle, of Naperville, Ill. and Bruce Loehle-Conger, of River Falls, Wis.; and six grandchildren.

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