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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 67

Bertie Stroup Marah, continuing her amazing life story, tells how she took to watercolor painting.

I stopped at the house one day on my way from Union Carbide to my shift at our liquor store. I wanted to check that the boys had something for supper before driving to Fruita. The day before, Larry and I had fought about an outstanding vet bill he claimed he had already paid. He did not like to be confronted when he told one of his many lies. I wrongly assumed he would get over it.

When I turned into our driveway, I noticed a sign on the lawn in front of our house that read, "House For Sale". Needless to say I was taken aback by this unexpected development. When I got to the liquor store, Larry was waiting for me. I feigned nonchalance and acted as if I were unconcerned.
"I notice you have the house for sale," I said casually. "How much are you asking for it?"

Larry tilted his head to one side, and with a smirk, asked just as casually, "Why? Have you got a buyer?"

Obviously he had anticipated my question and was prepared with the perfect answer. It worked. I stood there with my mouth hanging open. Later I thought about it and saw the humor in his elaborate plan to win a round in our ongoing battle.

The next day at work I laughed as I told Gloria the "For Sale" sign story. She was aware of Larry's temper and tears came to her eyes at the thought of my house being sold out from under me. "How can you laugh?" she said. "That's just awful!"

"Gloria, can't you appreciate the forethought that went into it? That's a great improvement over just loosing his temper and shouting."

I suppose my choice to laugh instead of cry—a skill my family had perfected for decades—was to take the easy way out.

For the next years I worked my regular forty-hour job then worked another twenty hours a week at the liquor store. These demands, as well as the duties of running our household, exhausted me. I finally realized I must get off my self-made treadmill or I would collapse. In looking back, I understand that I was already dealing with the onset of depression. It seemed no matter how well I performed, there was no lasting change for the better in my life.

I quit working in the liquor store but continued to keep the books. I used art as a lifeline and promised myself that I would use any extra time I had to learn to paint with watercolor. I signed up for some classes and I realized I did indeed have time after working my regular job to pursue my love of painting.

In addition to painting on my own I took a handful of workshops from people whose work I admired. One of those who inspired me was Joe Bohler, a nationally known Colorado artist. After watching him give a watercolor demonstration I was hooked on that medium. At the first opportunity I signed up for one of his workshops in Monument, Colorado.

My efforts to learn more were rewarded and I could see rapid progress in my painting skills. I liked the results I was able to achieve with watercolor. It amazed me that without having had a formal education I could create lovely paintings.

My biggest thrill was when I won my first of many "Best of Show" awards in 1979. I had won several first place awards in the two previous years, but this was my first "Best of Show!" All the hard work, failed efforts and aborted paintings seemed worth it. The trial and error technique I used to teach myself to paint seemed to be paying off. The first gallery to show my work was in Ouray. My work sold fairly well considering that I was just starting my art career. My sons were very proud of my paintings and thought I was a better artist than I actually was.

At about that time, one of my good friends, Jo Fultz, an artist and teacher, made a statement I should have considered more carefully. She said, "Bertie, if a creative person stifles the urge to use their creativity, it will eventually kill them." I would later realize how true that was.


To buy a copy of Bertie's wonderful book please visit

To see some of her pictures click on



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