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Ana Bel Lee Washington

by Carey C. Giudici

St. Simons Island seems to bring out the artist in folks. Bill Hendrix, a cultural icon who taught art here for 35 years, said the number of artists and writers on St. Simons as a percentage of the total population is way ahead of Atlanta's.

One of Hendrix's star pupils was Ana Bel Lee Washington, who retired here from Detroit in 1984 after working for almost 40 years as a social worker. Volunteering and then studying at the Coastal Center of the Arts, she caught the painting bug after learning about "naive" or "primitivist" artists like Jacob Lawrence. His example encouraged her to paint forms naturally from her imagination, including the people she studied in local churches and daily life.

In her art as well as her career, people were central to Ms. Washington. She'd even change a background setting to better fit what a person was doing in a painting.

Before long her paintings gained the attention of Georgia Public Television, which featured her in a 1991 documentary. A feature article in Golden Isles Life magazine followed a year later. In addition to one-woman shows in this area, she was featured in exhibits at the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon and Atlanta's Spelman College.

Ms. Washington offered the following advice to new artists: "I would say that if they feel that urge, by all means they should give in to it. Do what you feel and don't forget that art is a matter of reaching out to people ... I paint for myself, what I want to paint... The important thing is to get out and do."

Ana Bel Lee Washington felt proud that her pictures made people smile.

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