Local News

‘It has been a colorful life’

SEBRING - Artist Loretta DeWitt has a lifetime of memories that have inspired her diverse collection of etchings, watercolors, sculptures, acrylic paintings, photographs and multi-media artwork. Easels, a palette stained with the remnants of past projects, boxes of beads and Barbie dolls salvaged from a yard sale and a pickle jar filled with drawing pencils all sit on the lanai and in the artist workshop set up at DeWitt’s Tanglewood home. This retired special needs teacher has turned her residence into a comfortable creative haven, the walls of each room lined with a variety of self-portraits, pencil drawings, landscapes and modern art done in the style of Jackson Pollock. “I love texture and multi-layered pieces. If it is visual arts, something you can do with your hands, then I’ve tried it,” noted DeWitt, who has even given lectures on body art at universities, including Penn State and University of Maryland.
“You demonstrate technique and give them a history of the art form,” said the 72- year-old great-grandmother. Looking down at the delicate roses that she tattooed on her own wrist, she added, “It has been a colorful life.” The oldest of 13 children, DeWitt grew up with very little to call her own. So, when her grandmother’s neighbor gave her a box of crayons, the simple gift allowed her to find her creative spirit. Raised part of her life in foster care on a farm in Swallow Falls, Md., DeWitt feels lucky to have grown up in Garrett County where she was well known and people cared about her. A mother of five and housewife for 32 years before her divorce, DeWitt took on the challenge of being a non-traditional student, entering college in 1987. She excelled, making the dean’s list and earning Scholastic All-American. She received her associates degree in art, theater and drama, then continued her art classes at the University of Maryland. DeWitt went to work for the Virginia Beach Board of Education, teaching art classes and special needs children, and became the head of the art and music department at Princess Anne High School. After retiring, DeWitt moved to Sebring six years ago. She founded the Tanglewood Art League and became a member of Heartland Cultural Alliance, Frostproof Art League and Highlands Art League. Her artwork has been showcased at Highlands Art League’s Yellow House Gallery, the Antiroom Gallery in the Kenilworth Lodge, Frames and Images and Brewster’s Coffee House. In addition, this imaginative senior designs window displays for shops like Miracle Beauty Supply in Avon Park. Currently, several of her pieces are on display at Tanglewood’s clubhouse and Galleria 301 on the Circle in downtown Sebring. “The Galleria, where we feature local artists, is an eclectic mix of art and collectibles,” said the building’s owner Kathy Doherty, who added that she hopes people will come to see DeWitt’s work. “Loretta has a range from fine art to whimsy,” remarked Galleria proprietor Beverly Branam. “She is a bundle of enthusiasm and has a sparkle in her that’s hard to match.” There is definitely a whimsical flair to her vividly colored illustrations slated to appear in her close friend Bernie Preblick’s next children’s book, “A Fish Story.” To DeWitt’s delight, in January, Highlands Little Theatre recognized her volunteerism with set design and stage props during the play “Auntie Mame.” DeWitt donates paintings and time to fundraisers for the Tanglewood Residents Cancer Benefit and the Habitat for Humanity Community Calendar, of which she is the art editor. Another charity she’s involved with is “Riding with Angels,” the Lakeland non-profit provides emotional and financial support to families of people killed in motorcycle accidents. But it’s the Special Olympics that have held a special place in DeWitt’s heart for over 40 years. She has loving memories of her wheelchair-bound grandmother and her grand-daughter, Kara Lynn DeWitt, who died two years ago after a 21- year battle with cerebral palsy. “She was United Cerebral Palsy’s poster child when she was 3 years old,” recalled DeWitt, as she struggled with the thought of the loss. “I saw a dove the night she died….that’s something I’ll always remember.”