At 90, she’s suddenly award-winning artist

Published 12:51 am Thursday, November 15, 2018

After 88 years of not knowing how to paint, Andalusia resident Helen Harwell picked up a paintbrush and won first place in the Covington County Fair this year.

“My daughter asked if I wanted to take an art class in Nashville two years ago,” Harwell said. “I told her that I didn’t know how to paint and she said that it was OK, so I went. Apparently I did fairly well.”

Two years later, that is still the only formal instruction she has had in painting.

“When I started I was 88 and I thought to myself, ‘Really? At this age I am starting to paint?’ But now one thing has led to another,” Harwell said. “Now my children keep bragging on me. The next Christmas I wanted to paint a picture for all of five of my children, and I finished them all in January of this year.”

Harwell said that she likes to paint scenery and flowers the most.

“I’ve done quite a few sceneries and flowers,” Harwell said. “I actually went to Ireland a year ago and took a picture of a window boxes with flowers and painted that for my daughter. There was another picture that I took of a Waterford Crystal grandfather clock and my other daughter wanted that one. I didn’t think I could do it, but I think it turned out pretty nice.”

Harwell said that the people who see her paintings usually say they are good.

“Most of the people that see my paintings say they are good,” Harwell said. “But once they find out I’ve only been painting for two years all they can say is wow.”

Winning first place in the Covington County Fair was the most exciting moment of her life, Harwell said.

“I had no idea that this would happen,” Harwell said. “I knew that I wanted to enter some of my paintings and I had a slight hope that I would place, but I had absolutely no idea that I would get first. It is still a real shock, but it gives me hope and encouragement.”

Her daughter Judy McClaney, cannot believe just how good her mom is at painting.

“There is this picture that she took of my dad,” McClaney said. “Everyone who looks at it just says, ‘We cannot believe it, you’ve got him.’ It is truly amazing. I know I sound like I am just bragging on my mom, but it is amazing.”

Harwell said that she often watches YouTube videos of how to paint on her iPad.

“I have learned a lot by just watching YouTube videos on my iPad,” Harwell said. “When my daughter first told me that I should have an iPad I told her that I didn’t think I could learn how to use it. Now I know how to use it and I love it.”

Last Thursday was Harwell’s 90th birthday and all of her children held a party for her.

“I had all of my children except for one to come,” Harwell said. “It was such a nice party and it was so wonderful to have all of my children there with me.”

Harwell is originally from Springfield Center, New York. After graduating high school, she went to college in Rhode Island and then moved to Tennessee to teach at an orphanage. That is where she met her husband, C.E. Harwell.

“I grew up really close to Cooperstown, N.Y., which was where baseball was created,” Harwell said. “I moved to Tennessee and that is where I met my husband. We fell in love and then we raised six children together. My husband was a pastor and that is why we moved to Andalusia.”