Nearing 100, artist still going strong

       Some of Marian Busey's earliest memories are of creating art. She was an only child growing up on a small farm. She'd have paper and pencil and draw the chickens.

Less than a month before her 100th birthday, Marian Busey poses before a display of her paintings and prints in the Arati Artists Gallery.
Westside Pioneer photo

       That was 98 years ago.
       “I had to play by myself,” said Busey, a Manitou Springs resident who helped found the Arati Artists Gallery in Old Colorado City 35 years ago. “There were chickens walking around and trees to climb. I'd draw the chickens.”
       Now on the verge of her 100th birthday, Busey's life hasn't changed all that much. Although macular degeneration robbed her of most of her keener eyesight a few years ago, all that meant was her switching from painting to a different art medium. Now she specializes in printmaking, which is “smaller and can be less precise” than painting, she explained. But there's still room for experimentation - she's even used a surface with glued sugar.

Paintings by Marian Busey... Her version of famous Colorado City madam Laura Bell.
Courtesy of Marian Busey

       Asked if she's slowed down at all over the years, Busey replied in the affirmative. But she didn't give the obvious reason. She just particularly enjoyed painting - mostly watercolors in recent years - so she spent more time at it than she does now at printmaking, she said.
       As for how she's endured 100 years with mostly unfettered health (not counting her eyes and two knees replacements), Busey quipped, “Red wine and chocolates. I used to smoke, but I quit a long time ago.”
       Arati, 2425 W. Colorado Ave., will celebrate Busey's century mark with a featured exhibit in March and a public reception for the artist Sunday, March 25 from 1 to 5 p.m. The artist's actual birth date was March 24, 1912.
       Her early life unfolded in Ohio, including classes in a two-room schoolhouse. Later, still loving to draw, she studied at the Cleveland School of Art and obtained a master of arts from Ohio State University.
       By then it was 1937, the middle of the Depression. Busey was able to find work as an art teacher, getting her supplies from a storeroom and taking them to classes for grades from 1 to 12. “I have a lot of energy and that's what you needed,” she recalled of the experience.
       A vivid memory of that era was 1939, when she took a vacation, bicycling through Europe. “There were uniformed soldiers everywhere,” she said. It was a good thing she didn't linger. “War broke out a month after I got back.”
       Another trip, this time to Mexico in 1941, led to her meeting the man who in 1942 would become her husband, James Busey. An educator, he would later help develop UCCS into a full-fledged university, particularly its political science department.
       James has since passed on, but Marian remembers him with clear fondness. “I had him for 65 years,” she likes to say.
       The Buseys spent their first 10 years living and working in Anchorage, Alaska (where Marian was the public school system's first art teacher); Columbus, Ohio (where her son Philip was born in 1947); and Wyoming.

Paintings by Marian Busey... "View from a Parador," Spain, 1976.
Courtesy of Marian Busey

       The Colorado saga began in 1952, when James was hired at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the couple lived there the next 13 years. The town was more remote then, with Highway 36 (which initially was a toll road) not even built until 1953.
       While her husband was teaching, Marian was participating in art groups and being a mother (“taking care of my little boy,” as she put it). During that time, she began painting less in oils and charcoal - her former favorites - and getting into watercolor. “I liked the speed,” she said. “It suits a person who can work fast, and I liked the results.”
       A big difference with watercolor is that the painter can't cover up strokes as is the case with oils. In watercolor, “if your first stroke isn't right, you better just start over,” she commented.
       Coming to the Springs in 1965, Marian “joined up right away” with area art groups, including becoming president at one point of the Colorado Springs Art Guild. It was through the Guild that the idea for an artist cooperative took shape in 1977. “Artists like to show their work and have it sell, at least to have it seen,” Busey said. Thus, Arati came to be. Busey was one of the original 15 who joined forces to lease the building in Old Colorado City, where the co-op continues to this day, currently with 18 artists. “I was the first den mother,” she laughed.
       She's been pleased to see the improvements in Old Colorado City since then. She credited local resident Dave Hughes for playing a key role its change from a fairly rough neighborhood in the 1970s to a “classy shopping area” now.
       In being interviewed about her life, Busey was happy to reminisce, but it was clear that she doesn't spend a lot of her time that way. One of her adages for people who say they don't have talent is that they can learn. Asked if she feels there are still things she herself can learn, she quickly replied, “Oh my gosh, yes.”
       And, though she is looking forward to the celebration of her 100th birthday, she sees it really as just another milestone. “I hope I keep going some too,” she said.

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