Yvonne Carlson loved sharing west Michigan with others through her paintings.

Carlson, a Ludington resident and retired artist, is the subject of the Ludington Area Center for the Arts’ exhibit, The Yvonne Carlson Retrospective — a collection of her paintings from throughout the years.

“I’m so surprised,” Carlson said.

She said now that she’s getting older, she thought she would stay out of the limelight, but now she finds herself a focus of attention again.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Carlson said. “But it came as a nice surprise.”

Carlson stopped painting after her rheumatoid arthritis started affecting her ability to paint.

“I was hesitant at first,” Carlson said about the exhibit, because she doesn’t have very many pieces of her own left.

“Jolly Birtwhistle called me after Dr. Bill Anderson had kind of put the bug in her ear and asked me about the exhibit,” Carlson said.

Most of the paintings in the exhibit are on loan from people’s personal collections, including Birtwhistle’s.

“It was like a blast from the past,” Carlson said, about when she went to go see the paintings Birtwhistle had. “There was work there I had forgotten about.”

Carlson said she had to stop painting because her hands had gotten so bad.

“I have more time to read now,” Carlson said. “I am a voracious reader. I never had as much time to read as I can now.”

The most memorable sale of her work was to General Telephone. “I had brought a painting to Muskegon after a call for paintings from an ad agency.”

Carlson said it led to General Telephone commissioning many more pieces.

“I had an expense account to travel and do paintings of billing areas that were reproduced on envelopes,” Carlson said.

That project gave a huge boost to her career, after the envelopes were mailed all over the state.

“I was getting work everywhere,” Carlson said.

She said her career as an artist gained momentum originally through art fairs she attended in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana and through word of mouth.

“I did a lot of art fairs,” Carlson said.

Her work had a west Michigan and maritime focus, including beaches, the lakes, sand dunes and rivers. “It all looked like west Michigan. That was probably part of my success, people like the area so much.”

Carlson said she liked many different subjects, but beaches and birch trees were her favorites to paint.

Carlson learned her medium through trial and error.

“I started with oil and it was frustrating, because you had to wait so long for it to dry to go back to it and touch it up, but watercolors dry too quickly,” Carlson said. “Acrylics were perfect for me, they had the consistency of oil, but dry quickly.”

She said she is pleased with her career.

“The thing is, I could work when, where and if I wanted to. You can’t beat a job like that,” Carlson said. “Looking back, I had a pretty good run and I am comfortable with where I’m at.”

The LACA Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5pm and all gallery exhibits are free and open to the public.

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