Georgie Read Barton: The Winter of Her Art

Georgie Read Barton loves to paint snow. Winter is her time, and she doesn’t fly south with the geese. “I love island winters,” she says, of her native Summerside on Prince Edward Island, a setting familiar to readers of Anne of Green Gables.

The tiny island is nestled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence beside New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton, far enough north to provide the wintry scenes that make up at least half of the landscapes for which Sister Barton has become known.

Her award-winning work, which hangs in more than five hundred public and private art collections throughout the world, has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.; the National Academy in New York City; the Royal Canadian Academy in Toronto; and at art shows in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Wearing insulated boots, cashmere gloves, and layers of warm clothing, Georgie works at her easel in all kinds of weather, but winter is her favorite. The snow in her paintings hangs soft and heavy on branches, and exquisite lights play over it. When you look at a Barton painting, you feel you can put your arms around the trunks of her trees, lose yourself in the serenity of the valleys, hike into the snowy woods.

“Georgie Read Barton has done with her paints and canvas what Lucy Maud Montgomery did with her pen and typewriter,” says Prince Edward Island historian Frances Bolger, comparing Barton’s visual portrayal of the island with Montgomery’s famous written portrayal in novels about her heroine, Anne Shirley.

While studying portrait, figure, and landscape painting in New York, Georgie met her husband, George Barton, an American businessman and sometime painter. They married in 1942 and lived in Westchester County, where she helped build up the Hudson Valley Art Association. Shortly after their son, George, turned sixteen, her husband died suddenly. “I immediately got to work painting and started to build a career of my own,” she recalls. “It was the hardest thing I had to do, starting painting again, because we had been so close and had done it together.”

In 1971, at age seventy, Georgie returned to Summerside, where she now lives by herself in a cedar-brown chalet with a small, friendly studio upstairs. When Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana arrived on Prince Edward Island in July 1983, the town of Summerside presented the royal visitors with “A Blush of Spring,” one of Georgie’s paintings. In response to the gift, Prince Charles—himself a water colorist—told her, “You must give me some lessons.”

Three years later, on September 13, following her eighty-fourth birthday, Sister Barton was baptized in the Summerside LDS chapel. After hearing the missionary lessons, she explained simply, “I’ve found a church that teaches what I believe in.”

Sister Barton continues to paint and teach painting classes, which revive her love of art each time she gets her students “back to the basics, helping them become more interested in such things as the effects of light, rather than just making pictures.” In her art and her life, Georgie Read Barton does more than just make pictures—she captures and conveys life’s serene moments.

Pene Horton, a free-lance writer, serves as a Spiritual Living teacher in the Coquitlam Ward, Vancouver British Columbia Stake.

Ralph McKay: Willing Hands

His hands patiently work the chrome hand-pieces causing the wheelchair to glide along Pages Lane in Bountiful, Utah. He often waves to those who pass him on their way. Ralph McKay is a familiar sight to many in this community.

Two serious accidents in Brother McKay’s life have only deepened his desire to live a useful, successful life.

At the age of four, Ralph nearly drowned, and he suffered irreversible brain damage. Though he was determined to continue as normally as possible, some schoolmates called him retarded and teased him. But in church, he assisted the junior Sunday School coordinator by passing out hymnbooks and setting up the microphone. He graduated from high school in the special education program but never learned to read well. He found work at Deseret Industries.

Then came his second accident.

During a terrific windstorm 2 April 1976, as Ralph helped to empty Deseret Industries salvage huts in supermarket parking lots, the hurling east wind tipped over a hut onto Ralph, paralyzing him instantly.

Only the previous day, in response to a plea for ward building fund donations, Ralph had said to his bishop, “Here’s the money I’ve saved for a ten-speed bike. I won’t need it for a while.” How tragically prophetic!

For six months, Ralph lay in the hospital. On his birthday, every junior Sunday School child in his ward made a card for him. His elders quorum bought a portable TV to entertain him. His home teachers and other ward members spent family home evenings at the hospital with him. Upon Ralph’s release from the hospital, priesthood brethren in his ward helped his father construct a wheelchair ramp to the porch of the family home for Ralph.

Ralph soon rejoined his friends at the South Davis Regional Aaronic Priesthood MIA for the Handicapped. They asked him to play the title role in Scrooge, the Christmas play they planned for parents and friends. Ralph, who memorizes easily, was eager to fill this assignment, but his doctor dashed his hopes: Ralph was to stay in bed, on his stomach, so he could avoid surgery on a stubborn back ulcer. The doctor said, “You are allowed to be in your wheelchair only twice during December.”

Unwilling to disappoint the MIA, Ralph agreed to stay in bed for the Christmas festivities and save his two times up for dress rehearsal and the production. He memorized the script as his mother read him his lines. Ralph carried the play, with his strong, clear voice and his “Bah-humbug!”

Ralph was soon back helping in junior Sunday School, walking with braces to build his strength. However, he is now confined completely to his wheelchair.

At age thirty, Ralph mastered reading, never realizing how this skill would benefit his mother.

Sister McKay suffered a stroke that took her eyesight. As she had cared for him for years, he now cares for her. From his wheelchair, he vacuums and dusts, counts out her medication, and sets the dials on the stove and washing machine. But his greatest thrill is reading to his mother from the scriptures and helping her with her genealogy.

Now, as Sister McKay is beginning to recover some of her eyesight, she is encouraging Ralph to reach out with his patient service, perhaps in the family history extraction program.

Ralph tells his mother, “They thought I was dead, and then they let me live. I’m sure the reason I lived was to help you.”

[photo] Photography by Ann Florence

Dora D. Flack, a free-lance writer, serves with her husband as a full-time volunteer with the Family-to-Family Book of Mormon Program.