Transcription of “Layton inspiration blooms late” by Doug Carder, The Ottawa Herald Weekender,

February 16-17, 2013, p. S5.

Layton inspiration blooms late

She has been called “the van Gogh of contour drawings” by The Washington Times.

Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton, a Wellsville native who didn’t take her first art class until she was in her late 60s, has become known as one of Franklin County’s most influential artists and a model for overcoming chronic depression, local mental health care professionals said.

“She took one contour drawing art class at the age of 68 while fighting a 35-year depression. By taking that art class she cured her depression and changed the lives of many,” reads the website of the Ottawa mental health center bearing her name: Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance.

“We had a contract with the county, but we were not a county entity, and the discussion began in 2004 about changing the center’s name,” Diane Drake, executive director of the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, said.

The center’s board of directors thought Grandma Layton served as a wonderful portrayal of a person’s recovery from severe mental illness, Drake said.

Suffering from severe bi-polar disorder and profound depression, Layton did much to “de-stigmatize mental illness,” Drake said.

The Franklin County Mental Health Center began serving two counties–Franklin and Miami–in 2006, and the center changed its name to the Elizabeth Layton Center in 2007.

“We sought the family’s permission to use her name, and they thought it was a wonderful tribute,” Drake said. “It was an honor for us to be able to use her name.”

Layton came from a family of journalists and at one time was managing editor of her hometown paper, The Wellsville Globe.

Drake said self-medication is important, and Layton used her art as an adjunct to other forms of medication and treatment to combat her chronic depression. As she recovered from depression, Layton used that reinvestment in her health to comment on a number of social issues through her artwork, Drake said.

Layton commented on such social concerns as capital punishment, homelessness, hunger, racial prejudice, AIDS, aging and the right to die through her art and her writings.

“Her art busts forth with strong statements in favor of racial tolerance, peace, understanding and compassion,” Parade Magazine said of Layton’s work.

Spreading the word

Don Lambert, a former Herald reporter, was searching for an interesting subject for an article and stumbled upon the class display of Layton’s work at Ottawa University, according to the Layton family’s website dedicated to Grandma Layton,

Lambert became a big fan of Layton’s work and promoted her drawings and story until she reached a nationwide audience. Layton’s drawings and writings have touched many lives, and her artwork has been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art, and in more than 200 art museums and centers throughout the U.S., according to the family website.

Layton’s drawings are depicted in the [sic] “The Life and Art of Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton,” which Lambert wrote in 1995.

Layton worked every day making self-portraits that reflected her response to contemporary social issues, the website said.

“I am tempted to call Layton a genius,” a New York Magazine art critic wrote.

A Washington Post critic said, “Layton’s point of view is first humanist and then ferociously feminist. She turns stereotypes inside out.”

In 2008, Layton’s artwork was among the finalists in the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s “8 Wonders of Kansas Art” contest.

The Elizabeth Layton Center currently is providing background information about the artist to assist a producer who plans to make an HBO movie about Layton, who was 83 when she died in 1993.

“We hope the movie will come out in the next year or two,” Drake said. “She was an amazing woman.”

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