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Colorado Springs artist celebrates 102nd birthday, lifelong legacy

March 23, 2014 Updated: March 23, 2014 at 10:09 pm
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Marian Busey signs a postcard during her 102nd birthday celebration and art reception featuring hers and local artist's work at the Arati Artists Gallery in Colorado Springs, Colorado Sunday, March 23, 2014. Photo by Mason Trinca, The Gazette

Marian Busey traces her beginnings as an artist back to age 2, when she was an only child, growing up on a small Ohio farm, drawing chickens and trees.

A century later, Busey can unequivocally say art has been her life-long pursuit.

Her 102nd birthday was celebrated Sunday.

She celebrated her 102nd birthday at Old Colorado City's Arati Artists Gallery, which she co-founded, and where her works display proudly along with other artists' pieces.

The number of people who steadily streamed into Arati to congratulate Busey was a testament to her legacy and how many artists' lives and careers she influenced, but she said she was surprised so many showed up.

"I can't believe how many people have come to the gallery today," said Busey, her tiny frame adorned with a bright sequined top she sewed from a scrap of fabric. "It makes me feel so good that they all care about me ... maybe it's because I'm so old!"

The secret to a long life is red wine and dark chocolate, Busey joked. Kidding aside, she said, keeping active and stimulated has always been her approach to life.

She earned a bachelor's and master's degree in Art Education from Ohio State University and graduated in 1933, during the Great Depression, teaching art in Ohio's public school system. During a trip to Mexico in 1941, she met Jim Busey, whom she married in 1942. She spoke of her husband of 65 years lovingly, adding that his death in 2007 was a tough transition for her.

"He was a very intelligent man, always learning and teaching, very kind," Busey said. "My habits have changed a lot since he passed away, we always enjoyed activities together."

The Buseys spent their first 10 years of marriage living and working in Anchorage, Alaska, and in Columbus, Ohio, where their first and only son, Philip, was born in 1947. After a few years in Wyoming, the family moved to Boulder in 1952, when Jim Busey was hired by the University of Colorado as a professor.

Busey dedicated herself completely to raising her son and to her painting, focusing on watercolors as her favorite media.

"With watercolors, once you put the brush on the canvas, you're done quickly, you can't complicate the painting," she said. "I always liked working on portraits and landscapes with watercolors."

In 1965, the Buseys made their final move to Manitou Springs after Jim Busey retired from full-time teaching, spending their summers traveling to Europe and the South Pacific and making several road trips back to Alaska. Hiking was one of the family's favorite past times, Busey said, and the landscape in Colorado was the perfect setting to teach her son an appreciation of nature and to find inspiration for her paintings.

An agronomist and University of Florida Professor Emeritus, Philip Busey, 66, traveled to Colorado for his mother's birthday celebration and relished enjoying her company for so many years.

"It's great to have her for such a long time, because she's such a wonderful person," he said. "For everyone who has a good relationship with their parents, it's so good to have them for support and counsel. As we get older, we become less focused on ourselves and more focused on our parents."

For most of her life, Busey's health has been excellent, with the exception of knee replacement surgeries on both legs and macular degeneration that has robbed her of most of her sight in recent years. To continue her artistic work, she switched to hand-pulled print making, which is less precise than painting, but leaves plenty of room for experimentation, she said.

Busey co-founded Arati, at 2425 West Colorado Ave., in 1977, and she is the only original member left. As the first president of Arati, she and her co-founders wanted to open a space for each artist to have an opportunity to showcase their pieces and develop their talents. In 1986, Busey was among the founders of the Pikes Peak Water Color Society, holding their first exhibit at the Pikes Peak Center in 1988.

"The gallery is very good for me, and I may not have lasted this long if it weren't for the gallery," she said. "It's a thing that's stimulating and interesting, that I have to participate in. It makes me happy."

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