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Gazette Premium Content Spartanburg woman holds first art show at age 97

Associated Press Updated: January 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Nancy Cole's fascinating life has been filled with adventures and experiences.

"I have lived almost a century, you know," she said.

A Friday earlier this month, however, was a first for the 97-year-old Spartanburg woman.

Cole was like a queen at court surrounded by loved ones from across the country at The Art Lounge where her first art show was held. The picture framing studio and art gallery was abuzz within minutes of the show's opening. Two of Cole's pieces were purchased within 13 minutes.

All the drawings, paintings and sculptures were created in the last seven years. Spartanburg artist Bailie is her first teacher.

"This has been quite an experience. ... I feel very grateful and very humble about all of this," she said.

Cole was 90 when she began to seriously pursue art.

"Why did I have to wait so long?" Cole said.

Bailie had an answer for why it took her so long.

"She had other things to do," he said.

Born and raised in suburban Boston, Cole wed her late husband, Roy, at 20, in 1936. He had just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Her husband served in the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. The young couple first settled in Fort Bliss, Texas.

"That was the very last of the old Army," Cole said.

Her husband was stationed in the Pacific for three years during World War II. When he returned, she said he assembled the equestrian team for the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. They traveled extensively through Europe and lived in England, France and Sweden.

She's known historic figures from seemingly different worlds - Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. and artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

Bailie said one is "totally fascinated by the stories she tells while we're in art class."

Before Friday's show began, Cole talked about hot air ballooning in Africa with the Philadelphia Zoological Society.

"Life is wonderful if you take hold of it and live it to the best," she said.

Cole's husband retired from the Army the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

He taught for many years at the New Mexico Military Institute before they moved to Santa Fe, N.M.

The region is reflected in her paintings of Navajo women, a cougar and other colorful works.

"It's a magical place. I could look out of my backdoor and see 80 miles away and look at the sacred mountain of the Navajo, which is in Arizona. The light is incredible," she said. "At night, it was as if one could see every star in the galaxy."

Cole moved to Spartanburg in 2005 to be near her son, Roy W. Cole III, and soon began art classes.

Spartanburg, she said, has been wonderful and where she's made so many friends through art.

She waited three years for private lessons with Bailie.

"I was determined," Cole said.

Bailie called her persistent.

"Well, I was pretty awful when I started,'" Cole interjects.

"She wasn't real good . but that's the point," Bailie said. "That's the whole reason you take lessons - to get better - and she has improved quite a lot."

Bailie said they began drawing and progressed to color pencil. After she stopped driving last year, Bailie began driving one block to Cole's makeshift home studio, where she has continued her lessons. She started painting and developed a series completed over the last several months.

Bailie suggested an art show. He texted Brandi Dice, a Spartanburg artist who owns The Art Lounge, with the idea.

"I think she's an inspiration to all of us," Dice said. "All of us, as artists, we all want to be a Nancy."

Dice said to paint the way Cole does at 97 is "incredible."

Where many her age might "give up," Cole remains "full of life, painting and having a show."

"I just think she's an incredible inspiration, and I think everybody would agree and I'm honored that she's having a show here at my place, you know," Dice said.

She expects Cole will be painting at 108.

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