CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Describing Betsy Trammel is like trying to isolate the multifaceted colors in a kaleidoscope. Where to begin? She is, among other things, a painter, calligrapher and Master Naturalist, a writer, voracious reader and avid biker.
Thanks to the insatiable demands of a curious, creative mind, the list of interests keeps growing.
A Louisiana native, she arrived in Charleston in 1978 with her husband, Willis, a general surgeon.
She painted whimsical motifs on the walls at Overbook Elementary and later taught art at Overbrook and Chandler Elementary.
Biking in Kanawha State Forest fostered a passionate interest in plants and insects that eventually led to certification as a Master Naturalist through the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. She fills journals with drawings and details on the many fascinations she finds in the woods.
At 68, she remains an enthusiastic learner and a vibrant lover of life.
Oh, yes. She's also the proud mother of actor Sam Trammel.
"I grew up in Alexandria, La., on a little farm. My three older brothers ran the farm. My dad was a lumberman. He had rheumatoid arthritis and died when we were fairly young.
"My mother was very artistic, but it was hard to do something in her household because she was a perfectionist. She would say, 'Here, let me finish that for you.'
"My grandmother was a very good painter, but she was a step-grandmother, so it wasn't in the blood. Art was in the environment, just having it in the house. My son Paul's work is very much like hers.
"The art didn't happen for me until I was married and gone. In grade school, a teacher criticized a tree I had drawn to go along with that poem, 'I think I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree.' It hurt me so much. I decided I didn't need to subject myself to that kind of criticism. So I never drew another thing.
"I loved literature. My ambition was really to read and write. But when I met Willis, I just wanted to get married. We both went to [Louisiana State University].
"I got a teaching degree and married Willis right out of college. He went to medical school and I taught school for a year then worked for Shell Oil in accounting for a year. I knew less, but they paid more. Then I got pregnant and got to stay home.
"I had to stay in bed a while when I was pregnant with Sam. A college friend gave me some watercolors and suggested I try them. I started painting and I loved it.
"After we moved to Charleston and the children were more self-sufficient, I went off somewhere every year for one or two weeks to workshops on painting or calligraphy. That was great. Every mother needs that kind of outlet.
"My medium now would be pastels. Willis does watercolors. We paint together, preferably outdoors. Paul does oils. Sam did a sculpture. When people ask Beth if she paints, she says, 'No, not yet.' Because everybody does something.
"Willis and Eric Mantz were residents together at Tulane [University]. Eric wanted to start a practice here. We moved to Charleston in '78. The next year, I painted the walls at Overbrook Elementary. I did Mrs. Bradford's nursery room wall to get little Beth accustomed to school. She went with me. Then I painted the first grade wall for Mrs. Charnock. A few years later, I taught at Overbrook. I taught every grade a 30-minute art class.
"I had this class all worked up, so I took the whole program to Chandler and taught at Overbrook two days and Chandler two days. That was really fun because the two schools were so different.
"Willis and I began biking and got involved in the Master Naturalist program that Jim Waggy was putting together for the DNR. We got into the second class. I'd always loved bugs and leaves and stuff because I was exposed to all that on the farm.