The wide eyed waifs that got Betsey Clark kicked out of one art class after another are finally paying off.
In the greeting card world today Betsey's eidetic urchins rate right up on top with Charles Schulz' Peanuts gang. That's a tall claim but it's backed up by Hallmark Cards, Inc., the company that markets both Peanuts and Betsey's waifs. Hallmark offers as proof the nearly 300 items ranging from cards to soap that feature unforgettable renderings of Betsey's whimsical, earnest-poignant children.
Betsey's success can be traced to her stubborn refusal to give up the unique way she portrays children.
"Children don't sit around all the time with every hair in place and big grins on their faces," she says. "They wear clothes with patches, they play, they get a little dirty."
Betsey's philosophy, unfortunately, wasn't always shared by her art teachers. "I got kicked out of several art classes," Betsey says, adding "I couldn't make a passing grade. I guess I was too full of imagination -- I couldn't figure out those mechanical techniques."
In addition, Betsey's father, a traveling salesman, as staunchly opposed to her becoming an artist. "My father thought being an artist was next door to being a bad, bad girl" she says. "He wanted me to be a secretary or work in a bank."
Betsey had other ideas and studied art at Amarillo College in her hometown of Amarillo, Tex, Wichita University, Chouinard School of Design and Art Center in California, and the Los Angeles Art Institute, where, as part of a class, she worked for Disney Studios. She also won a scholarship to Parsons School of Design in New York. Still, the art career Betsey had designs on was slow to materialize. She returned to Armarillo to marry and raise a daughter and bounced from one odd job to another-most of them completely unrelated to art.
" I didn't draw one straight line for 15 years because of personal problems," Betsey points out. Finally, after trying her hand at making puppets and ceramics Betsey resumed drawing the characters she affectionately calls waifs.
It wasn't long before Betsey's waifs caught the eye of Hallmark editors and, knowing a good artist when they see one, they snapped her up. She began with Hallmark in 1962 and since 1968 her designs have been a major feature of the company's greeting card line.
Success, while not having spoiled Betsey, has caught her off guard. "I'm always surprised when someone likes what I've drawn," she says. But she's able, in part, to explain why her waifs are so popular.
"My work comes under the heading of folk art," she says. I express a philosophy that people--especially women--can identify with. I'm sure everyone has seen some of these things I show my waifs doing--getting a drink of water, jumping rope, trying on a new outfit."
Betsey continues to work out of her modest two-bedroom home in Amarillo, Texas. On a typical day she rises at three in the morning and works until "it's time to eat." Then she feeds squirrels and birds at her back door or walks briskly to a nearby park for a three-mile canter.
Time away from the drawing board is frequently spent burrowed in one of the many old children's books or Sera’s and Roebuck catalogs in Betsey's so-called prop collection. "I'm a stickler for detail--a perfectionist," Betsey admits. "I put a lot of research into my work." Betsey's passion for detail recently led her on a search for an antique telephone to feature in a drawing. "I hunted until I found a picture of what I anted in a old Ford Traveling Museum catalog." Contrary to popular belief, Betsey doesn't get her ideas from watching her three grandchildren play. "I was drawing children when I was nine years old," she says, "that's all I've ever drawn." Which proves Betsey's early detractors wrong on another point. "When I was in college I was told a million times to be good at many things," she says. "True, it's not often you can be successful with one basic design. But when you can, why not?"