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Elizabeth Vaught: Martinsville's Accidental Artist

portrait of Elizabeth Vaught

Elizabeth Vaught's passion for art started with a make-shift painting studio she created in the closet of her bedroom when she was around 6 years old. Growing up on a grain farm in Payneville, Kentucky, the future owner of Artwork by Elizabeth in Martinsville, Indiana learned to see through her father's eyes.

"One day we were driving toward Beaver Dam, Kentucky," Vaught recalls, "and he said, 'Look at that crop. All the ears are in a row on the corn,' and I said, 'Daddy, why are they all the same?' And he said, 'Because that farmer has got everything perfect in that field so the crop is uniform.' My father looked at everything and he taught me that."

As she grew up, Vaught had no plans to become a professional artist, but there was one she admired. And he wasn't the kind of artist who shows in galleries

"There was this old mana rough old cob in Owensboro, Kentucky.  He painted signs. Whenever me and my dad would take the grain to the elevators in Owensboro, I'd say, 'Daddy do we have time to see the old sign painter?' Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn't, but I never lost [my] fascination [with] how he turned these strokes into words.  I'd say, 'How do you do it?' and he'd grumble, 'You just do it .'

What Happens When You're Busy Making Other Plans

Elizabeth assimilated the sign painter's old-style hand lettering  into the signs she painted for local companies. But art was a hobby for Elizabeth; she still had no plans of becoming a professional artist. Her life was full with raising her three children and helping her parents on the farm. And that's where, about ten years ago, the accident happened

"We were moving grass," she recalls, "and the zero turn radius tire slipped on something and it spun me around and before I knew it this heavy machine was laying on me. It landed on my hand and mashed off the tips of my fingers. I lifted up the mower with my left hand and saw the tips of my fingers dangling on my right hand. I left the hospital with a diagnosis of 'You may or may not be able to maintain these fingers; they may not reattach.' And I realized that the worst-case scenario was that I wouldn't be able to draw again."

Vaught's studio-cum-gallery is packed full with what she calls "potential" antique picture frames, old wooden window frames, and a hodge-podge of knick-knacks. 

And that's what happened.  Her fingers are attached, but she can't really hold a brush with her right hand. So, she took local classes and trained her left hand how to draw and paint. "After I mashed my fingers," Vaught reflects, "I realized it was silly to wait because you may not have a someday."

Windows Into The Soul

And she started her professional art career.  Starting with a makeshift studio, Vaught graduated to a location on the square in Martinsville.  Inside the painted brick building on the corner, Vaught's studio-cum-gallery is packed full with what she calls "potential" antique picture frames, old wooden window frames, and a hodge-podge of knick-knacks.  It is widely known in Martinsville that if you have something you don't need anymore, you can drop it off here, and Vaught will make it into art. She explains

"Whenever someone brings in some rough old windows, I think, there was a woman who once loved those windows when they were brand new and I don't want them to go to the dumpster. And an old doorI can just see loved ones coming through the door for supper, or maybe it's a closet door and that's where they hung the babies' clothes. I can just see the warmth of living in these unique pieces."

A short wall separates Vaught's studio from her gallery.  In one corner of the studio lays an old white framed, weather-beaten, six-pane window hung on its side, that Vaught has transformed

"The window when it turned on its horizontal side reminds me of a greenhouse," she explains.  "I've got a row of terracotta flower pots painted in it with geraniums, and I've painted the illusion of a window behind it.  It's the sun coming through this green house with these healthy, happy geraniums."

And it's like you're looking into the greenhouse through the actual window of an old glassed-in porch.

Vaught's art hangs all over Martinsville and her pieces are easily identified.  People will actually say, "That's an Elizabeth," and for that, Vaught says she wouldn't give back any scar on her hand. "Last year I had the most wonderful thing happen to me," she recalls.  "[A painter from] a local sign company who does the vinyl lettering came up to me in the studio one day and said, 'How do you do it?'  And I fought back tears and said, 'Ya' just do it.'

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