NEW PORT RICHEY — The sanctuary at Betty Mitchell's church doesn't have stained glass windows, so her quilted artwork helps light up the white cinderblock walls.
Her colorful quilts depict various Biblical passages, holidays and stories, such as Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul. …
Mitchell delicately points to the bright squares and images, explaining her interpretation and method. If she doesn't find fabric she likes, she'll dye some. She makes seasonal quilts for Christmas and other holidays.
In her sweet, gentle voice, she modestly underplays her artistic ability and the effect she has.
"Gifts from God are meant to be shared," said Mitchell, who is in her 80s.
Mitchell, of Hudson, has quilts at Community Congregational Church UCC in New Port Richey, as well as the Progress Energy Gallery, and she has donated some to children through her previous quilt group, West Pasco Quilters.
This summer she worked in the craft department of Joining Hands Community Mission of Holiday, a recourse center through Community United Methodist Church that helps those in need.
Mitchell, a longtime artist who uses various techniques, including clay and jewelry making, said trying out a different art form, such as quilting, helps her strengthen the others.
She came upon quilting sort of by accident when helping to make some other wall hangings for the church. An artist at heart, she doesn't like making all the "points" match up as in traditional quilting. She takes artistic liberty in combining various fabrics, colors and patterns, and she's quick to point out that they are "not the kind you put on your bed."
She was raised by "congregational parents" and went to church.
She knew by fourth grade that she had a gift for art. She recalls being a troublemaker, sort of restless. One day she made something in class and her teacher told her she had talent.
"That was life-changing," she said.
All her life, though, she was a "frustrated artist." So she went back to school and became an art teacher in Dayton, Ohio, for 25 years.
"I was satisfied," she said. "I could do my art and the students don't squash you."
Now, people in the community are starting to marvel at her unique quilts.
"They're really very beautiful, she does fantastic work," said the Rev. Mark Hamilton with Community Congregational Church UCC in New Port Richey.
"They really impact not only our church family but also visitors and guests. They are really drawn to them," he said. "The walls are white but to have the color really adds to the feeling of sacred space and an ambiance of warmth."
Mitchell is part of a local group of artists called Altered Minds who get together to create and share ideas. "It's hard to get people who are still on their feet and running," she said.
Edda Juhl of New Port Richey is the assistant manager of the thrift store at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Holiday. She met Mitchell years ago and the two dabble together in art.
"I think she's awesome," Juhl said. "She starts and when she's done it's like a masterpiece."
"She reminds me of Grandma Moses," Juhl added.
Mitchell lives alone, spreading out her scraps of fabric on tables, on the floor and other places. She has four children, 12 grandchildren, and 22 great grandchildren, most of whom live up north.
She's determined to use her time for good.
"I made up my mind a long time ago, that I would retire but I would never retire from life, from doing things," she said.
Her mother at age 97 made scrubbies, little circles of net used to scrub pots and pans. People would ask her why she did it, and her mother would say, "I live, I breathe, I have to do something to make life worth something."
"This is the tradition in our family," Mitchell said. "As long as you're here you should try to produce something of value to someone other than yourself."
"Faith in Motion" is a regular feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Mindy Rubenstein can be reached at email@example.com.