After creating artwork for decades, it can be difficult to adjust to failing eyesight.
“I’ve got advanced macular degeneration,” Marie Buttram says. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I can sometimes hardly see my hands in front of my face.”
Despite the diagnosis, Buttram still found the motivation to complete three big murals for Liberty Christian Preschool.
“One day, the pastor said, ‘I need a big picture of Noah’s Ark. And, a lighthouse,’” Buttram says. “And I said, ‘Who’s going to paint it for you?’ He said, ‘You are,’ and I said, ‘No, I can’t.’ Then, I came home and thought, ‘They really need those pictures.’”
It took her some time to convince herself, though.
Two years ago, Buttram worked on a painting that was to be a birthday present. Because of her eyesight, it didn’t go quite as well as planned.
“I felt like I was painting with my nose,” she says. “And the picture really didn’t turn out very good. I thought, ‘Well, this is the last picture I’m ever going to try to paint.’”
For a while, it was. She couldn’t bring herself to throw away her brushes, paints and supplies, so she put them in a drawer in her bedroom and walked away.
With that still in the back of her mind, it took Buttram some time to convince herself to try picking up the brushes for a few more paintings.
“I thought, ‘Well, the worst I could do is fail, so I’ll try,’” she says.
Ten days later, she had finished three scenes: a cheerful depiction of Noah’s Ark, a lighthouse on a rock and adjacent little town and a barnyard scene with plenty of animals. When the preschool staff came by to check it out, Buttram wasn’t sure what to think.
“I was looking at their faces to see how they would react,” she says. “They just looked completely blank, and I thought, ‘They’re embarrassed to say they don’t like it.’ My heart just sank. But, the pastor said, ‘Oh, I love it!’ What a relief.”
And, it’s not just the pastor.
“Oh, my goodness gracious, it’s a blessing,” center Director Gina Fredette says. “It’s amazing.”
Especially considering the level of detail that went into the paintings. For example, the Noah’s Ark scene: At the bottom of the back of the vessel sits a tiny pair of cockroaches, and there’s no mistaking them for anything else.
“She wanted the ark for the outside of the school,” Fredette says. “When I saw it, when it was done, there was no way it was going outside of the school. In each picture, she hides something.”
It’s cockroaches on the side of the ark, a cross on the church in the lighthouse town, and Fredette and her family in the barnyard scene.
The little things like that — giving to those around her, with some little surprises — kept Buttram busy over the years. She says her painting days are pretty much over now, but she has no regrets.
“I’m the happiest person in the world,” she says. “I’m just thankful that I can see what I can see.”
Contact Justin Kline at [email protected].