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Painter in the frame at pop-up gallery

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On show: Ruth Vallis and Nicky Gurret are exhibiting their work at the temporary Pop In: Pop Up Gallery on Bermudiana Road (Photograph by Akil Simmons

Why be limited by a number? Ruth Vallis certainly hasn’t let her age stop her. At 89, she decided it was time she exhibited the paintings she has created over the past 20 years. They are now on display at a temporary gallery on Bermudiana Road.

“I’ve shown my work in the Dockyard Arts Centre and sold it in hotels but I’ve never had a proper show,” Ms Vallis said. “To be honest I never thought I was good enough for one.”

Her daughter, Sarah, manages the International Centre Building and suggested she hold an exhibit in empty space there. She even recommended a partner, Nicky Gurret. Ms Vallis decided that, given her age, there was no time like the present.

She found some cheap frames at Devonshire thrift shop The Barn and, on Friday, celebrated the opening of the Pop In: Pop Up Gallery with Ms Gurret.

The show includes charcoals, pastels and watercolours she has created over the past 20 years.

Ms Vallis started painting in 1985 while working at H.A. & E. Smith’s.

“They had a little gallery and I was selling artwork there,” she said. “I looked around and thought, I could paint art as good as some of this stuff.”

She got started and sold her work at the Front Street department store.

“It was so exciting to sell my own stuff,” she said. “I started selling in hotels also. By that time I was divorced with four children and needed the extra income.”

She stopped after it became too much to cart the work from door-to-door.

“Selling them at this pop-up gallery is just perfect,” she said.

Ms Vallis is originally from Sault Ste Marie, Canada. She was the second of nine children born to William and Olive Rae.

“My father was a cabinet-maker and my mother was a homemaker,” she said. “In those days women generally didn’t go out to work.

“I am so thankful to have been born into that loving family. Having all those brothers and sisters, they kind of pushed you along in the right direction.”

She studied to become a nurse in the 1940s, saying: “We didn’t have much money and I needed to do something. A girlfriend of mine said she was studying nursing and I thought, ‘Well, that’s as good as anything’.”

She came to Bermuda to work at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in 1949.

“It was the old hospital at that time,” she said. “I stayed in a nurses’ residence. There was a monitor at the front desk who noted down when you came and went. They expected you to be well-behaved.”

At the time the nurses rode around on pedal bikes.

“It was funny because the matron would ride a pedal bike and she had a very large bottom,” Ms Vallis said. “I don’t know how she managed.”

She graduated to a motorbike when they were introduced to the island a year later.

She met her future husband, Francis Vallis, while taking lessons at the Arthur Murray School of Dance.

“I didn’t have a clue how to dance,” she said. “My parents thought dancing was sinful.”

After two or three years she moved back to Canada, leaving Mr Vallis here. They kept in touch and married in 1955. She left nursing to raise their four children, Sarah, Paul, Boyd and Alexander in Bermuda.

They divorced 20 years later and she returned to Canada, to work as a community nurse in the Hudson Bay area. It was not an easy assignment as the Native Canadian community she worked in was rife with alcohol and drug abuse.

“It was common for teenagers to huff gas,” she said. “It was very sad.”

Ms Vallis said what she learnt from nursing was the importance of listening, adding: “Listening is an act of love. I had that painted up into a little sign and it’s for sale in the show.”

She left nursing and moved her family back to Bermuda in 1985. These days, she does not paint as often as she once did but is part of an art class taught by Sharon Wilson through the Seniors’ Learning Centre.

“At the moment, I am very busy renovating my house and downsizing,” she said.

She has another show scheduled for September at Homer’s Café at Masterworks. The Pop In: Pop Up Gallery is open weekdays from 11.30am to 5.30pm at 24 Bermudiana Road.

The Royal Gazette profiles an outstanding senior citizen every Tuesday. If you’d like to suggest someone please call Jessie Hardy at 278-0150 or e-mail jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Please have ready a full name, contact details and the reason for suggesting the senior

Showcasing her talent: Ruth Vallis with one of her favourite paintings, in front of a piece by fellow artist Nicky Gurret (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Natural talent: art by Ruth Vallis (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
On show: art by Ruth Vallis (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Eye-catching art: a painting by Ruth Vallis (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Display space: the Pop In: Pop Up Gallery on Bermudiana Road (Photograph supplied)
Temporary exhibit: at the Pop In: Pop Up Gallery on Bermudiana Road (Photograph supplied)
Open to the public: the temporary Pop In: Pop Up art gallery on Bermudiana Road (Photograph supplied)