In the Pipeline: Centered on the creative mind

"She's a one-of-a-kind," Kate Hoffman, executive director at the Huntington Beach Art Center, tells me. "We had over 1,300 people here the other night, 543 pieces from 259 artists. And we have nobody else like her."

Hoffman is talking about Jane Yater.

The center's annual and wildly popular open-call, non-juried exhibition, "Centered on the Center," opened Saturday.

Of the many talented artists exhibiting their work, Yater stands out.

First, she is 95 years old. She also has advanced Alzheimer's disease and has trouble remembering things more than just a few minutes old, though her long-term memory seems quite sharp.

But see her watercolors hanging in the gallery, and you'll know what truly makes Yater so special.

In rich, vibrant and vivid tones, she captures nature in its delicate elegance. Roses, bougainvillea and other flowers seem to be her specialty.

But since we're talking about someone who has been painting for more than nine decades, no doubt she has an eye for many compelling visual subjects.

Jane's daughter, LeeAnna, an impressive artist herself, explained why it's so important to help her mother show her work in Huntington Beach.

"My mother has always been an artist," she said. "She raised my sister and I as a single parent, selling ceramics that she made in her own pottery studio. But she has always been a painter at heart. Helping her show her work is just my way of helping her remain vital.

"She still loves to paint, and so as long as she can be creative, I want to do whatever I can to help call attention to her work. She showed me what it meant to be an artist my whole life."

The Yaters moved to the area last year from Florida. But Jane spent a lot of time in Northern California, having moved there from New York City when she was a young girl.

Cousin to the legendary actress Claire Trevor, Yater spent time on movie sets as a teen. She also opened a children's clothing store in Beverly Hills that catered to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor.

But it's the painting that has been her most consistent creative endeavor.

The memory loss started becoming severe about 10 years ago. And while today Yater can recite the names of classmates from 80 years ago, the details of an immediate conversation come and go, like a feather fluttering in the breeze.

It's not like she isn't full of life. Her eyes twinkle and she perks up throughout the conversation, chiming in now and again in a lilting, engaged voice.

Asked what it felt like to walk into the gallery and see her work, Yater smiled broadly and said, "I love it. It is wonderful."

And there is no doubt she means it. The memory may have been gone a moment later, but it almost doesn't matter. In that moment there was truth and appreciation.

LeeAnn wants to start up a program called "Artists Never Retire" to help celebrate the fact that born artists can never really stop doing what they do, no matter how old. The creative spirit just doesn't allow for that.

And I have no doubt that once she gets the program up and going, she'll pore over the hundreds of watercolors her mother has painted to use as validation of her concept.

Hoffman said the center once sponsored an exhibition specifically of work from Alzheimer's patients.

"It was remarkable," she said. "It seemed that as one part of the brain ceased to function that another part opened up creatively. There is so much we don't know about how the creative mind functions once you start to lose memory.

"But Jane is a perfect example of someone who has developed her talent over the course of her entire life. It's very touching and also very inspiring to see what art can do for the human mind and soul."

It certainly is. Which is why I encourage everyone to visit "Centered on the Center" through March 22. And when you see the two pieces created by Jane Yater, study them closely. Those canvasses hold a lot of memories.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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