Bird in a Circle is one of Roberta Montgomery's many artistic creations.

Roberta Montgomery delves deep                                                                                into the ‘arts’ to find creative identity

By Gary Kohatsu

Meet Roberta Montgomery: wife, mother, grandmother, retired educator, nature lover, and perhaps long overdue… artist.

She admits to being a lifelong “artist” at heart, but in recent years, as her artistic skills develop and refine, she is learning to embrace her natural gifts.

“I know that I have always been interested in art in one form or another,” Montgomery says almost apologetically. “But I have a difficult time thinking of myself as an artist. Maybe time will change this perception.”

For the record, Montgomery is president of the Pacific Art Guild in Westchester, an artists group founded in 1958. She joined PAG in 2013 and has served as its president since 2017.

Since her retirement as a school counselor, Montgomery has had time to once again be a “student” herself.

In recent years, she has taken classes through the L.A. Adult Education, El Segundo’s Joslyn Center and various artist workshops. Presently, she is enrolled in a watercolor class at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester.

“I have been very fortunate to have had a number of talented and inspirational (art) teachers over the last eight to ten years,” Montgomery says. “In all honesty, I find myself bombarded by inspiration. Everything I look at or even the music I hear seems to offer inspiration.”

Wile inspiration she has in abundance, her frailties, admittedly, have been her focus and procrastination.

Montgomery says one of her panaceas for focus drift and discouragement sits across from her at the family dinner table — her husband Jim.

“He offers me constant support and positive feedback. He is the one who encourages me to take classes and persuaded me to take on the job as president of the Pacific Art Guild (PAG),” she says with a smile. “And, he is the behind-the-scenes worker on all my projects and endeavors.”

Her class at Otis has also motivated her to be stay productive.

“I spend too much time thinking about painting and not enough time actually holding a brush,” she confesses. “This is why I signed up to take a class at Otis. It makes me paint. To grow as an artist, you need to paint a lot. My friends and teachers who paint everyday have gone on to grow in amazing and masterful ways. This is my goal… I need to paint, even if it is just for twenty minutes a day.”

PAG has also been an influential beacon for Montgomery.

“Joining the PAG was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she explains. “It is a wonderful organization. Being a member has given me many opportunities to interact with other artists, see their work, and participate in an annual show. At each monthly meeting, the PAG invites an award-winning artist to do a live demonstration and we have a monthly mini-show.”

In April, Montgomery sold her first painting during the annual PAG Show and Sale. It was an awakening moment for this artist, who has generally preferred to keep her art within physical reach.

“It took me a long time to even put a piece of my artwork in a show, and then it took a few more years to put a price on a painting,” she says. “Then, I got a few offers, but I was not ready to sell anything and let anything go. Then, I sold my first painting. I guess I am a professional now.”

Her path to “professionalism” as an artist, can be traced back several decades.

As a youth growing up in Culver City — where her parents moved when she was 2 months old — in the 1940s and ‘50s, she was one of three children born to an Italian-American family. Her grandparents on both sides immigrated from Italy to the U.S., through Ellis Island in the early 1900s.

Dad toiled as an aircraft mechanic for North American Aviation and mom worked at various jobs, while also being a fulltime homemaker. Roberta attended Catholic schools and her childhood, she says, was filled with creative possibilities, thanks to her parents’ support and sacrifices.

Art seemed to come natural to her as a youth.

If she had a class report to write, 80 percent of her presentation would be sketches and cover art. She even created her own paper dolls and designed fashionable doll clothes to match.

“For my 8th grade graduation, (my parents) bought me a sewing machine and lessons at Singer Sewing in the Culver City Shopping Center,” Montgomery recalls.” One of my favorite memories is taking the bus on Saturdays to my sewing classes.”

While attending St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey and later, college at California State University, Long Beach, where she earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees, Montgomery seemingly sampled every arts-related course offered.

“I took as many art classes as I could. I worked on the school newspaper, yearbooks, and in the drama club, painting sets,” she says.

Despite so much emphasis on the arts, Montgomery chose a slightly different career path. She received her teaching credential in 1968 and set about teaching kindergarten to third grade classes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. After 25 years in the classroom, she says that she transitioned to an administrative role for LAUSD, working as a Title One and Gifted Magnet coordinator.

“I loved working with children and focused on early childhood education and bilingual education,” Montgomery says. “I always used art and literature as the core of my teaching. I found this to be a successful and non-threatening way to reach most children.”

As an educator, she saw a need in children for social, emotional and academic support. While in her 40s, Montgomery said she headed back to school to complete a “credential in counseling.” She was able to return as a counselor to the school where she taught, and was allowed to “develop my own counseling program,” she says.

Of course, her counseling included “lots of arts and creative activities.”

After the new millennium and retirement, she resurrected her role as an artist. Montgomery is careful to explain that her art is without “description or label.”

Art for her is eclectic: “I don’t have a real set-in-stone style. I see myself as a student, and so I am open to trying anything. My very favorite medium is watercolor. I especially love the fluidity and exuberance and boldness of watercolor. It can be combined with anything to produce art. My favorite subject matter comes from nature and the way nature leads to expression in realistic, impressionist or abstract ways.

‘I have taken classes in oils, acrylics, ceramics, collage, pottery, jewelry, china painting, photography, flower arranging, and calligraphy,” she explains, but says, “watercolor is still my first love.”

If she has any ritual to painting daily, Montgomery says it starts with de-cluttering her desk…

Then adds: “I round up my supplies, put on some music and think some more. When I have a paint brush in my hand, the world and its noise seems to stop for awhile. Finally, I start to paint, and then I do not want to stop for anything!”

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