Courthouse paintings bring county landmarks to life
People walk by them every day but few know the story behind the 10 paintings which line the main hall of the Pocahontas County Courthouse. This collection was painted by Marlinton native Betty Jo Kramer Vydra.
Vydra grew up Marlinton and began honing her skills as an artist while a student at Marlinton High School.
“I always liked to draw,” Vydra said. “At that point, I was copying things and realized it was strengthening my abilities. I think that high school was my first attraction to drawing.”
Vydra went on to be valedictorian of her class in 1945. She attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, before transferring to West Virginia University.
After college, Vydra “married the Army” and spent 40 years traveling the world with her husband.
“I traveled around quite a bit after that,” she said. “In fact, we moved 35 times. It was quite an experience, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
It was during those travels that Vydra began working more with oil painting.
“In Ethiopia, I began to paint with oils with a very dear friend who is still painting, more than I am,” she said. “I just drifted from one spot to another in our travels with different influences wherever I went. It’s been a nice experience to know so many excellent artists.”
In those years abroad, Vydra had several exhibits in Africa, Europe and the United States, and garnered prizes for her paintings.
In 1993, Vydra returned to Marlinton and was approached by the Pocahontas County Landmarks Commission and the county commission to do a series of oil paintings depicting historic and scenic locales of the county.
“We were next door neighbors with Ruth Morgan, and at that time she was very involved in all of the history,” Vydra explained. “She asked me if I would be interested [in doing the paintings], and it struck my fancy.”
Along with the paintings at the courthouse, Vydra also did a painting of the Marlinton United Methodist Church. It now hangs in the church vestibul. A scene of Marlinton’s Main Street circa 1920s can be seen in the lobby of City National Bank in Marlinton.
The paintings in the courthouse hallway are of the Pocahontas County Courthouse, Cupp Run at Snowshoe, the McNeel Mill in Mill Point, the Pearl S. Buck House in Hillsboro, Watoga State Park Center, Cass Scenic Railroad, Hamlin Chapel, the Huntersville Jail, the Scenic Highway and the NRAO Green Bank.
Vydra has put painting on the back burner, but says she thinks about returning to placing pigment to canvas.
“I have a lot of free time it seems, but no, I don’t paint right now,” she said. “I got out of it, I would say in the year 2000. Maybe someday I’ll be back to painting again. I think about it.”
Vydra now lives in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Tony, and their Keeshond dog named Circe, but the couple remains connected to Marlinton and visit as often as they can.
Vydra has three daughters who have inherited their mother’s artistic talents – in other mediums. Two of whom have made their homes – and operate businesses – in Pocahontas County.
“All three are quite talented,” she said. “Sherry Hudson, [Hudson’s Variety] who has brought out her talent with her quilting. She is a real artist. Candi [Knox], our middle daughter, has an artistic talent. She will be a painter one day. Our other daughter is Jeannie Dunham at the Carriage House Inn.”
Although Vydra has put her painting on hold at this time, she said she would be open to doing more paintings for the county in the future.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org