Article by Starla Gatson
Photography by Kelly Moore Clark
Betty Crouch picked up pottery at 67-years-old. This hobby turned career has given Crouch purpose, something she was desperate for when she began devoting more of her time and energy to it over a decade ago.
I’m a jack of all trades but a master of none,” Betty Crouch remarks. The “jack of all trades” part is the truth; the 84-year-old dabbles in multiple creative endeavors — painting, cooking, crocheting, and playing guitar, to name a few. But the success she has found in pottery contradicts the “master of none” portion of her comment. Crouch’s pieces, many of which depict things like crawfish, oysters, flowers, and leaves, are the Bastrop resident’s primary means of supporting herself. What’s more is that this hobby turned career gave Crouch purpose, something she was desperate for when she began devoting more of her time and energy to it over a decade ago.
“When I was 67 years old, I prayed,” she says. “I was crying. I was very sad because I had raised my two children and didn’t feel like I had any more purpose. I said [to the Lord], ‘You have opened and shut many doors in my life. I’m asking You please to open another door for me.’ I left it at that.”
Little did Crouch know, the door the good Lord would open led to a classroom at the University of Louisiana Monroe. Upon learning about the Special Non-Degree Academic Program (SNAP), Crouch enrolled in a pottery class at the University, and what was initially intended to get her out of the house and around people soon blossomed into something more.
It turned out Crouch had a knack for pottery, and people thought her creations were worth buying. “I did fantastic,” she says, recalling her first time selling her work. “People thought it was different.”
Her art was so well-received that she was selected to represent the state of Louisiana at an event at Disney World’s EPCOT, and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce purchased one of her pieces to gift then-newly elected governor Bobby Jindal during one of his visits to Ouachita Parish.
“[Governor Jindal] used me as an example that you’re never too old to learn,” Crouch recalls.
And what an example of that principle she is. Crouch’s educational background looks different than that of many other professional artists. She doesn’t have an art degree to speak of, nor does she have high school art courses to look back on. She left school in the sixth grade, as was the norm in her hometown of Golden Meadow, Louisiana, at the time.
“Education wasn’t important,” she explains. “We were raised to get married, bear children, and make a home. That was it.”
So, that’s what she did. Crouch married at 18, had two children, and focused her energy on maintaining the household while her husband worked to support their family. Still, Crouch was learning, especially about creating things. She wasn’t necessarily doing much “book learning,” she explains, but regardless, she was gaining knowledge.
“I tell young people, ‘Learn everything you can so when you grow older, you’ll be able to do something with your life instead of just sitting and watching TV,’” she says.
The evidence of all Crouch learned is all around her home, from the side table she constructed from sewing machine drawers sitting in her living room to the handmade shawls displayed in her bedroom. Crouch eventually earned a GED, but beyond the SNAP courses she takes at ULM, she has no formal art education. Like Clementine Hunter, a black folk artist from Natchitoches parish, she is mostly self-taught.
“[Clementine Hunter] had no clue of art, who [the popular artists] were or anything,” she explains. “It came from her heart, so she put it on canvas. I see things finished in my mind and put them in the clay. I don’t know how else to explain; it’s just there, and it comes naturally.”
It isn’t surprising that Crouch is naturally creative. Yes, she spent time teaching herself how to do the things she wanted to do, but creativity and the ability to make things seem to run in her family. Her father’s side of the family was very talented, she says, and her mother was gifted in the kitchen. The items made or upcycled by her family members placed about her home are also proof that creativity is a family affair.
Natural talent, an inherited skillset — whatever you want to call it, Crouch doesn’t take her artistic abilities, especially her talent for pottery, lightly. Not only did honing this craft give her a sense of purpose, but it also provided a means of taking care of herself financially after her husband passed away. At age 46, Crouch found herself widowed and thrust into the workforce for the first time. She started cleaning houses, and after more than a decade of doing so, pottery came along to offer a welcome respite from scrubbing baseboards and mopping floors.
“It helped me be able to survive,” she says. “People loved my work, they bought it, and it helped me.”
Now, Crouch’s one-of-a-kind pieces are in personal collections all over the world, in locations like New York, Germany, Ireland, England, and more. The work has given the artist a bit of notoriety, and she and her work have been featured in several publications.
Her positive reputation and financial security have certainly been perks of picking up pottery, but Crouch says the biggest blessing has been the connections art has brought her through the years. “I didn’t think of it [as a way to make money],” she admits, remembering her early days of hand-building platters, cups, bowls, vases, and more from clay. “I was so happy that I could go and be with other people. I needed to have the comfort and friendship of other people and to feel like I belonged.”
Crouch says no matter how hard she tries, she can’t fully express how grateful she is for the community of which she is now a part. “The friendships and the people that I have met in my life, they’ll never realize what they meant to me and [how much] I appreciate their friendship and their love of my pottery,” she says.
On the surface, it may seem that, after nearly two decades of being a potter, the steps in Crouch’s art journey seem to have fallen into place seamlessly. However, she assures BayouLife that isn’t the case. The good — the sense of purpose, the community, and the income — haven’t come without the bad. But not even the worst of it, like breaking a shoulder or becoming so ill she wasn’t sure she’d survive, made Crouch want to give up. After all, she declares, “If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. You don’t quit.”
Crouch credits God for every ounce of her perseverance. Without Him, she wouldn’t be who she is or make the work she does, she says, adding, “I believe [God] inspires us. He’s always there to give us a helping hand.” She even thinks God is the reason pottery is her favorite creative outlet, explaining, “Feeling of the clay and molding it is [how] God created us. He molded us in the clay.”
Besides, she goes on, quitting means focusing on the negatives, and that’s something Crouch tries her hardest not to do.
“I like to see people laugh,” she says. “I like to see people not sad; we have enough sadness.”
That’s why she and her pottery are so bright: to bring joy to others and promote positivity.
“I love colorful things,” she explains. “That’s the inner me. Maybe I’m a ham or something. I love beautiful colors, and I love excitement. We’ve got to have fun.”