Story and photos by Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist
On the outskirts of Verbena, nestled in the quiet country-side, Carolyn Cumbie uses the tip of her brush to tell stories. Her art studio is bright and light flows in from every direction, allowing her to see the true nature of what she paints.
Born in Verbena in 1933, Carolyn Deramus Cumbie was rarely without art. Although Verbena was small and “country,” Carolyn’s family enjoyed fine art — going to concerts, drawing, and playing instruments. Finding paint in Verbena during her childhood was scarce, but Carolyn enjoyed drawing in pencil.
During World War II, her father was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base. After the war, at age 17, her father was stationed in England and France which allowed Cumbie to visit some of Europe’s finest museums, landscapes, cathedrals, castles and people.
“We visited Versailles, and walked the streets in Paris,” said Cumbie. “Artists would set up and paint on the sidewalk as you would imagine they do in Paris. The rose window at Notre Dame (Cathedral) was beautiful. When you enter churches there, you can feel the reverence.”
After she returned to the United States, Carolyn married her husband, Edwin Cumbie, who became a Methodist pastor at age 18. Due to the Methodist itinerant system, Edwin & Carolyn moved across-country to the churches the conference appointed him to.
“During the 1960’s we were living in Illinois,” said Cumbie. “My children were in school and I decided to take art classes. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and took classes at the local colleges.”
Through her newly found hobby of painting, Cumbie found a voice.
“My husband was a big talker and enjoyed talking to people, as did my mother, so most of the time that left me as a listener,” said Cumbie. “Painting allows me to express myself and the paintings became my words.”
During her time in Chicago, Carolyn studied art under well-known Moroccan artist, Mohamed Drisi, who most notably was commissioned to paint Princess Grace of Monaco’s official royal portrait in 1958.
Carolyn and her family moved back to Alabama in the 1970’s where she taught art at Verbena School and Verbena Methodist and finished her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at Huntingdon College.
Now at age 90, Cumbie describes her current painting style as “abstract realism,” replicating an image similar to photography, but while using patterns and colors. She is inspired by nature and the work of the late Joseph Raffael. She specializes in portraiture and paints mostly in oil and watercolor.
When she is not painting, Cumbie enjoys spending time with her children Cindy, Claudia and Joel. She enjoys spending time at her family home, gardening and taking in the visual delights of “daffodils and the sound of the whippoorwill.”