Upland Chronicles: Artist uses creativity to honor her daughter

Mar. 08, 2014 @ 11:40 PM

Bobbie Lovell remembers only one time when she was jealous of another person. She was in the seventh grade when her teacher instructed the class to “take out some paper and draw.” Bobbie recalls the teacher telling one of her classmates that he had the potential to become a commercial artist. She wanted to be the student the teacher felt had the gift.

Bobbie Louise Lamons Lovell was born June 25, 1942, in a hollow near Shady Grove Baptist Church in Sevier County. She was the only daughter of Conard R. Lamons and Ruth Stinnett Lamons. They moved to Blount County when Bobbie was 4, and when she was 10, they moved to Seymour, where she attended school and Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy.

After graduating from high school, Bobbie enrolled at Draughon’s Business College and took some courses at the University of Tennessee before landing a job at an insurance company. She married Charles Lovell on Nov. 27, 1963, and they had a daughter, Connie Lynn, who was born April 11, 1966.

Bobbie soon became Charlie’s right hand when he decided to start his own subcontracting business installing acoustic ceilings. She cared for Charlie while he wrestled with Crohn’s disease. And as a two-time breast cancer survivor, Bobbie waged her own medical battles as well.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Bobbie attended an art show at the Sevier County Library featuring paintings by renowned artist Jim Gray. When she observed a painting of Indian corn, Bobbie was compelled to paint it herself rather than purchase Gray’s artwork.

She picked up her first paintbrush in her 20s after meeting Arline Hoff, who was trained at the National Academy of Art in New York. Originally from Ridgefield, N.J., Hoff began teaching in Sevier County in 1964. With over 400 portraits and innumerable landscape and still life paintings, Hoff exhibited widely, including at the National Academy, and she is represented in private collections throughout the United States and abroad. Her teaching efforts produced many fine artists. She believed every man, woman and child should attempt painting.

Under Hoff’s tutelage, Bobbie began creating paintings that warranted her signature. With a palette containing only three primary colors, Bobbie has been moved, time and again, by the emotional attachment of an object or scene.

Her daughter loved Bobbie’s paintings and never wanted her mother to sell or give away her work, because she wanted every single one.

Bobbie’s daughter Connie had dreamed about becoming the next Barbara Walters. But by her junior year of studying communications, she knew that asking someone how they felt in the mist of tragedy was not her calling; nursing was. It meant she could be part of healing in the worst of times. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee in 1993.

Connie began her career as a nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. However, her career was cut short when she became ill. Her diagnosis was trigeminal neuralgia, described by the medical world as the most excruciating pain known to humanity. Absolutely nothing made the pain and all the complications that came with it stop.

The pain was so excruciating that Connie never worked as a nurse again. On good days she occasionally did a little volunteer work or went out socially with her mother.

After suffering intense anguish for a decade, Connie’s agony ended Jan. 18, 2003, when she died at age 37.

After losing her only child, Bobbie adamantly looked for ways to crawl out of the darkness through her paintbrush. By this time she was an accomplished still-life artist. She hand-painted a Christmas ornament with scenes of Pigeon River Bluff, Swaggerty’s Fort and Mount Cammerer. The impressive ornament was used on the Christmas tree at the Tennessee governor’s mansion.

Bobbie also painted a scene of the Revolutionary War graveyard and a row of historic buildings in Dandridge. The original hangs in the Dandridge Visitors’ Center, and the prints are sold there as a fund-raising project.

Shortly after Connie died, Bobbie and Charlie retired and moved to a new home on the shores of Douglas Lake and converted a modular home beside their house into an art studio. She calls her studio Frog Level. Like her mentor, Arline Hoff, Bobbie teaches art there to aspiring artists.

Bobbie rarely sold her work until she was requested to donate two of her paintings to the silent auction of the University Of Tennessee College Of Nursing’s annual NightinGala. Furthermore, she found a way to honor the legacy of Connie through the creation of an endowed scholarship at the college of nursing. The Connie Lynn Lovell Memorial Scholarship is awarded to students studying nursing, with the benefactors chosen primarily from Sevier and Cocke Counties.

“I’m making nurses,” says Bobbie. “That is my something special.”

Bobbie often writes poetry, sometimes to compliment her paintings. The following is an excerpt of “Listen” which she wrote in 2012: “Listen to your heart, dear child/It knows what’s right for you/Listen to it closely/As it whispers its dreams to you.”

Bobbie Lovell’s heart told her to create a scholarship to honor the memory of her beloved daughter. As she does so, she is making a fine legacy of her own.

Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian.

Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage of Sevier County. Contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411, or email cmcmahan@scoc.org.