Grosse Pointe Woods artist Bette Prudden stands next to one of her moving water paintings, “Maine View.”

Grosse Pointe Woods artist Bette Prudden stands next to one of her moving water paintings, “Maine View.”

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

One-woman exhibition by nonagenarian commemorates ‘A Life in Art’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 5, 2024

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The work of artist Bette Prudden, of Grosse Pointe Woods, is part of a number of people’s art collections, but it’s also a piece of family history for many others.

Prudden spent four decades painting portraits, eventually capturing images of the children of people she’d painted earlier. She’s known as well for her striking landscapes, still lifes and more. At 95, vision problems keep her from doing as much painting as she once did, but the award-winning, nationally recognized artist continues to teach and create new work.

Prudden’s work will be the subject of the exhibition, “People, Places and Things: A Life in Art” March 10 to May 12 in the gallery at Grosse Pointe Congregational Church in Grosse Pointe Farms. A public opening reception will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. March 10. The show is expected to have about 28 works spanning the various media in which Prudden has worked, including watercolor, pastel and oil.

“You’re going to see diverse media handled expertly,” said artist Lori Zurvalec, of Grosse Pointe City, chair of the Grosse Pointe Congregational Church Arts Ministry.

Prudden studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and took oil portrait workshops in Kansas City, Missouri, which is where she grew up. She’s lived in Grosse Pointe Woods since her husband was transferred to Michigan for work in 1963.

“I just really never wanted to do anything else,” Prudden said of art, recounting a story her father told her: When she was 3 years old, he said, she used her mother’s lipstick and powder to draw a picture on the rug.

Her early art forays sometimes got her in trouble.

“That was just always my favorite thing to do. … In arithmetic, I drew on the pages. In history, I drew on the pages,” Prudden recalled in a 2006 interview for the Grosse Pointe Times. “You soon figure out this is more fun. I scribbled on everything. I remember the worst thing I got a licking for was my mother’s high school album — I decorated everything, all the pages.”

She has never been one to shy away from a challenge.

“I needed money for a new washing machine, so I answered (a help wanted) ad for the Michigan State Fair to do portraits,” recalled Prudden, who had never done portraits before — something she left out during her interview. “I jumped in and started working in a crowd, and I got used to it. … It was very educational to get a likeness quickly. And you had to make it look like them, or they wouldn’t pay you for it.”

She proved to be a quick study and ended up working or showing art at the Michigan State Fair for roughly 30 years. Prudden said joining the Portrait Society of America helped her to hone her skills in portraiture.

“Kids were my thing to do for years,” said Prudden, who favored pastels for portraits of children. “I have a lot of fond memories. It’s so much fun to paint kids.”

Prudden has been teaching art in metro Detroit since 1965. She formerly had a studio on Mack Avenue in Detroit — across the street from Grosse Pointe City — where she and fellow artists worked and taught, including Julie Strabel, Roselyn Rhodes and the late Nancy Profitt. Today, Prudden teaches from a home studio in her basement.

“I’m happy with my two students,” Prudden said. “They’ve become my friends.”

Prudden is one of the early members of the Pointe Studio Ten, an art critique group made up of female artists that started in the early 1960s. Zurvalec has been a fellow Pointe Studio Ten member since the 1990s.

“Bette always brought beautiful things (to the critique sessions), usually landscapes and still lifes,” said Zurvalec, who said Prudden’s subject matter “is often very compelling and unusual,” such as a mask series.

A more recent Pointe Studio Ten member is Kathleen “Katy” McNamee, of Grosse Pointe Farms.

McNamee recalls first meeting Prudden in 2011. McNamee had work chosen for the “Our Town” show in Birmingham, but the day that artists were supposed to drop off their work, McNamee was going to be in another state attending an awards dinner for her husband. No other artists that McNamee knew nearby had work in the show, but an artist and mutual friend told McNamee that Prudden had also been selected for “Our Town.” McNamee called Prudden to see if she could bring her art to Prudden’s home so she could drop if off when she turned in her own, and Prudden agreed. McNamee, in turn, offered to drive Prudden to the “Our Town” opening reception.

“We went to the party together and we just stuck together, and she started introducing me as her new best friend,” McNamee said. “And I loved it.”

That same evening, McNamee said, Prudden told her about the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors — of which Prudden had already been a member for years — and urged McNamee to join as well.

“I never looked back,” said McNamee, noting that she met “wonderful artists,” mentors and friends through DSWPS. “That evening was my baptism into the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors.”

Prudden has an ability to shift among different media and subject matter and make it look effortless, McNamee said.

“She takes on one subject and she takes on a drastically different subject … and she just masters it,” McNamee said.

McNamee said Prudden can also complete a work from a mixture of memory and invention, not needing to rely on a photo or the subject itself for reference. Her quick wit is another quality that has endeared Prudden to so many, including McNamee.

“I’ve had a long and happy life in painting,” Prudden said. “It has been so much fun. You can get lost in it, so you have absolutely no other worries at all. And that’s what I like about it.”

Prudden, whose husband died in 2011, has three adult children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The works she selected for this show are among her favorite pieces.

“We’re honoring a lifetime dedicated to art,” Zurvalec said. “We think this is an important thing to acknowledge — the contributions, the beauty created by artists.”

Grosse Pointe Congregational Church is located at 240 Chalfonte Ave. in Grosse Pointe Farms. The gallery is open to the public during the reception and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or when there are other activities at the church. For additional hours or to schedule an appointment to see the show, call (313) 884-3075 or email