Many Franklin Countians know of the Elizabeth Layton Center, but not many know how deep Elizabeth Layton’s story goes.
Layton’s three granddaughters took it upon themselves to write her story, Judy Cross, Layton’s granddaughter, said. Cross said it was first her mother, Kay (Russell) Nichols, whom Layton tapped to write her biography, but after Nichols’ death in 2005, Cross said she felt it was up to her and her sisters to finish Grandma Layton’s story.
“We went through all of her boxes and we found [Layton’s] story that she had written,” Cross said. “There’s thousands of boxes and illustrations that grandma had done before she even took her first art class.”
Layton lived 35 years with severe depression before taking an art class in her late 60s and discovering it was the art of blind contour drawing that would help her heal, Cross said.
“Basically [blind contour drawing] is looking at your subject and not at the paper,” she said. “It’s different kinds of lines. What you’re doing is you’re seeing it through your own eyes and you’re putting it on the paper. Grandma did self-portraits, meaning she would look in the mirror and draw herself, then fill in everything around it.”
Writing throughout her depression, the book “Signs Along The Way,” is a compilation of Layton’s writing and drawings, as well as some of her own mother’s writing, Cross said.
“What we’ve done in this book is we’ve put [Grandma Layton’s] writing in green,” Cross said. “Her mother, Mrs. Converse’s writing, is in purple and then we have her sister in blue. Anything else is just what we’ve compiled and put everything together, but most of it is grandma’s story.”
The story has tidbits of Layton’s life and her struggles with depression, as well as the many other trials and tribulations she faced, Cross said.
“[The book] is a romance novel, it’s historical, it was happening right then,” she said. “Plus, it also kind of explains that she had 35 years of depression and she did drug therapy, shock therapy, everything, and finally when she started doing this blind contour self portrait, she cured her depression.”
By the final chapter readers will know the “hows and whys” that led to Layton’s lengthy depression, as well as the vast influences that shaped her intelligent and rebellious spirit in such a way that she was able to pull herself out of that downward spiral for good, and encouraging thousands of hapless souls to do the same, a press release for the book said.
Layton’s drawings and self-portraits have made it far beyond Franklin County, Cross said.
“She had a show at the Smithsonian,” she said. “She has a drawing hanging at the Smithsonian and she’s got one at the Nelson.”
A national tour of her drawings will coincide with the release of the book, according to the press release.
A documentary of her life is also being produced by Layton’s long-time friend and agent, Don Lambert, the press release said.
Some family members weren’t thrilled about the release of the book, Cross said, but she believes it’s what her grandma would have wanted.
“We feel like since she told my mom to write it, we feel like grandma wanted it told,” she said. “So we told it, and some of it’s not pretty, but I think it would help a lot of people just like her art did.”
The sisters and co-authors of the book, Cross, Carla Russell and Kathy Tracy, are hosting a book signing 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. July 28 at Tortoise Gallery of Fine Art and Espresso Bar, 5 W. Wea St., Paola. The book will be available for purchase and also can be ordered online at www.globepublishingandgraphics.com or www.elizabethlayton.com