By Amanda M. Socci
Mount Vernon resident Betsy Grady-Carey may be the first person to admit she has peaked late in life. The defining moment came to her vividly in 2013 when she was listening to a local NPR station: “Musicians peak early. Visual artists peak late in life in their 50s,” Grady-Carey recalled hearing on the radio. Prior to that day, art had been a part of her life, though in a more passive, dormant way. Grady-Carey took a few art classes from the 1980s to 2013, but they were more for fun and stress relief. None were intended as serious manifestations of artistic theories or technique.
The process of getting involved with art has been slow and unintended, almost by happenstance. Grady-Carey never had a concrete ambition to become an artist, although she dabbled in art for many years. She remembers having artistic abilities as a child, but didn’t do much to pursue art. She considered majoring in fine art in college and took classes in oil and acrylic painting but put it to the side.
A practical lifestyle awaited Grady-Carey. It’s not that anything was wrong with art; it’s that she was attracted more to a different source of living altogether. Little did she know how her career choices would toughen her and give her opportunities to achieve great success.
Grady-Carey worked in retail management after college and then moved into the lucrative wine industry. For 13 years while living in Florida, she operated a fine wine store. Then she moved into executive recruiting. With each successive job, Grady-Carey fine-tuned some aspect of sales savvy, consistently working with customer rejections, complaints, or excuses why they couldn’t buy whatever she was selling. None of it mattered. For Grady-Carey, the ins and outs of sales were part of the job. She relished every aspect of sales and became strong, overcoming difficulties with extraordinary sales success.
By 2002, Grady-Carey had been living in Alexandria for a while when she came upon an interesting organization whose sole purpose was to benefit Inova Alexandria Hospital. She loved the concept and began donating her time to the Twig, the hospital’s Junior Auxiliary. She worked in their thrift store on Columbus Street and headed various committees over the years.
In 2013, Grady-Carey started taking classes the Torpedo Factory Art Center. As her confidence grew, she began painting portraits of people as a hobby. Friends and family saw her work and began to commission her to paint more portraits. Eventually, Grady-Carey began painting portraits of pets.
Slowly, Grady-Carey’s art became known in Old Town Alexandria. In 2015, Grady-Carey was hired as a realtor at Long and Foster, tasked with selling luxury properties. Having worked in sales for so many years, this position was a perfect fit.
Grady-Carey was in her element. Sales opportunities were abundant and learning the intricate features of the properties she offered was rewarding. In short, she loved and excelled at her job, earning company recognition and inclusion in Long and Foster’s highly regarded President’s Club.
One of Grady-Carey’s co-workers, Martine Irmer, had seen her people and pet portraits and casually suggested she should paint Old Town houses. Grady-Carey thought it was a good idea and set out painting houses of the properties she sold.
In less than a year, she had built a reputation as a painter of Old Town houses. Her efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2016, the Twig committee organizing their annual Historic Alexandria Homes Tour had seen Grady-Carey’s house portraits and asked her to paint the six homes featured in the event that year. The intention was for Grady-Carey to donate her time and talent and give the paintings to the homeowners as gifts.
When the realtors in Grady-Carey’s office saw the homeowners’ reactions to the paintings, they thought it would be a great idea for more people to experience the same joy in admiring the beauty and detail of the paintings. The best way to accomplish that was with calendars. Grady-Carey admits that if it weren’t for her co-workers giving her the idea to print calendars featuring her work, she would not have thought of it on her own.
Grady-Carey had her paintings professionally photographed and converted into a calendar that she mass-produced. This new endeavor was a great success. She then painted houses for the 2017 and 2018 Twig historical house events and created new calendars. “I’ve gotten proficient,” noted Grady-Carey. “It takes me a week to do one.”
The popularity of calendars featuring images of Grady-Carey’s oil paintings has grown to the point that Grady-Carey is pinching herself looking back at how far her art has developed and flourished in a mere five years. Ironically, despite having a solid track record in sales, Grady-Carey finds it difficult to market and sell her own art. This is why she quickly credits those whose ideas encouraged her to pursue her art and helped her get where she is today.
Though Grady-Carey has sold at art shows and festivals, she says commissioned art has been the most lucrative for her, but not lucrative enough to do it on a full-time basis. She admits that she can’t imagine doing art full time because she genuinely loves the real estate business and the process of helping people find their dream homes.
In the meantime, her art is doing well. Readers may commission Betsy Grady-Carey’s art at her personal website. Calendars featuring Grady-Carey’s art are available at The Old Town Shop at the Twig’s thrift store, and the Zebra store.