Topekan accompanies works to France

When a Topeka resident agreed to represent the late Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton at an art exhibition in Paris, he never dreamed he would receive a call from his sister back in the States telling him that America was being attacked.

Don Lambert flew to Paris in late August, escorting a portfolio of Layton's drawings to the Halle Saint Pierre. Lambert, who discovered Layton's artistic abilities nearly 24 years ago, now promotes her works.

"I had been out doing errands and had a call from my sister," he said. "I turned on the TV. I wanted to find CNN."

He eventually found CNN commentator Wolf Blitzer on a German station. Blitzer's voice was dubbed in German, and French captions scrolled across the screen.

"But the images told the story," he said, referring to footage of two planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City and wreckage of other planes at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in a Pennsylvania field. "I felt so isolated."

The next morning, he went to the museum, as he did nearly every day during his five-week stay in Paris. He was greeted by the museum director, who told him that the museum was his home and he could use its phones, fax machine, e-mail and any equipment he needed to contact friends and family. The store clerks who realized he was an American expressed their sadness over the attacks.

Lambert said several of his friends who were planning to make trips to Paris to see the exhibit canceled their plans following the attacks. One was Ann Evans, director of the Lawrence Arts Center.

However, a couple of days after the exhibition's Sept. 18 opening, Deb Barker, a Kansas University graduate in art history who lives in Ottawa, arrived in Paris to see the show.

"She taught adult education (art) classes in Ottawa and Elizabeth went to it," Lambert said. "She named her child after Elizabeth. Elizabeth Barker is now a student at KU."

While he typically doesn't like Layton's drawings to be included in "untrained artists" exhibits, Lambert said the Paris show was different. Other artists in the exhibit include a man who makes quilts but doesn't follow the norm of delicate, measured stitching and a woman who makes portraits from glass.

"I have resisted (Layton) being included in most groups of naive and untrained art," Lambert said. "While she may be naive in technique, her mind was not. She may have been naive about the understanding of art, but she was not naive about the world."

Some of Layton's drawings are touring in an exhibit organized through Mid-America Arts Alliance; others will make up a small show in the new addition of the Garnett public library.

Her drawings pertaining to nursing homes are on permanent display at the Landon Center on Aging in Kansas City, Kan.

Lambert also is working on organizing an exhibit of Layton's drawings in Switzerland.

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