finish lines

benson_w-trayJean Benson is 96, and has been teaching tole painting—decorative painting on tin and wood household objects—through the Mt. Lebanon School District Adult Education program for more than 30 years, and has acquired a loyal following. In addition to teaching, Benson manages to play a couple of rounds of golf a week when the weather permits.

What got you into tole painting?

I took adult ed classes for a few years at Mt. Lebanon High School in the early to mid 1960s. I enjoyed it so much that they asked me to take over the class when the teacher retired. I was a stay-at-home mom and needed to find an outlet and a break from raising children. I wanted to do something for myself and found that I really enjoyed painting.

How do you choose your designs?

I love nature and love trying to replicate it, the subtle shades, trying to get depth and perspective. I have done flowers and butterflies over a child’s bed, and a spray of grapes winding up columns in a dining room or as a border around a room.
What do you like best about teaching? The students are eager to learn and don’t miss a class. Many of my students come year after year and we have lots of fun. I enjoy showing them how to paint and actually learn from them at times. The social aspect is very important. This year they surprised me with a birthday party. Some of our friendships have carried outside the classroom.

Photo by Martha Rial