CASA GRANDE — Hazel Fuller was born Hazel Stockel in West Rutland, Vermont. She began painting in high school, when she took a night class in art.
That was, oh, maybe 80 years ago. Fuller is 95 now and still painting. She socializes with other artists as well. They gather every Monday afternoon at the Dorothy Powell Senior Center. And they paint.
Over the years, Fuller has painted hundreds of pictures. Many of them cover the walls of her daughter’s home. Fuller lives with her daughter, Joyce Kleikamp, and Joyce’s husband, Ken.
Fuller is a bit of a sprite. A sprite with an easy smile, friendly chat and an artist’s sensibilities. She wears a painter’s smock. And the kind of hat you’d expect to see on an artist. She has focus. Every Monday at the senior center, she sets up her easel. Gets out her paints. And gets to work.
Except when a nosy writer has questions, as I did last week. Fuller was only too glad to answer them. She set down her paintbrush and told me a little about herself.
Her father, Harry Stockel, spent 30 years in the Navy. He was a radio operator on submarines and cruisers. He sailed on the ship that brought Charles Lindbergh back from Europe. In 1927, Lindbergh flew to Europe for the first solo transatlantic flight. He took the USS Memphis back.
Stockel transmitted and received Lindbergh’s messages.
Hazel married Charles Fuller in 1954. They built a home in Needham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Charles worked as a linoleum installer. Hazel worked in the office of The Stitchery, which still sells needlepoint kits. Hazel and Charles raised two children, Joyce and her brother, Robert.
Robert still lives in Needham, where he raised another generation of Fullers, in the house his parents built.
In 1978, Joyce wanted to bring her parents to Arizona. She asked a builder in Tucson if they needed a linoleum installer. The builder said yes. She called her dad and said he had a job in Tucson.
Hazel and Charles arrived in Arizona in an old RV. Hazel made it sound like a Conestoga wagon. The couple took up square dancing. They competed all through the West. Hazel made her own outfits.
Charles died three years ago. Before that, he spent six years in a full-time care facility. He had dementia.
So, nine years ago, Hazel moved in with Joyce and Ken. She joined the Dorothy Powell art group shortly after. Her new home became a gallery of her work. Fuller’s paintings hang in the living room, the family room and her bedroom. Some 40 in all, Joyce said.
Back at Dorothy Powell, Hazel placed a greeting card next to her canvas. It pictured a path through a shady glen, with a backdrop of blue skies. Fuller likes to work from pictures on postcards and greeting cards.
Nearby was one of her completed canvases. You see an ocean breaking against the rocks. Like many of her canvases, it’s small and fits easily on her portable easel.
Others in the group were busy with their own creations. Maxine Woodward was painting a row of trees. They flanked a bare spot in the middle of the canvas. Woodward had left it bare for an old mission-style building, to come later.
She’s a charter member of the painting group, along with Zelma Levering and Hazel Madarieta. They organized the group at Dorothy Powell nearly 20 years ago. The two Hazels were given nicknames to distinguish them. Madarieta is Big Hazel. Fuller is Little Hazel.
A half-dozen or more artists show up during summer. In winter, the number grows to more than 20. On this day, the painters sat around two large tables in the center’s dining hall.
Woodward sat a table away from Fuller. Woodward moved to Casa Grande in 1952. Her husband was born in Phoenix. Many women were homemakers at the time. Not Woodward. She drove an 85-ton hauling truck at the old Asarco mine near town. Later she became supervisor of security at Casa Grande Union High School.
Connie Trentzsch was drawing figures from a book of manga, a Japanese style of comic art.
“I started at 72,” she said of her art. She began painting in Las Vegas. She’s 86 now and running out of room for her paintings. She paints for enjoyment, though she has sold some of her work on commission.
Joanne Reeder was working on a chalk drawing, with her left hand. She’s 89. As a child, teachers did their best to make her switch hands. Those were the days. Left-handedness was a curse.
“They wanted me to use my right hand, and I just can’t,” Reeder said.
The school sent her home with a note. She had to change hands. Her father marched down there and said it wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. So Reeder continued drawing, left hand gripping the chalk.
Fuller stood at her easel, across from Reeder. I asked her if she’d been back to Massachusetts lately, to see her old house. And her son. It’s been about 20 years, she said.
But her art’s still there. Walls of canvas carrying a lifetime of brushstrokes.