They were an unlikely duo for 15 years. Elizabeth Layton was a depressed housewife and grandmother in Wellsville, Kansas. Don Lambert was a 27-year-old newspaper reporter in a nearby town. At the age of 68, Elizabeth Layton took her first and only art class. By looking into a mirror and drawing pictures of herself, she cured a 30-year depression and emerged as a nationally recognized artist.
Don Lambert ignored the advice of the “art experts” who told him no one would want to look at any pieces of art created by an old woman from Kansas, but he was undaunted in his mission. Because of his persistence and her work, Lambert was able to promote the relationship of art, medicine, and ethics. He helped thousands of individuals reach a better understanding of mental health and how it relates to art and community independence.
Lambert led an uphill battle arranging for Layton’s exhibits and for promotion of her work, which included feature stories in Life, People, and Parade Magazine. Together, this dynamic duo became best friends. Their mission was to let people know there is hope from depression and other conditions. They shared with the world that art can be more than a mere decoration, and the arts can elevate the human condition.
Elizabeth Layton died in 1993 at the age of 83. Her exhibits have been in more than 200 art museums and centers across the country including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Art. Lambert, now 49, carries on Layton’s life-saving mission. Before her death, she acknowledged that learning to draw saved her life and realized it could do the same for others. Art was a miracle for her, but she did not believe you could “sell” miracles so she gave all of her drawings away. Many went to charity auctions that raised nearly half-million dollars for the arts, mental health, women’s causes, civil liberties and the visually impaired. It was Lambert who was able to facilitate those gifts, and shortly after her death; Lambert and Layton’s husband gave 50 drawings to the Lawrence Arts Center in Lawrence, Kansas.
While nearly half-million people attended her shows, Elizabeth Layton was not there; and she sent Lambert in her stead. He would drive an hour each week to visit with her and talk to her over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They discussed her latest drawings and the state of the world.
Many people do not “buy” into his theory that art is a pathway of healing for mental issues, but Lambert still perseveres. He survives resourcefully on a limited income and goes beyond what is reasonable of a volunteer. When he met Elizabeth Layton, he became committed to sharing her life and experiences with others. He continues organizing her exhibits and gives slide lectures about her art. Thousands have learned to draw their self-portraits as Layton did, through looking into a mirror. Through her art, he has improved life for many on the planet Earth.