GREENFIELD — One might say life’s a puzzle for Betty Stewart.
But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, because Stewart has mastered the art of where to put the pieces.
It doesn’t take long to figure that puzzles – especially those of the jigsaw variety – are a passion the 82-year-old resident of Good Shepherd Community doesn’t mind sharing.
Mounted on poster boards and held together with acrylic sealer, Stewart’s puzzles adorn the common area off the elevator; grace the walls of her apartment; and by some accounts are scattered among a deserving handful friends up and down her hallway.
“I work on them almost every day,” Stewart said. “I like to keep busy.”
One could get very busy just trying to keep up with how Stewart keeps busy.
“I like to paint, take pictures – I have a digital camera – walk, plant seeds, and I raised parakeets that I now babysit.”
She also builds her own collages and puzzles from photographs of family and pets, very detailed pieces cut, pasted and painted in her own hand.
She also alludes to a fairly adventurous life for a “1929er” who started in Greenfield as telephone operator back in 1952 and took her to California, Mississippi and Florida, though she doesn’t mind holding the details fairly close.
There was also some singing and painting – a sufficient amount, it seems, to require an alter ego, “Bettina Star” – but it’s the puzzles that keep her quick, she says. Anything from the straightforward and mundane 500-piece jobs with pieces that can be seen from across the room to the puzzle-master’s 1,500-piece monsters that require bifocals and Job’s patience.
“I’ve been doing puzzles since I was a teenager, but I give a lot of my puzzles away,” Stewart said. “They’re good for the mind, and I try to do interesting subjects.”
Resting on the sofa are renderings of the White House; George Washington cutting a fine figure while crossing the Delaware; Noah’s Ark; a salute to veterans; and on the living room table, a collage of aviation history from biplanes to F-16s.
A large, challenging piece can take Stewart up to three days to complete, “depending upon how much time I have,” she says. Her goal is to find out just how quickly she can assemble one of the really big ones.
The key is a closely guarded pre-sorting technique that involves several plastic plates with pieces divided by color and whether they belong inside or along the border.
That’s about as much of the process the puzzle master will reveal, however. When asked how one could possibly glean precisely where one of the 1,500 interior pieces might fit, Stewart smiled like a magician who knows how to cut the smiling lady in two.
“Oh, I can’t begin to tell you that,” she said.
Along with working her puzzles, Stewart is equally driven to share handmade scrapbooks and paper praying-hands figurines, most of which carry handwritten Bible verses or prayers on the back. She never knows where the random communiques might end up, but that’s not really the point, anyway.
“The world’s a pretty topsy-turvy place,” she said. “You never know when someone might get inspired.”