Nearly a century-and-a-half after Horace Greeley’s editorial plea to “go West and grow with the country,” the Honorable Darlene Camus (nee Perry) is living proof that Greeley’s sagely advice is limited to neither the 19th century nor “young men.”
Hon. Darlene Camus
A native of southern Maryland, Camus practiced law there from 1972 to 1985, when she was appointed to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. Upon retiring from the bench in January 1999, however, she relocated to Alto, New Mexico, where she has since actively fostered her creative side.
“The law is a very structured undertaking,” Camus notes. “Although I enjoyed those years, there was a great sense of freedom when I left my legal career.
“I remember waiting for my case to be called in court one day when one of the lawyers continued to argue on and on after the court had ruled against him,” she continues. “I had the bailiff slip him a cartoon of a man beating a dead horse, which I had drawn while waiting a long time for him to conclude. In good spirit, he shared the cartoon with the court and audience. I think when I gave up the structured and confining practice of law and judging, I learned to look at life like a little kid again.”
Though Camus had “always kind of dabbled in art” throughout her life, she undertook no formal training before moving to New Mexico, where she has since acquired 21 college credits in the fine arts. An avid painter, she counts Pablo Picasso, Menuchian Martiros, Michael Goddard, Mark Chagall “and other less-structured, ‘in-your-face’ artists” among her chief influences. Camus herself works primarily with acrylic and oil-based paint, “depending upon the canvas I am using” (though her interpretation of “canvas” can be just as unconventional as any of the aforementioned artists; she recently acquired a stack of old metal tractor seats at auction for precisely that purpose). But her biggest project to date, Camus notes, was painting a 40-square-foot fiberglass bear she dubbed “Spirit”.
The Honorable Darlene Camus painted this 40-square foot fiberglass bear, nicknamed "Spirit", which was subsequently auctioned to benefit her local arts council.
“It was auctioned for the benefit of the local arts council,” she explains. “It was bought by a local restaurant owner and remains here in the area, where I can visit and take visitors to see him.” The local Chamber of Commerce sponsored the artwork, which sat on display for a few months in the front garden of the Visitors Center prior to being auctioned.
However, Camus does not restrict her creative endeavors to any single medium; indeed, she has also written and illustrated several children’s books, including You Can’t Be a Cowboy – Your Hat’s Too Big, featuring a “little Hispanic cowboy” named Lupe.
“I read a lot of children’s books and found a scarcity of books for Hispanic children and, indeed, books relating to heritage in this part of the country,” she notes. “So I invented Lupe, and his grouchy sister Camellita.” (The names, Camus explains, are derived from those of her own grandchildren, Luke and Camille.)
“The children here love the Lupe story,” she says, “and are waiting for the sequels.”
Though Camus is the first in her family (to her knowledge) to express interest in creating art, she’s certainly not the last. “To my joy, all three of my granddaughters have displayed quite a talent for painting,” she says. “On visits, we retire to my little studio at home, where we paint most of the time they are here. It is so important for children to have an outlet for creativity, and a sense of pride in having created something special.”
Camus calls her husband (and former law partner) Edward her “most important and kindest critic. Together, we have six children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, so I guess the Lupe books will have to keep on coming!”
And, indeed, they likely will, for it is in fostering the infectious enthusiasm of young children that Camus finds her greatest reward. “Little kids are my favorite people,” she admits, “and it delights me so much when they enjoy my books.”