Painter Elizabeth Webber leaves a legacy of faith, courage and art

Art was her life’s work, but Elizabeth Webber left a legacy far beyond the whimsical paintings she created. That greater legacy is one of perseverance, kindness and courage through terrible adversity.

“I knew her as an artist, one of the Webber kids, my aunt, and the strongest person I will ever know,” Rachel Webber said at her aunt’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Everett.

Elizabeth Ann Webber died Aug. 23 after suffering for most of her adult life with crippling rheumatoid arthritis. She was 65.

In unrelenting pain, for years in a wheelchair and unable to walk, and despite prosthetic joints and many surgeries, she continued to create magical works of art. And in her large and loving family, she was the one who never forgot a birthday, an anniversary or a special gift for someone.

The Everett woman was the eldest of 10 children, the daughter of the late Bernie Webber and his wife, Joy. Bernie Webber, a well-known watercolor painter and illustrator, died in 2006 at age 83. Her great-uncle was Arne Jensen, another noted regional artist.

While her father realistically captured places and people of the Northwest, Elizabeth Webber’s work is fanciful. She was known for her holiday artwork, especially her Halloween and Christmas images.

Webber is survived by her mother and nine siblings: sisters Barbara Bly, Patricia Chadwick and Katherine Hawthorne, and brothers Tom, John, Chris, Greg, Stephen and Rich Webber. She also had many nieces and nephews.

“Everything she touched had a kind of whimsical, imaginative approach. There were a lot of little scenes — little mice, snails, dragonflies, gardens and nature,” Bly said. “She and I shared a room when we were young. She would make up stories at night, little dream worlds, especially at Christmastime. She was like that. Her house was like that. She was magical.”

A 1968 graduate of Everett High School, Webber started college at Marylhurst University in Oregon. By 19, she had been stricken with the autoimmune disease that would severely limit her mobility.

Back in Everett, she worked for a time in the 1970s as an illustrator at the Everett Public Library, and as a watercolor instructor for the Everett Parks Department.

Determined to complete her education, she graduated in 1989 from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, with a focus on fine arts and costume design. Her expertise in costumes showed in a series of paintings with Shakespeare themes.

In 2003, an Everett High history class was given an assignment to interview graduates of their school working in the arts. Tim O’Donnell was among the students whose articles were compiled in a publication, “For the Love of the Arts,”

O’Donnell’s father, Everett historian Jack O’Donnell, remembers his son working on that assignment. “Tim luckily drew Elizabeth Webber. When Tim returned from interviewing her, he said she was the nicest person he’d ever met,” Jack O’Donnell said.

In Tim’s article, Webber is quoted as saying: “God’s given me this talent. My greatest joy is to use it. … My faith gave me a purpose for my suffering. It helped me realize I had to go on, to keep trying.”

Bly described her sister as “a living example of Christ on the cross.”

“Her suffering gave strength to other people. She really lived for other people,” Bly said.

Webber kept painting after a devastating loss in 2005. That’s when most of her largest works were stolen.

An exhibit of her work had been on display in the Everett library’s coffee shop. The paintings had been taken down and were in the care of a woman who curated the exhibit. The car, parked at the Everett Station, was stolen and eventually recovered. Webber’s watercolor, oil and oil pastel paintings — 12 large works and more than 30 smaller pieces — have never been found.

“These were pieces of my legacy,” Webber said in a 2005 Herald article after the theft. “I had willed a lot of these pieces to my nieces and nephews. I’ll never be able to reproduce them, to physically paint like that again.”

Judy Matheson, who owns J. Matheson Gifts in Everett, said Webber displayed and sold her Halloween and Christmas paintings at annual shows at the downtown shop. Even in her last weeks at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Webber was still planning a Halloween display, Matheson said.

“She was a very dear friend,” she said. “There has never been a more generous person. She’s our angel.”

At their aunt’s funeral, several nieces spoke of Webber’s larger legacy. They love her paintings, but it is her spirit that for them lives on.

Rebecca Shannon said her aunt embraced life as a precious gift. “Auntie Liz has always been magic. And she truly fought for every minute of her life,” said Madeline Chadwick, another niece.

Niece Erin Webber said her aunt never put herself first. “If you were sick, she was the first to send a card,” she said.

“We wanted a miracle for Auntie Liz,” Erin Webber said. “She was a miracle.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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