SUNBURY, N.C.

Thirty-five years ago, Edith Freeman Seiling wanted to replace the glass globe on a lamp decorated with pine cones.

She could not find another like it anywhere.

Only one thing to do for a woman used to getting things done her own way: She began taking lessons in Virginia Beach, learned to paint pine cones and created her own lamp globe.

She's still painting at 100 years old.

Seiling works in her garage studio on Tuesday mornings, always with friends.

"We just get together and have fun," she said. "I don't paint alone. It's good to be around people."

Seiling has painted a porcelain dresser set of powder and perfume containers with flowers and butterflies from the design on her great-grandmother's handkerchief. She once braided a rug out of old wool suits.

She painted the portrait of a young woman conjured in her imagination wearing a light gown and a flowered band holding her long, dark hair. The image is reminiscent of masterpieces from centuries ago. She painted a woman in Victorian dress wearing a hat wrapped in a wide, flowing pink ribbon. The woman looks out with joyful blue eyes as if she is ready for a ride in the carriage to the theater.

Very few artists work beyond their 80s, said Chris Sawin, director of the Dare County Arts Council. He did not know any artists in the area still working as centenarians.

"It's really special," he said.

Seiling's work is on display and for sale at Studio 32, an art gallery and gift shop in Sunbury.

She sat in a rocker Wednesday in the studio with her art hanging nearby. She shared memories, easily laughing at some of her stories. None of her experiences for the first six decades of her life included art.

Seiling grew up in a modest home in Gates County. Her father was a mailman. She helped the family tend a garden and preserve fruits and vegetables. Despite the idyllic setting, a rebellious streak in her showed through once in a while.

She and her brother went against her mother's wishes and took a small horse and cart to the other side of town one Saturday afternoon in the 1920s.

"I got a spanking," she said.

After high school, her mother wanted her to go to Chowan College and become a teacher or a secretary. But that was what all educated girls did at the time and she refused. Seiling loved science instead.

She earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Meredith College in Raleigh and later got a graduate degree as a medical technician from a school in Kentucky. She took a job as a nurse in Suffolk where a friend introduced her to Frank, a Navy man who would become her husband.

She took a job years later for Gates County Schools with the task of rounding up children who were supposed to be in class.

On her first day, she learned sometimes children have reasons for skipping school. She drove down a long, muddy road to a ramshackle house. The mother came to the door in worn clothing. She told Seiling her children were in the woods playing and it was OK to go back there if she wanted.

"They were just as naked as they were when they came into the world," Seiling said. "It was first time I saw real poverty in Gates County."

She called on friends and others to help the children get clothing and other supplies. They attended school regularly after that. She visited dozens of truant children over the years, motivated by compassion rather than a desire for discipline. She drove down every remote dirt road in the county and soon learned that a thick pile of newspapers under the tires could help free her car from a muddy rut.

She served as president of the Gates County Historical Society for 40 years, just relinquishing the position at age 96. She received state awards for her years of volunteering.

"She helped a lot of people," said her daughter Peggy Lefler. "I don't know when she slept."

Seiling took on her artwork as she had other passions. Her late husband, Frank, became her driver as she attended art classes in North Carolina, Virginia and once in Colorado. She gives away almost as much of her art as she sells, Lefler said.

Seiling acknowledged she was surprised at her talent after painting pine cones on that lamp globe.

"I still am," she said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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