An Illustrated Life

It is exciting and inspiring to hear someone’s story, to learn about the experiences that shaped them, and the obstacles they overcome. I enjoy discovering the gifts and talents of people and thinking about the unique things they have accomplished. I took some time to read our church history book and I came across some illustrations signed by Billie Crockett. I had talked with Billie many times, but I didn’t know she was an artist, so I asked her about the drawings. She was quick to say she was just an illustrator, and she made light of her abilities. I asked several times to talk with her about her drawing, and I am grateful she finally gave in. We spent a wonderful afternoon talking about her life, and the lost art of advertising illustration.

Billie grew up in Louisiana and graduated from LSU with a degree in design, then went on to Sarasota, Florida, where she attended the Ringling School of Art. She landed a job illustrating various items that a department store was advertising. Yes, before Amazon and the internet, pictures were drawn by hand for advertising in the newspaper. Can you imagine being given various items from dresses to lamps to sewing kits, never knowing what object you would be illustrating next? She spoke of departments stores like the White House, Dryden’s, and Spencer’s which are now a part of history. It was fascinating to hear her talk about the elements of an ad and how they were assembled. I wondered if the clothing she illustrated was modeled on mannequins, but no, it was on a hanger and she had to decide how it would look on a person.

Billie was a shy young woman when she moved to Beaumont to work for Harrison Baier at the White House. He invited her to First Methodist, where she met her future husband, Bill. Bill had been praying to meet someone, and just like that, Billie showed up. Did you know his name is Billy Gene and hers is Billie Jane?  We discussed how God brought her here, to this church, and to this city, to meet her husband and raise a family, and how grateful she is for all these events in her life. Serving God has helped her overcome her shyness and experience has taught her that if you stop thinking about yourself and focus on others, listening and giving them your attention, you stop worrying about yourself and you can be the hands and feet of Jesus. Billie’s illustrations are fascinating, and if you ever get a chance, visit with her and let her show you some of her work, the detail is incredible, and the faces are marvelous.  Billie said when she drew her figures, she started with the eyes, and I had to wonder if that’s how God designs us, starting with our eyes and then moving on to our soul. 

Story and headshot by Michelle Holland