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by Brenda L. Madden

Elvis Presley’s voice and face are known the world over - but behind many of those intimate portraits is artist Betty Harper, who gives us new glimpses of “The King,” with her remarkable and inspiring renditions.

An unassuming little girl, Betty Harper, the daughter of a career military man, moved around the world constantly during her for-mative years. She attended seventeen high schools not only in the United States, but Europe as well, graduating from Dreux American High School in France. According to her parents, Betty was always doodling, but her first recollection of drawing was in her fifth grade class at a school in Kansas. She remembers intently watching the boy seated in front of her, who was drawing all the time. Finally she asked him to teach her. He simply said he couldn't teach her, but to watch him and then do it herself. Betty recalls, ”So that's what I did. I just started drawing everything. When the Sunday comics came in the paper I would draw the Phantom and everybody in the comic strips. I was obsessed. Absolutely obsessed. But I just drew everything around me.”

Never dreaming that her passion would become a lifetime career, Betty just followed her heart and continued to do what she loved. After drawing just about everything under the sun, a classmate in Columbus, Georgia asked her if she had ever thought about drawing faces - and that generated an even greater enthusiasm for her art. Betty comments, “I hadn't thought about that and it sounded interesting.” The very first face, Betty ever drew was that of cowboy legend, Roy Rogers. From there she started to draw Jack Parr on the Tonight Show and then turned to rock'n roll artists, including Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley.

But as she drew more and more people, it was Elvis that kept her attention. Betty notes, “I always tended to lean more toward drawing Elvis. And over the years, I realized I'd draw somebody and after three or four times they just seemed to look the same. But it seemed like every time I drew Elvis he always looked different.” Looking back, she realizes, “There were kids my age that were better at doing drawing than I was, but they didn't practice. I think that my interest in the music and in Elvis kept me practicing enough years and kept me going to get good at what I was doing.” And “good” is definitely an understatement - from being the official artist for Elvis Presley Enterprises to exhibiting work at the American Pop Culture Gallery in Washington, DC and the Ashburton Art Galley in New Zealand - Betty has taken her work around the world!

Although she has received much recognition for her drawings of Elvis, her credits and accomplishments run much deeper. Ironically it was at the insistence of the Jordanaires, Ray Walker that she moved to Nashville, Tennessee where she began doing album covers for artists like James Dean, Archie Campbell, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves and Loretta Lynn. Over the years, she has been commissioned by RCA Records, Columbia Records, Jack Daniels Distillery, and Felton Jarvis, just to mention a few. And in addition to Elvis Presley Enterprises, she is also an artist for Jadei Graphics in Los Angeles.

In observance of the 35th year of Elvis passing, The Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis will be displaying several of Betty?s pieces including an incredible timeline of her Elvis drawings. Not only is Elvis' career chronicled, but her own as well from those early sketches to her present collection. The exhibit will run from August 1, 2012 - October 19, 2012. There will also be an exhibit at the Birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi from November 1, 2012 - January 15, 2013. For more information, visit:

With over 10,000 drawings of Elvis, numerous awards and accolades, four books, album covers, book covers, countless pieces of memorabilia, and commissioned portraits to her credit, Betty Harper could stop and rest on her own laurels, but that is not her style. With a new portrait of Muhammad Ali in the works as well as numerous other projects, she is as busy as ever.

What makes Betty Harper's work stand out above the rest is not only her talent, but the detail she adds to each and every piece. Her love for life and her sincere interest in people brings forth the best qualities in all her subjects. An honest and humble heart, mixed with a passion to draw and an extraordinary talent - that is Betty Harper!
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