Sandra Ramsey-Sterling, whose work is on display this month at Main Street’s Lone Gull Coffeehouse in Gloucester, dabbled briefly in painting when she was a young woman but gave it up.
She always liked art, but there were other things to do — like in 1957, when she was crowned Miss Massachusetts USA. She went on to the Miss USA pageant in Long Beach, Calif., where she was one of 15 finalists. A brief modeling career followed, along with her own export business, two husbands, three sons and six grandchildren.
The past decade has been a difficult one, though.
Ramsey-Sterling was widowed in 2002 and later underwent painful back and neck surgeries. She also fought a bout with cancer. Now 76, she has difficulty walking and lives at the Hannah Dustin nursing home in her native Haverhill. But several years ago, Ramsey-Sterling tried painting again — and this time she became obsessed.
Working from memory and from photographs brought to her by friends, Ramsey-Sterling has become an avid artist in the past few years, churning out landscapes, still lives and other scenes in her cramped room at the nursing home.
It’s given her a new lease on life, and plenty of praise from admirers. “It’s a challenge,” she says. “I’m very surprised that people like my paintings so much.”
One of the people who noticed Ramsey-Sterling’s talent is artist Mark Morgan of Atkinson, N.H. And last week, Morgan helped install a show of Ramsey-Sterling’s paintings at the Lone Gull, located at 146 Main St. in Gloucester, where they will be on display through the end of August.
“She’s very prolific in what she does,” says Morgan. “To do what she does in such a small space is amazing.”
“Sometimes,” says Ramsey-Sterling, “I amaze myself.”