The eyes are windows to the soul, and they're the first thing Workhouse Arts Center artist Gloria Benedetto focuses on when she sizes you up. In fact, there's a light behind the eyes of all the subjects in her paintings, and they always tell a story.
In her painting "Pearl, 1923", virtue and innocence are revealed in the the steady eyes of a young black woman. She's wearing a thin, golden crucifix around her neck and the reddish brown color of her pulled-back hair implies a wholesome, ancient purity.
"Pearl spoke to me. I sat back one day and asked her who she was and she told me to put the crucifix around her neck," said Benedetto. "I think she's strong, and I can see her walking to church on Sunday with her family."
Benedetto was born in Iowa, but didn't stay there long. The Air Force brat lived in Morocco, Germany, Japan and all over the United States. She took her first painting class in 2009 - a reward to herself for careers as a special education teacher, a dental assistant, owning a dog grooming business and as a representative for Hallmark greeting cards.
"I'm leaning on 63 years old. This is a point in my life when I look back on my past and reflect on the innocence of childhood. It's (the artwork) a retrospective of my own experience of living," said Benedetto. "My father would tell me, 'Honey, you're just a late bloomer.' And once I started blooming I didn't know when to stop.
"I was 30 years old before I started to teach. I needed all of these experiences in life to get me ready to do what I'm doing now. This is exactly the right time for me to paint. I paint what I like, and when I paint, I do it because it makes me happy," she said.
Benedetto moved to Woodbridge from Orlando, Fla., in 2000 after the death of her husband, Nick. "A year before he died, I asked him what I was supposed to do without him, and he told me to sell the house, to get rid of one of the cars and get out of Florida. So, that's exactly what I did," she said. "And I happened on the Workhouse by chance. I was trying to avoid Interstate 95 one day, and was driving on Ox Road and I saw this big assortment of red brick buildings."
Benedetto volunteered at the Workhouse for three years before taking the plunge and renting her own studio last year.
"I do not suffer fools lightly, and I don't want to be around anyone negative," she said. "What I'm trying to do with my art is to connect with people. I believe we're here to help and serve each other and to solve problems together."
You can see the work of Gloria Benedetto in Building 5 of the Workhouse Arts Center.