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Picayune People: Artist and art teacher Evelyn Acosta-Cone

Evelyn Acosta-Cone

Evelyn Acosta-Cone began creating art as a child in Puerto Rico. The Marble Falls artist is a member of the Highland Arts Guild and Gallery and the lead organizer of its annual Summer Art Workshop for children. Staff photo by Nathan Bus

Highland Arts Guild member Evelyn Acosta-Cone of Marble Falls thrives when creating and teaching art, a passion she credits with saving, if not her actual life, her positive outlook on it. 

A little less than two years ago, she was diagnosed with tonsil cancer, which required both radiation and chemotherapy. The aggressive treatment didn’t keep her away from art for long. With the help of the guild and her students, including the kids who attended the organization’s free summer art classes, she was able to handle the long-term ordeal. 

“My kids and the guild members are the ones who kept me sane,” said Acosta-Cone, referring to the students as her kids. “They saved me. When they saw how frail I was, they unpacked my car and set everything up (for classes). They still do. They baby me.”

She missed only one summer of teaching the children’s workshop (in 2022), is back at her weekly Watercolor Wednesday classes, and just finished up her annual holiday card class. 

While Acosta-Cone has always been passionate about art, it took her years to confidently put her skills to work after feeling pressured to be successful in the traditional job market.

“I did not like corporate America,” she said, which might be an understatement given the untraditional life she has lived.

Soon after Acosta-Cone and husband Dan Cone were married, they lived on a 50-foot trawler boat that took them to jobs from Southern California to Alaska — just get in your house and go. 

While docked in Los Angeles for Dan’s job, a neighboring boater approached Evelyn about employment. He was an executive for the Mattel toy company.  

“I talked to Dan and told him, ‘You know, that would be a fun place to work. It was started by a woman,’” she said. “I got to work in the design center for Mattel Toys. I’d walk into work every day and there would be Nickelodeon balloons floating around and Hot Wheels racing up and down the aisle and people designing fabrics for Barbie and Cabbage Patch and Disney.”

Tuscan sculptor Aldo Favilli, who was Acosta-Cone’s boss at Mattel, noticed she had an artist’s way of seeing the world. 

“He began to train me to be an artist without me even knowing it,” she said. “He asked me, ‘Why aren’t you painting?’ I credit him for getting me back into art and getting me all excited about it again.”

In retirement, Acosta-Cone received further training from Ruby Agnew-Martin, an accomplished watercolor artist and art teacher in Washington state. 

“She became my mentor,” Acosta-Cone said. “She was really inspirational, so full of positive energy. She could teach anything.”

Acosta-Cone soon began selling her work. 

“I’ve always been amazed if anyone buys anything, quite frankly,” she said. “I always feel honored because art is a passionate thing.”

That passion took root in Puerto Rico, where Acosta-Cone was born and grew up. She attributes her keen eye for color and patterns to her mother’s instincts as a seamstress.

“My mother was a genius in fabric,” she said. “She was the kind of seamstress that never needed a pattern. She’d see it through a window and go home and make it. When you grow up with that, it’s just second nature to you.”

Acosta-Cone has an obsession with the way things appear that has impacted how she views life.

“Art is in everything,” she said. “When I wake up in the morning, I look at the light and look at the clouds and see how the day is. I take a moment to look at the beauty out there because that’s what I have to remember and capture as an artist.”

That perspective on the world around her nurtured a respect for her favorite subject to paint: nature. 

“I believe we’re a part of the Earth and we need to take care of it,” Acosta-Cone said. “I do everything I can to recycle and use natural products in my yard. I feed the birds, I feed the squirrels, I even feed the opossum. We won’t hurt him, even if he messes up the yard, because he was there first.”

After years on a boat, she and Dan settled in Washington state but decided to sell their home in 2011 and roam the country in an RV. Three years later, they stopped in Liberty Hill.

“It was Easter and we decided to take a drive,” she said. “We ran into this little town, and there was art all over Main Street and it was quaint and picturesque and there was water.”

Lake Marble Falls convinced the couple that this is where they wanted to live.

“I am a water person,” Acosta-Cone said. “I’ve always lived on, around, or near water.”

It didn’t take long to find the perfect house to check off one of the last items on her bucket list.

“One thing I always wanted to do was take a disaster and make it beautiful,” she said. “We found this beautiful 55-plus community that had manufactured homes. We drive through there and it’s just cute. There’s all these little houses that people are keeping up, but there are still a few that look like hell. We found the biggest disaster they had. I looked at Dan and said, ‘This is for us!’”

The couple is still working to turn their “disaster” into a home.

“We fixed it up and made it all pretty,” she said. “We did the interior over and the outside over. It’s a work in progress, but we’re still having a lot of fun with it.”

As the holidays approach, Evelyn and Dan have been hard at work creating Christmas cards for their friends and family, a tradition since 1996.

“Our family always expects gifts,” Acosta-Cone said. “One day, one of us said, ‘Let’s do a Christmas card and Dan can write a poem.’ So we did, and they loved it.”

The cards include a print of Evelyn’s original Christmas-themed art and Dan’s poetry.

“Dan inherited this gift from his mother’s side of the family,” Acosta-Cone said. “He gets inspired — or angry — and he’ll write a poem.”

Card themes vary from year to year.

“The year of COVID, it wasn’t a happy card,” Acosta-Cone said. “It was dark because it was a dark time, but it was still art and it was still fun. It just wasn’t as fun as it could have been because there was a statement being made.”

Once word about her cards got around the Highland Lakes, guild members suggested she host an annual workshop to teach others how to create their own.

“I never thought to do it, but people ask for it,” Acosta-Cone said.

Her holiday card class was featured in the 2019 Christmas Lights Guide, a publication of The Picayune Magazine

“Creating art is fun,” Acosta-Cone said with a smile. “I really do love to have fun. I always try to inject an element of it into whatever I’m doing. We all work so hard, so when we retire, we should do things that bring us joy. Art and teaching art bring me joy.”

And that has been a lifesaver.

nathan@thepicayune.com