99-year-old McAllen woman commits life to painting

McALLEN — Surrounded by her artwork, 99-year-old Catalina Martinez was painting her latest piece of a bird perched on a tree last week at the Lark Community Center in front of the early voting kiosks.

Many passerbyers and voters that morning stopped to admire her work. Some stopped to take photos of Catalina, who goes by Caty, while others engaged in conversations with her daughter, Alba Tinsman. Most conversations were about how they could not believe she was 99 years old.

But amid the commotion, Caty stayed focused on her work.

“If she starts painting, she never quits,” Alba, a retired registered nurse, said of her mother. “She could spend half a day on it.”

Caty has been avidly attending art classes at the Lark Community Center library for the past five years, and the center wanted to express their appreciation for her by setting up a gallery of her work last Wednesday as early voting took place.

Though her paintings do not show it, Caty has not been painting for too long. Alba said that her mother was in her 80s when renown painter Alfredo Alvarez visited Caty’s hometown, Xilitla, a town in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

“She was captivated by the painter, and was curious about how to do it, too,” Alba said.
Most of Caty’s paintings are set outdoors, and feature many birds and pots. One shows an empty city street lined with old homes in Mexico and green mountains in the background.

Much of Caty’s inspiration comes from Xilitla, because most of her paintings reflect the scenery and vegetation there.

“The town itself would inspire you,” Alba said. “From a very young age, she loved nature and started taking walks outside when she was 15 years old. She would walk up the mountains there and take so many morning walks.”

Caty moved to Edinburg from Mexico six years ago to live with Alba, her only daughter.

Three years after, Alba’s husband died of cancer, and she said that her mom was her stronghold.

“She would wake me up every morning and tell me, ‘It’s time to get up, let’s exercise,” Alba said, later adding that Caty wakes up at 6 a.m. every day. “It took a couple of tires, but I finally went.

“She is perseverant about everything she does, she never gives up on anything. She just keeps on working at it.”

Caty also find inspiration from the small things in Albas home — her idea for the bird she was painting came from the print of a small napkin Alba put out on her dining table.

Her secret to painting and living long, according to Caty, is simple: focus on happiness.

“I have had a beautiful life since I was a little kid,” Caty, who will be celebrating her 100th birthday in March, said.

“She is by nature, a very happy person,” Alba said, “She is always smiling and is just painting all the time. Whenever she has an opportunity.”

A former elementary school teacher, Caty’s also known to share her wisdom and life lessons.

“Don’t talk to anybody, concentrate on what you are doing,” Caty said.

Lark Library volunteer, Eva Martinez attested to Caty’s undivided attention to her work when she paints.

“She sits down, tunes into her art and she is lost, gone into her painting,” Martinez said.

“Whether we are loud, whether we are painting or having a discussion, her head does not deviate to see what is going on. Her concentration is 110% … We are so amazed.”

Alba added that what she admires most about her mother is her consistent drive to learn. In addition to art lessons, Caty is taking English classes. Caty also spends her leisure time learning new recipes.

“When she watched Mexican shows, she watches with a notepad and pen because she wants to learn,” Alba said. “It’s her will to always be learning and is always actively involved. She loves to be with friends, she loves dancing and never wants to miss a party.

“She is always learning something, she is an amazing lady. I am very proud to have some of her genes.”