Artists Share Tweet

Molly Bethel

Molly Bethel

Molly Bethel is a painter and educator. She is also the founder and former director of Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes (formally known as MollyOlga). Bethel was born in 1933 and received her Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in 1956.[1] She also attended Cornelia Yuditsky School of Creative Art in Washington, D.C. The school, an extension of the publicly funded arts program Works Progress Administration, helped mold Bethel’s teaching style and her commitment to community outreach and arts education for students of all backgrounds.[2]

In 1959, Bethel began teaching art classes, working with several organizations. For a time, she worked with the Albright Knox Art Gallery as a program coordinator, bringing art classes to the many diverse neighborhoods of Buffalo.[3] One day, a little girl in her neighborhood saw Bethel painting, and asked if she could come over and paint with her. The pair would paint at Bethel’s home, with Bethel providing instruction and guidance. Eventually the little girl inquired if her friend could come and join them, and what started as two friends learning to paint quickly grew into “painting parties”.

Bethel would buy art supplies and host the growing number of students in her home, never requesting any type of payment for her classes.[4] Living in a predominantly African American neighborhood, Bethel’s classes provided the community unprecedented access to art. By the 1960s, the number of students interested in classes grew too large, requiring Bethel to find a larger space. She began teaching at the St. Phillips Episcopal Church by the late 1960s.[5] Olga Lownie, a student teacher at Buffalo State at the time, also came on board to teach alongside Bethel.

In 1971, the ongoing demolition of churches throughout Buffalo allowed Bethel to acquire a former nunnery as the permanent home of MollyOlga.[6] The three-story building, located on Locust Street, is in the heart of the Fruit Belt, a neighborhood in Buffalo that has historically been haunted with poverty, violence and drugs.[7] MollyOlga was a welcome addition to the neighborhood; local gang members would even protect the building from rival gangs.[8] Bethel rented the two front rooms in the building for 10 years, until the building went on sale in 1981. With the community’s ongoing support, Bethel managed to purchase the building outright; most of the funding for the purchase was comprised of donations from neighborhood families and the local church parish.[9] Without the burden of a mortgage, Bethel was able to keep classes free, even expanding the offerings to include photography, ceramics and sculpture classes. Continuously providing access to art as an outlet, to the Fruit Belt community and the city of Buffalo as a whole, is the very basis of which Locust Street Art was created. Terrie Ford, a former student at Locust Street Art (1982-1991) writes:

“One of Molly’s primary goals for Locust Street has been to embrace children and adults from diverse backgrounds and show them that art isn’t just for an elite. She continues to prove, through encouragement and careful attention, that art can be accessible to everyone.”[10]

In 1997, the program was formally renamed Locust Street Art Classes, and is still in operation today. Students of all ages and skill levels can take classes and workshops in painting, animation, film and digital photography.

Bethel has been honored several times for her contribution to the city of Buffalo. Her awards and accolades include the New York State Governor’s Arts Award for MollyOlga (1985), the Buffalo News Citizen of the Year (1996), Community Recognition by the Fruit Belt Coalition (2011), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Buffalo Arts Services Initiative (2014).[11]

Despite her extensive work in art education, Bethel exhibited her own art throughout her life. Her paintings have been featured in group shows at the Pastel Society of America 18th Annual Open Exhibition in New York City (1990), the Clary-Miner Gallery in Buffalo (1991), and the Anderson Gallery in Buffalo (1992).[12] Bethel as also had individual shows at El Museo Gallery in Buffalo (1998), the Maclaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario (2003) and the Gallery Moos in Toronto (2003).[13]

After 50 years of service, Bethel retired as director of Locust Street Arts in 2010. She continues to paint.



[1] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived resume.

[2] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[3] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[4] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[5] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[6] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[7] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[8] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[9] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[10] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived New York Foundation of the Arts Publication, article written by Terrie Ford, 2000.

[11] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived resume.

[12] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived resume.

[13] “Molly Bethel”, Burchfield Penney Artist File, Archived resume.