Ask Westport resident Dene Scott Smith, 63, when she began her lifelong pursuit of poetry and art and she gladly will tell you.
"I began writing poetry in the ninth grade at McClintock Junior High School in Charlotte. My English teacher, Mrs. Foil, caught me writing a poem describing her as a rat. She did look like a rat, I thought, but she shamed me to no end and told me I will never be a poet.
"I've been writing poetry ever since."
And what about her artistic bent?
"I have always painted and drawn, even as a small child," she says. "I would create things, always making something out of nothing. I was crafty. I would make things so they were not recognizable as their original form."
The painting somehow has always gone with the poetry, and now, many years later, Smith is a well-known and respected artist whose work has been shown and sold locally and nationwide.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., Scott moved with her family to Charlotte in 1954 so her dad could open an automobile dealership. That business, Scott Jaguar, is still owned and run by the Scott family.
Smith's sons Andy, 34, and Zach, 32, both Denver residents, work there, as did Smith after graduating from Methodist College in Fayetteville, Ark., in 1965 with a degree in English.
"I didn't pursue art studies in college because it was so much a part of me that I didn't see it as a career choice," said Smith. "Now I'd give anything to have majored in art."
While working as a switchboard operator and bookkeeper at the family business, she got married and had children.
"That was the end of my career at that time. I wanted to be a mother and a homemaker, and I loved it."
Having a family of her own, however, did not put an end to her artistic endeavors.
"I realized that there were a lot of things in homemaking that can be turned into art. For example, I plant my garden like I paint. I create these little vignettes, and they become like an outdoor gallery, so to speak. I am inspired by nature and everything in it."
Smith said balancing the responsibilities of a growing family with her artistic pursuits was easy.
"I painted late at night, after everybody had gone to bed. I was particularly drawn to painting flowers in watercolors, and I gave my paintings away to family and friends as gifts, or I displayed them in my home," said Smith.
Her friends and family were so supportive of her work that she considered selling it.
"It occurred to me that I could make a little money, but more importantly it gave me a chance to share something I created and give pleasure to somebody else."
"I sold my first painting at the Strawberry Festival in the early '80s, and oddly enough, it was a flamingo, not flowers." That sale was enough to motivate Smith to pursue art as a career.
"My first juried show was in 1986 at the University of Tennessee. I didn't win or place, but I had work hanging there, and for me, that was an exciting prospect.
"But going public, I learned, means putting yourself out there and being judged by other people. It toughens you up."
Although she always has favored watercolors, she has explored other media as well. "I work now in acrylic and a little bit of oil, and I'm interested in photography, using Photoshop. I've experimented with a process of fusing my photos with my art, and the results are very pleasing."
Smith recently completed a three-month project in which she blended the photos of 24 vintage cars - a nod to the family business - with acrylic abstracts. "I like to create my works in series, and because of my interest in classic cars and trucks, I was able to photograph a number of them for a work I call 'The Vintage Image - A Montage.'"
Another recent project was the culmination of a long-standing idea.
"For about 15 years, I'd had the idea of painting a bowl full of frogs," said Smith. "When I was invited to participate in the first Denver Art Trail four years ago, I decided to do my frogs in a bowl."
When she added leaves and twigs to the painting, she realized she had created a "frog salad."
"This led me to the idea of a garden party, where the garden invites the frogs to come for dinner and bring an extra dish," she said.
The result was a series of paintings to illustrate the story of the garden party. In addition to "Frog Salad," the dishes include "Spider Cider," "Snake's Bake," "Dish of Fishes" and "Dragon's Pie Fly."
She composed a poem to accompany each painting, and the results have been printed in a book Smith designed and printed herself, titled "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
"My Frog Salad Series is one of my favorite projects ever. It is a whimsical story and a feast for the eye," said Smith.
In a classic chicken-and-egg fashion, Smith said sometimes the painting comes first, but other times the poetry comes first and the painting follows.
"I have a storehouse of ideas that continue to ferment," she said. "It comes like a ribbon out of my head and I know it's time to start."
At other times, the creative wellspring dries up. "I've had bursts of creativity when I've been inspired to paint every day, but then there are periods when the muse leaves me and I stop painting."
Her latest project, on display at Red Rooster in Denver, was completed for this year's Denver Art Trail. It consists of a series of six watercolors and eight acrylic paintings inspired by the view from her home on Lake Norman, where she has lived for 40 years.
"The watercolors are framed with barn wood. They have no boats, no people, no birds - just water, land and sky," she said.
And what about Mrs. Foil and her prediction that Dene Scott Smith would never be a poet?
"I guess I proved her wrong," said Smith. "And I still think she looked like a rat."