Betsy Charlton Powell
is an artist living on her family's sesquicentennial farm on
Sauvie Island, Oregon, U.S.A
Remembering, caring, loss and love
I grew up on a farm on Sauvie Island, so I know the landscape and its inhabitants well. We have livestock, dogs and cats but the wildlife, too, is abundant. The farm sits in a migratory flyway so in addition to the year round bird life there are thousands of migrating geese, ducks, sandhill cranes and more.
The landscape on the farm can be beautiful or wild, weedy or tamed. It reminds me of chores that need doing. There are crops, wetland areas, native and invasive plants, a lake to swim in, and animals to take care of. My work is a reflection of where I live, what I see and the materials I gather here. I enjoy working in charcoal, and acrylics using various drawing and painting techniques. These drawings are often translated into wood engravings or wood cut prints. I love the variety of charcoal’s bold contrast and the delicate nature of a finely carved wood engraving. Charcoal gives drama to secretive places like the cracks in ancient trees, energy to quaking fields of grass, and softness to foggy mornings. Wood engravings refine and emphasize.
Tractors and implements stand in the dirt among long rows of crops casting shadows. Shimmery grasses lay flat on the ground like bolts of golden fabric. Gray green water with the subtle ripples of a carp or nutria swimming stealthily past. The sights, smells, and sounds of this place all ask to be preserved in some way. I am always thinking, and often worrying, about these things.
Shearing the alpacas and llamas is an annual event I look forward to. Their fleece is wonderful to use in felting projects. Knowing the names and habits of each animal contributes to my enjoyment in making textiles from their beautiful fleece.
Teaching elementary and secondary art for close to twenty years has made me curious and adventuresome when it comes to different media. This curiosity has been rewarded in the respectful harvesting of uncultivated plants found on the farm. I challenge myself to use these natural materials in purposeful ways. Willow, blackberry vines, ivy, grasses and sedges can all be made into vessels, baskets, or other nested objects. These objects bring me in direct contact with the plants. I enjoy weaving the material, like the birds, into nest like shapes. The smell of cut grass and woven branches in the house adds a natural depth to my multimedia art practice.
The through-line for all of this is the farm. The seasonal activities of the business, livestock, wildlife, family and myself contribute to a feeling of home--of nesting in this special place. There is a sense of loss as well as optimism. Children coming and going, the changing seasons and empty nests. My work is about remembering, caring, loss and love.
Betsy Charlton Powell