A peek inside Betty Brown’s creative vignettes, poetry and paintings
S A VISUAL ARTIST,
and daily life
are inextricably connected. Her
work tells the story of a curious,
observant, and discerning mind.
“I never forget a thing,” says
Brown, who emanates a compel-ling
The artist’s attention to the
world around her is reflected in
the wide variety of subject mat-ter,
style, and medium that she
uses. Her oeuvre incorporates
award-winning plein air water-colors,
unique pieces of book art,
intaglio (engraved) prints, cre-ative
assemblage, and abstracts
PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER
in cold wax.
“I try everything; I’m a big
experimenter,” Brown explains.
“I get bored if I do the same thing
for too long, so I have to branch
The only materials that she has
not used extensively are pastels because, as she states with a chuckle,
“they make too big of a mess.”
Brown is a native of Greenville, South Carolina, and has lived in
Wilmington since 1965. She started painting in earnest in 1975, when
her youngest child was in kindergarten. Many early experimentations
with art and aesthetics came out of activities undertaken with her
young children during that period. Brown describes making Christmas
ornaments out of pill vials and ribbon, and the mishaps involved with
messy art mediums and childhood curiosity, as legitimate compo-nents
of her artistic trajectory.
Brown is perhaps best known for her scenic watercolors, winning
WBM august 2017
many awards from the Watercolor
Society of North Carolina and
teaching courses at a variety of
institutions in the medium, but
what stands out most about her
work is the breadth and depth of
human experience that it captures.
In assemblage pieces — works
of art created from found objects
that Brown builds inside wooden
boxes and old-fashioned drawers
—the artist peels back the curtain
on intimate vignettes from her
own experiences and offers a
peek into her life.
A piece of this type, “The Poet’s
Sleep,” includes a poem authored
by the artist that bears the same
title. The poem is in the style of
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The
Moose,” which details a bus trip
to Boston and emphasizes the
delicate balance between external
observations and internal struggles.
The accompanying assemblage
piece is constructed inside an old
battery tester box. The interior
of the box is covered in poem
excerpts, authored and in the original handwriting of Brown’s great-grandmother.
This piece includes pen-shaped cylinders of handmade
paper, a small glass jar filled with bits of color and Brown’s homage
to the Dadaists and their use of atypical objects — an accordion style
book, old mailing labels, and pieces from an antique letter press.
This collection of sensorial associations creates an experience like
that of peering into a memory. The viewer has a sense of grabbing and
holding the moment in which a childhood impression was preserved.
The three-dimensionality of the piece gives weight to the histories
that it references. Juxtaposing youthful impressions with adult reflec-tion,
Brown’s piece is emotionally complex and thought-provoking.
By Kathryn Manis
Artist Betty Brown in her Wilmington home.