Betty Bowen

artist and middle school art teacher
Location: Cushing, Oklahoma

All images are copyrighted and strictly for educational and viewing purposes.



How did you become an artist?

I became an artist in 1964 when I was three and went to see Mary Poppins and they jumped into a sidewalk drawing and tap danced with penguins.

Where are you from originally?

Cushing, Oklahoma, a town of about 7,000 in the Cimarron Valley of central Oklahoma. On the occasion of my father‚s death I returned to care for my mother, and stayed.

Who were your main influences growing up?

Like many homesteaders, my father’s family made whatever they needed or wanted to make. They didn‚t use instructions or wonder if they knew how. They also drew and made little figures fromwood and clay, and beaded. Making things was a normal part of our lives, so that must be the primary influence. Another huge influence was my piano teacher Jesse Arid Wilmarth, a highly cultured woman who came to Oklahoma from Iowa to teach the Sac and Fox. Her home was filled with bronzes and marble busts, Indian miniatures, French lace and mysterious bark paintings. She was very elderly but continued to travel the world on her own. She fell down an Egyptian pyramid and broke her finger in her 70’s, and drove like a maniac (including sidewalks). As visual arts go, I would have to say Mr. Hinds, a local elderly man who had left college to work in the oil fields. He was a devout painter, and his little house was stacked with canvases. He would sit on the floor in his underwear and paint. My father and I gave him his one and only art show shortly before he died. His example taught me that artist is not a job title, it is who you are for life.

Did you go to art school/college for design or are you self-taught?

I have a BA in art from Oklahoma City University and an MFA in printmaking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I studied at UNC-Chapel Hill a little in-between. I enjoy learning new media, whether or not I ever use it, so take workshops annually at the Oklahoma Art Institute at Quartz Mountain. Last year I learned pinhole photography with Dennis Darling.

Any advice or tips to novice designers?

Learn from everybody, don’t be a snob. Make art that is personally meaningful to you, without regard to whether or not anybody else likes it, then don’t stop, ever, no matter what.

What has been the most rewarding and challenging project you have worked on?

I just finished a painting show at the Tulsa Artist Coalition Gallery. It was my first exhibit of paintings after many years of only showing woodcuts. It wasalso my first body of work after my mother‚s death last summer, and also my first show of any kind in Tulsa. Lots of firsts. It was a great challenge, and I don’t think I could have done it without a well-timed blizzard and lots of support, but it turned out to be a great experience.

What is your favorite portfolio piece? Why?

“Rocks”, a new woodcut. In it I can sense the next group of prints to come. This image comes from a watercolor in my sketchbook of some rocks I collected in the Columbia River while visiting fellow artist Mary Dryburgh Gufstason a couple of years ago. I did the watercolor just after we finished a walk in the river. Later I did a small acrylic painting from the watercolor, now have a large painting of it in progress, so this woodcut is just one more way I am playing with the image. It is a very simple idea, but I have enjoyed working with it.

What American art or artist inspires you most?

Going to a local summer Pow Wow. The color combinations, graphic designs and the high level of craftsmanship never fail to amaze me. They might finish off a costume with those round day-glo file label dots, – you know, office supplies. I love that. It is very sophisticated work. So, when you mix that with the movement and music and food and Oklahoma night skies, it‚s a sensory experience no urban gallery district can come close to.