Interview with Betty Brown, January 31, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Brown, Betty Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman / Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 1/31/2007 Series: Arts Length 120 minutes
Jones: Okay. Today is January 31st, 2007, and I'm Carroll Jones with Sherman Hayes with the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program. Today we're with artist Betty Brown in her home in historic downtown Wilmington. Good afternoon Betty.
Jones: I'm so glad to be here with you.
Brown: Good to be here.
Jones: And especially in your work space here which is very-- your whole house is interesting, but this is a treat.
Jones: I want you to talk to us about your early years, where you were raised, something about your family, anything that would shed light on your evolvement and how you became interested in art.
Brown: Okay. You know I'm a very old artist and so this might take a little while for me to tell.
Jones: Not really.
Brown: My granddaughter had to do an oral history at school and she picked me. I said, "Well, how long can it be, because it takes a long time to tell my history." But I was raised in Greenville, South Carolina and born there and raised there until I went off to school and got married, but.
Jones: Where'd you go to school?
Brown: I went to Queens College in Charlotte.
Hayes: Would you be bold enough to tell us your birth date?
Brown: Oh, sure. August the 6th, 1936. That makes me 70.
Jones: You don't look it.
Brown: Well, I appreciate that. But no, I grew up in a fairly artistic family. My aunt was a professional artist and she actually worked for a photographer in Greenville, and that was my dad's sister. And my brother was sort of natural. So instead of this encouraging me it probably intimidated me because I was not terribly secure or, you know, aware that I could do things like that too. And so it sort of took me a while to develop into understanding that I could do some of these things as well.
Jones: But were you always as a youngster involved and interested?
Brown: Interested, yes, yeah, of course. (telephone rings) Now, I had turned that off.
Jones: Don't worry about it.
Brown: Okay. I have always been interested as a little child even, you know. I didn't mind getting sick, and back in those days we were quarantined, do you remember? And so color books were my favorite things. And I just loved color books, and pieces of paper and blank pieces of paper. I loved it when my mom opened up a new pair of hose and it had the little blank piece of white paper in there. That was sort of a deal for me. In fact I have a hard time throwing those away now, so it's a-- and but anyway, we-- my cousin drew very well too. She was on the Bell side as well. And she was a year or two older than me and so I watched her a lot, and I felt like I learned a lot from her. And we would just draw anything we could get our hands on. So it was sort of in there. But like I say, I don't think I had the confidence or the savvy to understand what was going on with it, you know. It took a while to develop. I was always interested in, you know, these people that took art in school, and once we got into electives in high school, but I never felt like that I could do that, so.
Jones: So you didn't take it in high school?
Brown: I didn't do it in high school or college. And in college I was just trying to get out and earn some money. I just wasn't really there to do anything but get through with it. So I majored in business in college and...
Jones: Now that was unusual for that generation you'd think.
Brown: Well, I became a secretary for Blythe Brother's Construction Company in Charlotte, wore hat and gloves to my interview, the whole deal, and so I worked there. I was the secretary for the secretary treasurer of Blythe Brother's Construction Company at that time. And so then Charles graduated, my husband graduated in '57 from Davidson. We were one of those Queens-Davidson connections. And so we were married in June of '57 right after he graduated. And then he had to go down to Fort Jackson and do some active duty, and I stayed in Charlotte and worked. And then we moved to his home which is just 40 miles from here, Ivanhoe, up in the ________________.
Jones: Sure. I know where that is.
Brown: And I always, to get back to the art thing, I always drew my children, kept a sketch book. I had another cousin out in California that always had these beautiful sketch books. And again, I was sort of psyched out by it because theirs were so good it seemed like it came so easily with them and it didn't come that easily to me. I sort of had to teach myself how to draw and pick it up by getting _________________.
Jones: So you were untrained.
Brown: At that time, yes, uh-huh. So, but I always read a lot about painting and just sort of did things on my own. I did a lot of crafts in those days when the children were small. We had four children. And so there was this span of time where I was at home with them and that was when I did tole painting and that sort of thing. And I think that's really what gave me some confidence was the tole painting because I was better than anybody else in the class.
Hayes: Well, what was it?
Brown: It's derived from Pennsylvania Dutch. It was a craft type way of painting, Pennsylvania Dutch.
Jones: Very popular.
Hayes: How is that spelled?
Brown: T-o-l-e painting. It's a form of painting and it's considered more of a craft than it is...
Hayes: Was that a prescribed you had to do it a certain way?
Brown: Yeah. You practice brush strokes and that sort of thing, and it was in oils. And back in those days there were lots of crafts like that like hand painted pocketbooks, little wooden pocketbooks and things like that. And in fact, I remember when I did start taking some art classes and jumping into that, my oldest boy said, "Now, how long is this going to last," like the other crafty projects that I had done all those years, and it's lasted for-- well, I started taking classes with Alex Powers in 1975, and because I had reached the point where...
Jones: And where was that?
Brown: That was, well, I took a workshop from him here in Wilmington. He was at St. John's Museum with an exhibition.
Jones: I'm going to interrupt you a second.
Brown: Okay, uh-huh.
Jones: When did you come to Wilmington?
Brown: Okay, we moved to Wilmington in 1965. We lived up in Ivanhoe for about eight years and we moved to Wilmington in 1965. We moved on Christmas Eve I think it was, and that's when we moved to Pine Valley. So all this time I was doing it on my own and I kept sketch books. I let my children watch TV so they'd be still and I could draw them, that sort of thing. And just did, you know, lots and lots of things, decoupage. I can remember a little toddler putting her hand in after I'd put 20 coats of varnish on a piece of wood, that sort of thing. But in fact I, you know, I don't know why I tried to do so much of that while the children were little because I had my hands full. I was kind of a glutton for punishment I guess. But it got to the point where I realized I needed to-- some education along these lines. I didn't know about mixing paints or the properties of paints and that sort of thing, the technical things. So and Alex came to do this workshop at the museum. I wanted to do it, but he was going to teach a class in the morning and a class in the afternoon, and my youngest, Doug, was in kindergarten so I had to pick him up at noon, and so I took the class in the morning. Well, it was full. It had like about 30 people in there and it was really hard to, you know, find a place and I didn't know what I was doing. My brushes had never been wet. They just-- it was a watercolor class. I'd never done anything. Had all these new materials and didn't know what to do with them. And so, but afternoon class only had about four or five people in there. It was Ed Hay that was the minister down at the First Presbyterian, Pinky Gauge [ph?] who-- well, you know Pinky, and Ann Brennan was just a teenager.
Jones: Oh, really?
Hayes: You're kidding.
Jones: Is she from here?
Brown: Yeah. She lived right down the street from us in...
Hayes: Now, when you say-- can you tell us a little about this instructor. You say he came in. Was he really-- he lived somewhere else?
Brown: He lives in, and still does, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Brown: Yes. And he was here just to have this exhibition. And he's taught just about everybody on this eastern seaboard because he was a very popular teacher.
Hayes: What's his name again?
Brown: Alex Powers. And I actually continued by going down there. For about three or four years I commuted down there to his studio and took the classes out of his studio for once a week.
Hayes: What was his particular medium?
Hayes: He was a watercolorist.
Jones: That's supposed to be the hardest medium to work with.
Brown: Well, that's what people say, but that's kind of what I jumped into, so right now it's the easiest for me because I've been doing it for so long.
Hayes: And where was St. John's at that point?
Brown: Right down in the Lodge there on Orange Street.
Hayes: It's still at that-- I knew-- I didn't know who had switched them there.
Brown: Yeah, it was right there on Orange Street, and I can't remember, I don't think they had the Cowan House at that time. I'm trying to think where we actually had the classes conducted. Maybe they did have the Cowan House. I can't remember for sure. But anyway, I was telling my neighbor that I was sort of distressed because I didn't feel like I could get much out of that class with that many people in there and I wished I could go to the afternoon class, but I had to pick up Doug. She said, "Don't worry I'll get Doug and I'll keep him in the afternoon and you to the afternoon class.
Jones: She became your best friend.
Brown: She was, yeah. She still is one of my best friends, and. Betty Tinsley, and her husband's a surgeon here in town.
Jones: I know who he is.
Brown: Yes, and they are very good, close friends. And so I can remember after it was-- it went for a week and when the week was up I came home and I found this Hallmark card that had little sand fence and sand dunes on there a little seagull flying in the air and I copied that for her in watercolor and gave it to her as a thank you for keeping Doug through that week. So that was my beginning. And she still has that little painting that I had done for her. It's very trite and cliché, I'm sure, but that was my very first watercolor that she...
Jones: Betty, during this time was Charles and the children very supportive of you, or did they kind of think, "Oh, this is mom's thing let her alone."
Brown: Well, I think they've always seen me, you know, dabble and do things so that they didn't, you know, it was not new news for them.
Jones: Your newest project.
Brown: Yes, it was just what she's into now. And Charles has always been very supportive, but I sort of made it my-- I took on the idea that I didn't want to ask for lessons and that sort of thing, so I've always used my own money. And so I have never asked for lessons, or paint, or brushes or anything. I've always done it on my own, and...
Jones: He's a lucky man.
Brown: Well, he puts a roof over my head and puts food on the table, but I've always supported my own interest in art, and I just kind of wanted to do it that way. So that was pretty much the beginning of that. And like I say, I went on down to Myrtle Beach and worked with Alex down there. He would have classes in his studio, and I did that probably three or four years once a week.
Hayes: Were there other choices of people that you could have done that or was he the only game in town at that time?
Brown: Well, after that, or maybe in between the workshop and doing that, I went out-- Gladys Faris was teaching out at the Y, the YMCA, YWCA, and I went out there and took her classes. She didn't come until sometime in the '70s where we came in '65. But she sort of-- we became friends because I was taking her classes too. And I also studied with Jack Berkman.
Jones: Oh, did you?
Brown: He was having classes down on Orange Street in that building.
Hayes: Tell us a little bit about Jack, because we have a lot of information, but I never got to meet him. I don't think you did either, Carroll.
Brown: Oh, really.
Jones: Well no, but I feel like I know him because I accessed his, or indexed his collection and all the notes and diaries and so forth and, but anyway.
Brown: Well, you know, he had been in New Mexico and I think this was when he had just come from there and he had his daughter Connie and his wife. And of course Jack was trained as an architect. He went to the Corcoran and so forth, but he was the most interesting enthusiastic teacher, and he didn't teach on a regular basis, but once in a while he would do something and I always, you know, availed myself of those classes, and I learned a lot from him. Probably one of the things that sticks with me that he did was to-- he would go to the library and checkout books, art appreciation books and so forth, and he would bring those into class and he would show us the tricks that the famous masters used. And I-- a lot of that has stuck with me. I use it today when I'm teaching my students things that he's taught me about how Winslow Homer did such and such or...
Jones: He did a-- I know he did a series of takeoffs on Picasso.
Brown: Right. Right. He used to complain that he was trained so academically in the academy so that they were trained then to, you know, they had to draw the busts and the statuary and that sort of thing, and it was very rigid academic training. And he complained about that because he said that he didn't find his own handwriting he called it, his-- meaning his own style and his way of interpreting things and, you know, putting things out there that...
Jones: Drawing people for the first time because he did buildings.
Brown: Uh-huh. Yeah. So he was-- this rigid academic background he felt stifled him until he was able to get out on his own and do something. So he encouraged us to find our own handwriting he would call it.
Jones: And did you?
Brown: I think I have, uh-huh.
Jones: Was there any particular artist that you really, not necessarily living at this time or that you met, but anyone whose style that you really respected or enjoyed more?
Brown: Well, it changes. It goes through, you know, sort of an evolutionary process. And so I think when I first started out I just admired anybody that could make things look like they really were. Realism, you know, I thought, "Wow, how do they do that?" But then I'd sort of gotten away from that. I think you become a little more discriminating as you paint and as you exposure yourself to it, and you become such that you start looking for things that are unique, more unique than anything else. One of my favorite artists to this day is, he's not living now, is Richard Diebenkorn out of California. He's an abstractionist. He did the Ocean Park series and so forth. He started out doing figures at the California School. But he-- when you go into a museum and you walk through a gallery, and if he has a piece hanging there it always turns your head. And I think it's something about the composition. The poster that's behind you is the Diebenkorn abstract and he-- it's kind of faded. It's just a poster, but anyway he has this real mastery of composing and, you know, taking the picture plane and designing it so that it's eye catching and pleasing. And he's one that I talk to a lot about to my students and so forth. But, you know, I started out liking Turner because of the color and the real, you know, boldness of his coloring. I tell the story about how Turner was out painting one day and someone walked up behind him and said, "I don't see those colors over there," and Turner turns to the viewer and says, "What a pity."
Jones: I attended a seminar at the National Gallery in Washington one time, and there was a series of artists that were speaking, and I was only able to catch two, but this one said many things, but the one thing that really stuck in my mind he said, "You all have heard that saying that beauty's in the eye of the beholder." He said, "It is," and he then put out some pictures that he had done and others had done and he said, "This is ugly, but it's beautiful to somebody." So I guess it's the artistic feeling what you feel and what you see just the story he just told.
Brown: It's like a language to me and I think it is to all artists. It's an unspoken language. It's just a visual language that we speak to each other and some people respond well to some things that are said and then some people don't, you know, they turn a deaf ear. And I think that the biggest slam that you could give to an artist is not to care what they're saying, you know, an indifference because they're trying to put themselves out there and, you know, we go to all sorts of lengths to make fools of ourselves by putting our work out there, and if somebody just...
Jones: I never heard that one before.
Brown: It is true. Did you ever-- do you know Virginia Wright-Frierson?
Jones: I do. I do.
Brown: She got straddled with us before, and she had an exhibition down at...
Jones: Fairlane [ph?]?
Brown: Well, I think it was-- this was years ago.
Jones: Oh, okay.
Brown: It was down-- I think it was at the old New Elements when they were down at Stemmermans, down in that block. And she had an exhibition and show down there. And one of the pieces on the wall in the show was just a small little watercolor like this, and there was a crowd of people surrounding her and she was right there in the middle of these people surrounding her, and there were paintings on the walls where she was stark naked. Do you get it?
Jones: I do. I do. Well, sure she's bearing herself.
Brown: She's put herself out there.
Jones: She has, certainly.
Brown: And that's what we do.
Brown: Every time we paint or do something it...
Jones: Well, she told me the story one time when she was doing the bottle house, and she said at one point her husband came out and said, "What are you doing with this junk," and she said, "To some people it's trash to others it's treasure."
Brown: That's right. Well, I've never seen Ginny any more excited than one time we were down at-- it was either Holden Beach or Ocean Isle or somewhere. We were headed to Litchfield, I believe, we were going to spend the week down there painting. And on the way we were taking pictures and stopping and seeing the sites. And we came across an outsider artist lady that had just junk all over her yard. And there was things that she had made out of the junk similar to a like Ginny's bottle houses and so forth, and Ginny just came to life. Well, we all did because it was so cleaver and wonderful, but I can remember how excited Ginny was about looking at all these things. This lady even had egg cartons hanging from trees and, you know, just the whole yard was just full of clutter. Her name was Mary. I don't know who she is. Had a little chapel, a little playhouse chapel and there were pictures in there of weddings that had taken place in this little chapel. And there was this man that looked like he was about seven feet tall, crouching down to get inside this chapel for his wedding and all sorts of funny things.
Jones: She had a sense of humor.
Brown: Oh, it was great. It was great.
Hayes: A question for you. It sounded like when you took art that the professor didn't just teach you, you know, pretty colors and brush strokes and so forth, so there was a philosophy from most of the teachers? I mean, I think, I know that people who don't take art lessons think that that's what happens. They think, you know, here's how colors go and so forth. So you got a philosophy from them?
Brown: Well, I think most-- see I sort of got the horse before the cart or the cart before the horse, whatever the thing is. And I took lots and lots of workshop type things, like week long things with some nationally known people. That was sort of my beginning. Then I realized that I had not had this academic training that I probably-- I didn't have to have, but I just sort of yearned for that. So I went back to UNCW and I would take courses out there, oh, starting in the '80s I think. I'd take one thing at a time just for the heck of it. And my daughter-in-law pointed out to me, she said, "You know, are you going to work on your degree," because I thought it would be nice to have an art degree. And I said, "Well, I think I would like to eventually get it." And she said, "Well, I figured it up. You're going to be about 115 by the time you finish because you're taking just one thing at a time." And sure enough they sent me a letter from the Dean's office saying, "So let's put your money where your mouth is. Are you going to do this or not?" You know, they wanted me to go ahead and enroll full term or not, you know, so I did. No, no, I know what it was. I went to admissions and talked to-- what was that lady's name? She became friends. Ann Collins [ph?] was there at the time, and I said, "Ann, they want me to go full time, and my daughter-in-law said I'm going to be 115, I better do this." So she sent for my transcript from Queens. Well of course I didn't have any art things and I didn't have their required things, so they counted just about everything from Queens as electives. So I had electives coming out of my ears, but I didn't have some of the things that UNCW required, so one of the things was math. Well, math was never my day, and it scared me to death. And all my children were good in math, but by then they were gone off to school so they weren't there to coach me or help me or anything, that anytime I had a math question I would ask them. And so she said, "Well, I'll tell you--" so, well when they did that, she told me that, I waited for about four years and I saw her somewhere else and she said, "You never did come back and sign up." And I said, "Well, honey I'm going to have to take that math." And so she said, "Well, they've come out with a new textbook for people that are non-math majors and it's very visual and it's this and that and I think you'll like it. And if you ask for this certain professor, who is Jeff Brown, then and they have like a lab where you can go be coached and so forth." So she talked me in to do it. So I got Jeff Brown, sweetest dearest man I've ever laid eyes on. He was so wonderful. And the kids got to the place in the classroom where they knew that I would ask the questions so they would just sit back. And his habit was to walk into the room, "Any questions from last night's homework," you know. And they'd just sit there. And I knew that if we didn't ask him the things we didn't understand we would go onto the next thing and then we'd all be lost. So I would have to ask him the questions.
Jones: They were waiting for you to do it. Well, that's funny. That's funny.
Brown: So I got through that math and I put all my credits together with the things from Queens, and my electives, and got through, and finally graduated with honors in art from UNCW.
Jones: Good for you. Good for you. That's terrific.
Hayes: Let's come back to that later. I want to go back to the workshop idea. It seems like there's different ways...
Brown: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah, you-- I really got ________.
Hayes: Well, that's what we want to do here...
Brown: Well, I think to answer your question more specifically, the workshops do probably go more on or, you know, talk more about what individual teachers think and do. But when you go back to UNCW or to any art school and get the academic training, one of the first things I took was 2D design and 3D design and then you get more into how to mix colors and, you know, the technical things that you're talking about and asking about.
Hayes: Well, what were some of the other workshops? Do you remember any of the others and who was giving them?
Brown: Oh, gosh. I've taken bunches of them. The first one I took, Gladys Faris and I we became friends after I was in the class. Found out we were both from the same hometown so it was like old home week. She got me involved in the watercolor society on the state level. But anyway, she and I took Zolton Szabo, who's now deceased. It's funny, when I'm teaching I tell them about my old teachers and they're all dead now. It's like the Dead Poet's Society or something. And, but anyway he was very famous as a technician in watercolor at the time and he came down to Wrightsville Beach and conducted a class. You want to hear a funny story that happened?
Brown: He was-- they say that he was, I don't know if I should say this or not, but I've heard that he was like a Nazi officer in World War II. He was from Hungary, you know. And he was very, you know, he didn't laugh or, you know, have fun or anything.
Jones: He was strict.
Brown: Very stoic. He was straight and he was stoic and he had rules. And so he set up his table. We were down in the Pullen House next to the _________ down there, and had rented a room there. And so he set up his table just so, you know. He had everything in the right place and we were told not to touch anything on his table. And so one day he went to lunch with the lady who had organized the workshop, and the rest of us had brought sandwiches so we sat behind and ate our sandwiches, and we finished before they got back because they had gone to a restaurant somewhere. And we said, "Well we've got all this time why don't we sit somebody up and draw and paint them while we're waiting on him?" So Margaret McGinn [ph?] lived up at Topsail, she had come down and she said, "Well, I'll sit and you all do it." So she sat herself over on the stool, or something, and we were going to paint her while we were waiting. Well, this girl that was in the class couldn't get a very good vantage point from where her station was so she came over there and it was right next to me, and she moved Szabo's things all to one side and set up her station there on the end of his table that we were told not to touch. Well, as you would have it the water spilt and there that water got turned over all over that table and we were mopping that stuff up just as fast as we could. And here he comes walking back in, and just as we got things back, you know, but I think realized. He didn't say anything, but we were scared to death because he had made quite a point that we were not to mess with his stuff.
Jones: So you got saved from the guillotines.
Brown: Yeah, but it was pretty scary. He was something else. But he taught all over the country. He is from Sault Ste Marie in Michigan, up in that Canadian area, you know, and he taught all over the place and had lots of books. So I studied with people like that, mostly people that had...
Hayes: So why do you think they ended up here, because it seems at the...
Brown: They were out for hire and people would, you know, mostly things-- I think a lot of the things that we did back then were done through the watercolor society.
Hayes: Tell us about that.
Brown: The North Carolina Watercolor Society.
Hayes: That's a ________ organization?
Brown: Yes it is. It's on the state level and it's-- they have two meetings a year, one an exhibition and one that's just sort of a just a-- maybe they have two exhibitions, two exhibitions now I think it is. Anyway, you can enter it. It's a juried show and they bring in a juror from the American Watercolor Society or wherever, you know, to judge the show. And then they'll usually have them stay a week and teach for a week.
Hayes: So there were that many people right here in Wilmington who were willing to invest?
Brown: Oh, they come from all over. Like this Margaret McGinn, she was actually from Charlotte, but she had a place at Ocean Isle so she would come and commuted back and forth, I mean Topsail. And people would come from all over.
Jones: One of the questions I was going to ask you is Wilmington as an art center, I know it's gone through several cleansing periods, I guess, there at one time they had the arts council and it was dissolved and then started over again. And not counting the natives here, like I guess you could say Eloise Bethel for example and such, but what do you feel? You're not quite a native, but you're a North Carolinian. You've lived here a long time. What do you feel is the draw here in Wilmington for the arts in general and for artists?
Brown: Well, Claude Howell used to say it was the light, and that we were painters of the light, and that the light was different in Wilmington than anywhere else in the world. And I think, you know, the water, we have the water and that probably contributes to the light in Wilmington, and it's-- I painted in the Greek Isles, and it was very similar, you know, you're surrounded by the water.
Jones: They had a lot of white buildings, the reflection out there in the Greek Islands.
Brown: Right. I've painted Santorini and it was just gorgeous, but I think a lot of the coastal area just is a draw. People in Raleigh paint coastal scenes all the time, you know, you just-- it's just a draw, I think, it's the subject matter down here.
Jones: Do you think it has anything to do with the type of life that was here and is continuing to be here in some respects where-- I can't find a word for it, sort of a laissez-faire type thing are very tolerant of this sort of-- of artists of all kinds? I've noticed musicians are here too. It's just not...
Brown: Yeah, the arts are very big in Wilmington and always have been, I think. But I don't know, if I didn't live here I think I could be drawn to a place like this, but I've always enjoyed the beach. You know, I lived in the Piedmont part of South Carolina so I, you know, had access to the mountains. I could go up there on a Sunday afternoon, but there's always a draw to the beach for me. And so I just think that that's part of it.
Jones: Do you think too, Betty, that possibly artists being here will draw other artists to come here?
Brown: Oh, sure, I think so because they hear about it and read about it, you know, I think the man downtown that's just come here that's, oh, down on Front Street. I can't call his name right now, but anyway I think that he heard about it through some magazines or something like that and came and established his gallery here. And I think a lot of people are trying to, you know, make it be a place to come. And certainly, you know, we've never-- when we have had workshops, you know, it's never a problem getting people to come down here for a workshop because, you know, they'll do that. I had to do one, one year for the North Carolina Watercolor Society. They met in Wilmington and I chaired that. And they-- we got this man that was from the Boston area. And he brought in, you know, people came from all over the state to come to his workshops.
Hayes: I don't think people realize that. So the artists will travel for that kind of intense experience.
Brown: Oh, yeah, absolutely, uh-huh.
Hayes: Tell us about what would be a typical workshop pattern. I mean, what do you do when you go to a workshop?
Brown: Well, Southport brings in a lot of workshops there at Franklin Square, and I have been to several down there. I'm trying to think of who all I've studied with and where I went. A lot of the workshops that I've done have been at Myrtle Beach. They have this, it's sponsored by Springs Mills the Leroy Springs Mills, you know, that makes the Springmaid sheets and that sort of thing.
Jones: Are they still doing that?
Brown: They still do that. They have a complex down in South Myrtle Beach that is for their employees. So in the off season usually in March and October they sponsor workshops down there and that's been going on for probably about 20 years now. And I've been to a lot of those. And a lot of people go every year. And Alex Powers, that was my teacher, he's taught there the whole time. And so I have been down there and I was his gopher, his monitor type person that sets things up and all. And then I have been to study with some other people down there too, but I'm trying to think where else I've been. I went-- one of the workshops I did was in Greece. That's when Jodi Rippy and I went to the Greek Islands.
Jones: I was going to ask you about Jodi Rippy.
Brown: Yeah. She and I went to the Greek Islands. At the time we had a little drawing group that met in the Cowan House down at the St. Johns that we just paid them rent money in the Cowan House and we all pitched in and paid models and drew. And we were doing that. And Jodi was just getting back into it because she had been an art major, an art history major and but she had not really-- raising her children she hadn't had a chance to get back into. So she was sort of getting back into it then. And I can remember I walked in one day and I said-- actually Zolton Szabo's son, Steve Szabo who lives in Canada, he was sending Alex Powers to the Greek Islands for a workshop and I heard about it. And I told Jodi, I said, "I wish I could go and, but it would be somewhat hard to afford. If we had double occupancy we could probably afford it better." And so she thought about it and she-- next week she came in and she said, "Let's do it," so we did. That was really fun, but that was really my first trip to go abroad like that. I had been wanting to do that, but I was sort of chicken to do it by myself.
Hayes: What year was that?
Brown: That was '92, I believe.
Jones: Oh, well, you were overdue.
Brown: Yeah. Yeah.
Jones: When was your first exhibit, Betty? When did you have your first exhibit and how did that come about?
Brown: Yeah, my first one person exhibit was immediately after that Greek Island trip. And I worked for a year after I got back plus the things that I did there, and I came up with about 30 pieces. And St. Johns showed about, oh let's see, they showed 20 some pieces there and then I think Merrimon Kennedy at New Elements had about nine pieces there.
Hayes: And New Elements is a gallery?
Brown: Yeah, it's a commercial gallery down on Front Street where I've been affiliated with them ever since they opened, even before she was a-- had bought them out. And anyway, I had this show. Ann Brennan was the curator down at the museum and I've known her for ages. And so she asked me if I wanted to do that and I did. So that was really my first one person show. It was that Greek work and it turned out to be very successful. And that's when I decided to go back to the university because after that show I had worked so hard for like two years to get that stuff together and I-- and it had been very well received and I thought, "What am I going to do now?" So like performance things I do or whatever, you know, I had thought I had blown my wad and I don't know what I can do to match this.
Jones: Commercially was that a good thing for you?
Brown: It was and I don't know why people want paintings of the Greek Islands, but they did. That show sold out. I think I eventually sold every piece I ever did from the Greek Island except for a couple of pieces I kept. And so that was very successful. And that was really what forced me into going to UNCW because I thought I've got to go and get something else under my belt so I can measure up. I don't know. It just kind of psyched me out.
Hayes: So tell us about the UNCW experience, some of the teachers that you had there because many of them are still here, but some are gone. Did you have Claude Howell as a...?
Brown: No, Claude-- I was always afraid to take from Claude because I heard that he would break pencils and throw things.
Jones: You know, people said that he would do these things for effect, but that he was really sort of a pussycat.
Brown: Oh, I know, he really was. And probably was afraid of him, but I got to know him later, you know, but...
Jones: Did you ever go up and down the street when he was having 5:00 cocktails on the porch?
Brown: I've been up to his, you know, apartment a couple of times but, you know, we weren't fast and bonded, but we were acquaintances and good friends, and he-- but that was after he had retired is when I really got to know him better, because I really was chicken to do that. I was sort of, you know, afraid of it. So by the time I went I took from Constance Thoreson [ph?], Constance _______ Thoreson.
Hayes: Well, could you tell us some things about her because we have two of her pieces at the university and I talked to her on the phone, but she's now, I think, in Florida or somewhere.
Brown: When went to New York from UNCW and I didn't know what became of her after she married and everything.
Hayes: Yeah, she's not married, but I _________________.
Brown: Oh, really? Okay.
Hayes: Well, I thought her work was wonderful. Wasn't she before Don Furst, right, she was...
Brown: Yes, Don came and took her place.
Hayes: But tell us a little because that'll help the archives, you know, because we don't have much about her.
Brown: Well, she had in-laws that were living in Wilmington. I don't know whether they're still around or not.
Hayes: Right, the Thoresons.
Brown: I don't know whether they're still around or not, the Thoresons, yeah. I don't know. But anyway, she-- I had 2D design under her. Melanie Connor was in there, Melanie ________ Conner that's the-- she does weavings and fabric designs. She's here in town. And she was in my class as just a kid then, and she-- let's see, I'm trying to think, see anybody else that was in there when I was in there. But anyway, it was basic 2D design and like you say, taught theory, you know, composition and, you know, the whole thing with 2D design. And she was really-- she was much younger than I because, you know, I had been painting for 20 years by the time I started going out there. I think I had her earlier though. I had her when I started in the '80s. She was one of the ones I took one thing at a time. And she was always-- I think she was-- it was a little awkward for her to have someone older than she was, you know.
Jones: As a student.
Brown: As a student. In fact she ask me one time, she says, "Does it both you, you know, that I'm so much younger?" And I said, "No, I don't really think about it, you know, I'm just here to get what I can and if you're the one to give it to me that's what I'm here for," you know, so. But I think it made her a little self conscious. And that was probably before we had a lot of non-traditional students.
Hayes: I wondered were you ________ first ________?
Brown: I probably was because there were no other adults in that class that I can recall and then, you know, they more and more began to come as time went on. And a lot of my friends would go out there. When I-- when Don came and took and started teaching print making I took...
Hayes: Don Furst?
Brown: Don Furst, yes. And I took from him, and several of my friends came out and took from him just because they, you know, you're always having fun. They came too. Gladys came out and took print making, and Gladys Faris and Martha Grove Williams came out, and who else? Several of us adults were in there and then later Kay Ballard [ph?], that's one of my traveling buddies, she took from him. I think she took a pastels course from him after that. And so people were, you know, starting to take more and more of his classes. But anyway, he came when Connie left. And I also had life drawing under her. Oh, I'll tell you somebody else that was in her, the life drawing class was Donna Moore.
Hayes: Donna Moore, yeah.
Brown: She was in some of my classes out there, and she's become, you know, quite the artist. And she used to actually model for this life drawing class sometimes to earn money.
Jones: What do you like to paint best? What forms, buildings, scenery, children?
Brown: Well, when I started out I think because I had been drawing my children so much it was mostly drawing people, and I really enjoyed that. And Alex sort of that's his thing. He does a lot of people and not so much formal portraiture, but just people in their own setting. And so any commissions that I do today are simply...
Hayes: Let's see, bear with me here. We'll go up.
Jones: Just keep talking.
Hayes: Is this your piece up here?
Jones: No, that was one of my students did that, and she gave me that reproduction of it. It's me teaching out on the shore some ________________. That's a story in itself. My granddaughters and I went down to Southport to see this particular show where she had won a prize with that painting and I didn't know it was in there. And I was just walking through the show with my two little granddaughters from Raleigh. We'd just gone down there for the afternoon. And I looked at that thing, and I looked a little harder and that was me. It was so funny because I had no idea. And I called Olivia, my little granddaughter, I said, "Olivia, do you recognize who this is?" And she said, "That's you grandma," and sure enough it was. So I called the girl that had been in my class at ________ the year before and told her that I had seen it or wrote her a note or something. And so she called me back and she said, "Well, I'm having some giclée reproductions made of it." This was when giclées first came out. So she said, "I want you to have one," so I think we made a trade or something and I stuck it up there. It's not really for public viewing. It's for me to see.
Jones: Do you do a lot of work on commission?
Brown: Not a lot, but usually around Christmas time I'll get one or two. And I do try to keep it very informal, you know, I like to get people in sort of a snapshot pose and, you know, do it _______________.
Jones: Do you work from photos or do you work with people?
Brown: I like to take the photographs myself. I don't always. I have had people from out of town, you know, that will send me photographs and it's harder for me to do it that way. I don't know. I like to have a session with the person.
Jones: To get a sense of their personality etcetera? Yeah.
Brown: Yeah, just kind of to be there. It's like being on site plein air, you know, it's so much-- you get to know the subject so much better than from just a photograph.
Jones: Well, I know you've done some things; I don't know whether you could say it's on commission or not, probably not, for fund raisers, I think, for St. Andrews Covenant as an example, have you not and others?
Brown: Right. The things-- most of the things I've done at the church, the paintings that are hanging in the church are things I've either given them or they've bought very inexpensively, paid for the frame or something. But I have done the church itself, you know, a portrait of the church that people have commissioned me to do for people that were leaving, or like ministers that were leaving and that sort of thing, and they've taken it with them. So the last-- I've done so many of those that the last time when Ryan Casten [ph?] left, that was our choir director, and they commissioned me to-- the choir commissioned me to do one for him, I said I'm going to have this scanned and do a giclée reproduction for people so that, you know, if they want something just inexpensive to give instead...
Jones: Well, have you not done some other buildings for fund raisers?
Brown: I did, let's see, I don't know whether for fund-- oh, one fund raiser I did was for the Wilmington Symphony.
Jones: Maybe that's what I'm thinking of.
Brown: And that's-- I did a poster and they sold that for a fund raiser.
Hayes: Can I come back to kind of a sensitive question?
Hayes: You evolved from an amateur, correct?
Hayes: Who ________, and then got better in workshops and then took the academic, and then you still stay as a strong point with watercolor, and yet watercolor in art history is-- has a very mixed feeling when you talk to artists. Is that a true statement? In other words because it seems like it's been colored by the amateur out on the beach watercolorist and yet there's a whole other group of people that are, you know, famous as watercolorists. What happened with watercolors?
Jones: And I've heard too that watercolor, for some artists, is the hardest medium to work in.
Brown: Right. Well, a lot of artists say that because there's so little room for correction and, you know, without getting to, you know, you can abrade the paper and, you know, it takes the paint funny and that sort of thing. My joke that I tell my students is they say it's the hardest because the teacher gets real angry if you spill water, but that's not really true. People, I think, are afraid of it because of not being able to paint over it and, you know, but there are amazing things that you can do to save a watercolor. But going back what to you were asking, Sherman, is that I think watercolor has sort of taken on a bad connotation in some respects in the art world because it's sort of equated with the Sunday painters and that sort of thing. And I was just drawn to watercolor originally because the people that I was admiring like Alex Powers and Gladys Faris were oil painters, I mean were watercolor painters, and I just was attracted to what they were doing. And actually when I studied with Gladys she made me do an oil painting first because she thought that I should know how to paint in oils first. Well, I did that. It was kind of like, okay, here it is. It looked like a tole painting. This is red, this is yellow, this is green, so I got the fruit in there and I got the flowers.
Jones: Yeah, the flowers and curlicues.
Brown: Yeah so it, you know, but I have studied oils as well and I worked in oils when I was at the university as well, and so I do that too it's just that I think I've done watercolor for so much longer than oils that it has become second nature to me. In fact right now I'm in a place where when I am painting in oils I have this sort of ominous feeling that, gee, this would be so much easier in water color simply because I'm more experienced in it. And I'm trying to get over that feeling. So I have been doing more oils lately to try to get over that feeling. There's a guy that comes to town from Oklahoma that FountainSide Gallery sponsors, Rick McClure, and he comes about once a year every other year, and I've taken his workshops a couple of times. We paint outside and I do it mainly because I like to paint outside and it gives me somebody to paint with. But I do it to try to get a little more proficient in oils too and I'm going to do that coming up at the end of March. I'm not above, you know, learning from somebody else at this point. I don't take any more watercolor workshops. I've pretty much done...
Jones: Don't need to do that.
Brown: Know what they're going to say, but I-- I'm always open to new things and I don't ever cut things off and-- because I think that if I do I quit growing and so I want to continue to grow and that's why I'm sort of looking in this direction of oils right now trying to...
Hayes: I think one of the things with watercolor is that it's approachable as you get started, right? You can do some things that are interesting, but then it may be very difficult as you move as a professional artist to now break away from that. Do you...
Brown: Well, it's-- there's so many techniques, little tricky techniques in watercolor. And well, back in the early '80s Gladys Faris, Ann Brennan, and Doris Rudolph and I had a little co-op gallery down at the landing at Wrightsville Beach. Well, just a short period of time, and so we burned out real quickly. So it-- we spent too much time down there and not enough time painting in the studios. But anyway, you could tell if another watercolor artist came into our little shop, our little gallery because they'd stick their face right up in the painting and say, "How did she do that?" And that's what they do. And so that I think the little techniqueie thing that, you know, watercolorists get caught up in is what has sort of been a detriment to its reputation. So when I...
Hayes: You mean the technique becomes more important than the...
Jones: Than the subject.
Brown: Exactly. The first thing I tell my students when I teach is, "If you want to become a watercolorist I can teach you the techniques, and I will teach you the techniques, but I want you to put them aside just as fast as you possibly can because I want you to develop your own style, and I want you to make art and not make watercolors."
Hayes: That's a good way to put it because watercolors-- and of course I think commercially there's been so many wonderful reproductions so we become to think that the watercolor is the beach scene or...
Jones: I want to get to that too. I've seen-- I saw for the first time, oh, it must have been just before Thanksgiving I was down at the Cotton Exchange in that little stationary store and looking for something, and here I saw some of your note cards. And I asked the young lady there, she's really nice, I don't know what her name is.
Jones: Yeah. I said, "Do you have prints?" And she said, "No." She said, "I'd like to." So she said, "Are you interested in that artist?" I said, "I'm interested in learning more about her." So I bought a couple of the cards, you know, and that was that. So that was one of the things that I wanted to ask you about. This is another side of commercialism, I suppose, but do you limit your work or as far as being sold outside of the gallery or?
Brown: Well, yeah. First of all the, you know, a lot of people have gotten into what they call limited edition reproductions and that was like this lithographic process that...
Hayes: Could we maybe just take a break?
Jones: We've got about two minutes left and then change the tape.
Hayes: This is a good subject. Why don't we stop? That's a great...
Jones: ...where we were.
Hayes: Talking about commercialism.
Brown: Okay, and water coloring commercially and reproductions, limited edition reproductions. That was very, very big for a while. Remember Bob Timble [ph?]that got into trouble with it.
Jones: Yes. Yes he did.
Brown: Claude Hart [ph?] done it a lot. Claude Howell did it. I think they went to court over some stuff like that. So that sort of turned me off of getting into reproductions. Plus, just like the Diebenkorn poster that I have up there, they would fade. You know, it was a lithographic, photographic process that you did and you look at any Hardy's at some of the reproductions there, they're faded. So I was totally against ever doing that. Now they've come out with these giclée, they call it, reproductions. Giclée in French, I think, means little squirt or spray and it means it's an ink jet process, but with archival inks.
Hayes: Computer ink.
Brown: Yeah, they have these high resolution scanners and they can do...
Jones: Ann Newbold Perkins does a lot of this.
Brown: Oh yeah? Well, I have done a couple of them and just mostly for friends and family that wanted something I painted. My granddaughter and my daughter wanted to give it to her mother-in-law, you know, a copy of it, and a couple of things like that that I've done for personal reasons, but not so much for commercial reasons. And mainly because New Element sells my original work and I don't think they-- well, I know they don't like it if you get into reproductions like that because it sort of takes away from the original work. And it suits me fine. I just don't particularly care about that.
Jones: So the only way to get a Betty Brown painting is to buy an original.
Brown: Right, unless you can find one of the little things that I've done. I teach at Pawleys Island every year for an inn down there, and I did a painting for them that they have put on a little thing just for their customers that want to take home a souvenir.
Jones: But they have to get permission from you, obviously.
Brown: Well, I do it for them and I sell it to them. When they want some more I print some more up. It's not endeavoring, and I sell it to them, and then they mark them up little bit and sell them to the...
Hayes: Well, do you think that the giclée is going to change the industry, because they're amazingly good quality.
Brown: Right, they are, and they're supposed to last about 100 years with the archival inks that they use. And so, yeah, I think it's already made some inroads into, you know, the commercial thing.
Jones: I see more and more of it.
Hayes: I know Ivy Hayes into that intermediate size and the one that Ann Newbold Perkins, right, gave us was a Claude Howell.
Jones: Of Number One Church, way back.
Hayes: And we could not tell the difference, and...
Brown: Well, Claude's were mostly serigraphs, I think.
Hayes: Well, this was actually a watercolor and ink kind of done for the family of the...
Jones: And he just did it on a whim.
Hayes: Actually about 1941. That was the World War II time. And then we saw a, I'm trying to think. Oh, I know, the-- I don't know if you remember this when we interviewed Ruth Hodges.
Jones: She had several.
Hayes: Do you know Ruth?
Brown: Yeah, I do. Un-huh.
Hayes: Well, she gave us a-- just an early drawing she did of Isaac Bear as a study for Claude. So we were excited at the library, thanks to Carroll getting it for us, because we don't have any images of that early building for the university. But we knew if we put it out, as you were talking about, that paper and watercolor was just going to fade, so we automatically gicléed that, and the original's in the archives. And we can't tell the difference.
Brown: They're pretty amazing. I've even done-- I came across some paper at Office Depot the other day, it's not paper it was like canvas. I don't know whether it's paper or cloth. I have to look at it more closely, but it came in 8 1/2 x 11 and it's like a little piece of canvas. And I ran that through my ink jet. I have a pretty nice ink jet because I do those note cards on there. And I ran that through, and did a little oil painting on that and it looked great, you know, it's just amazing.
Jones: I believe-- have you been to the exhibit at the new Cultural Arts Building on campus? There is a Claude Howell exhibit out there.
Hayes: I haven't seen it yet, no.
Jones: Well, we went to the opening, and it's very well done. I think there are 20 pictures and one is a giclée.
Hayes: Oh, is that right?
Hayes: So you may want to think about that, that's all I'm saying is that one of the dilemmas, I think, for the artist is that when you can only have access to an original there are so many people that can't get to that.
Brown: Yeah, that's true. That's pretty much the argument is to make them available to the general public, you know, to make your work available to the general public. But my work's not that expensive and I do keep records. I have scanned copies of just about everything I've ever done.
Jones: To keep for yourself.
Jones: That was going to be my next question.
Brown: And so if I did ever want to do one I could probably do it from the scan that I've done, but they may not be as high resolution as they would in these fancy places that do them, but it would be a record of, you know, something.
Hayes: You're using more copier...
Jones: Well, this way you have more exclusivity too.
Brown: Yeah and, you know, the commercial aspect of it just doesn't really grab me. I guess the note card is probably the most commercial thing that I do, and I just do those because I think New Elements asked for some because they had some of other artists. And I had done them for my own friends and things like that and it just kind of mushroomed. People started wanting them. So Tiffany has, probably, the most of those and then New Elements has some. John Jordon out at Protocol has a few, so. They have them out at the-- they were at the Museum Shop. With the new director I'm not sure they're going to continue. She sort of calls the shots of what's going on.
Hayes: Well, let's talk about, you know, I hate to make it in a listing sense, but you've given us so many different names. Let's make sure we get some of the various artists that you think have, you know, made a difference in this community or, you know, trying to help build what is art over the years. We've talked already about Claude, but Renn Brown, who was the administrator you might tell us your relationship with him over...
Brown: Yeah. Renn was a very good friend. We had-- he came to the museum and replaced Alan Ages [ph?], and I had known Alan somewhat but not well because that was sort of in my earlier years. And so at the time that-- when Renn came they had this program at St. Johns where you could submit your work to become what they called an exhibiting artist, and so you could submit like, I think we actually took, you know, eight or ten pieces down there for that, for a board to jury and see if you could become an exhibiting artist, is what they called them. And a lot of times that person was Claude, a lot of times, you know, or somebody else, but there were people-- probably Renn had a say so in it and so forth. You never really knew who that-- the jury board was. Anyway, we did that. And so while Renn was here, when Renn came I did submit my work and became an exhibiting artist. And then later I served on some boards that juried. I served once with Claude and Tom Spleth, that's the sculptor from up at Raleigh.
Jones: Uh-huh. I know who he is.
Brown: And we-- at that time they were doing it by slide and we looked at slides and decided, you know, who. But then they gave up that program. But that's really my first recollection of Renn is when I became an exhibiting artist. And then through the years, you know, we became friends because I was down there a lot, and especially after I moved here it was just right down the street. So I was teaching there and I always had classes going on there, either drawing groups or something. But when we did move here Renn was right next door. So he was my neighbor. In fact I called him before I moved down and said, "How do you like your neighborhood," and this house was up for sale. And so we moved in and Renn lives next door. Well, we just became fast and fine friends then because every afternoon we'd get a glass of wine and go sit out on my porch and his porch and we just had nice little artsy conversations.
Brown: Renn was very good, and I would pick his brain, and he would tell me stories and he'd just, you know, we just had the best time. So he was a very good friend. In fact one-- a piece from his private collection is hanging in my dinning room now because I was keeping it for him until he could get moved when he moved to Landfall. But anyway he, I thought, was very good for the museum and worked hard for it. And I was on the board for a while, and on acquisitions for a while and that sort of thing, and just enjoyed working with him. But when they built the new museum-- well, let me back up. When I had my Greek show down there it was called the color and shape of Greece. And he picked one of my pieces for the permanent collection. So they bought a piece for that. And so when they built the new museum I was out there helping with flower arranging or something. I was on a committee to help doing something for the opening. And he came in there and got me. He said, "Come with me." And I said, "Well, sure what is it," you know. And so he took me in there to the new space that's now called the Renn Brown Gallery and he said, "I have something to show you." And he took me in there and they had hung the private collection and my piece. He said, "I wanted to be the first one to show it to you," or "Be with you when you saw it the first time," and I thought that was very considerate and kind, and I appreciated it.
Jones: That's nice.
Hayes: That is nice. That's very nice.
Brown: Yeah, that's very nice. I enjoyed Renn. I really miss him. He was a nice guy, very knowledgeable about art. If I wanted to know something about anything he had it right on the tip of his tongue. And he knew so many people, I mean, he had met Georgia O'Keefe.
Jones: Oh, my gosh.
Brown: I mean, you know, he just had been all over the world, and so he could tell you tales about, just about anybody in the art world that he knew first hand because, you know, he lived in New York for a while and he just had traveled so much that-- and he had so many connections that he knew a lot of people in the art world, and I thought that was valuable.
Hayes: Who are some of your other watercolor group? I mean, you mentioned Eloise Bethel earlier. She came-- she was before your time and then came back for her mother, wasn't it that was ill, or?
Brown: Yeah. I was here when she came back for her mother, and I knew Eloise pretty well.
Hayes: Did she teach as well, or?
Brown: I can't remember. I don't think she did. I mean, I think she had, but and then I remember she and Mary Ellen Golden had got together with a little video thing.
Jones: A video on teaching, yeah.
Hayes: She had a video. That's...
Jones: I think Eloise seemed to have gone through various transformations in her work too. And she also lived out, I guess, in Taos or somewhere at one point.
Brown: Yeah, she did.
Jones: Plus living in Europe, plus being in New York.
Hayes: New Mexico.
Jones: Well, that was-- yeah, New Mexico. That is a huge art center out there, but it's a different kind, you know, and architecture too.
Brown: Yeah. I knew Eloise, went out there, I remember sitting in her living room, but I can't remember what the occasion was but, you know, I knew her pretty well, but I don't really-- I didn't really know her, you know, extremely well.
Hayes: You mentioned Virginia Wright-Frierson and who else in that group that you considered kind of colleagues?
Brown: Okay, well, you know, since the trip to Greece with Jodi Rippy, well, I had-- Kay Ballard was in one of my classes I was teaching down at the museum at St. Johns and she was living in Paris half the time and living in Wilmington half the time. Her husband's an engineer and he was based in Paris, but then they would come to the states for six months and be back and forth. And so they settled in Wilmington because she had a daughter here. And she was taking my watercolor class and she said, "I wish you would come visit me in Paris and we could paint, you know. And I said, "Gee, that sounds wonderful I would really love that," but, you know, she would be over there and I'd have to fly over there by myself. I'm sort of a fraidy-cat, you know, and I've not been very world traveled that much and especially alone. So it happened that down at New Elements, Merrimon was having an exhibition of some of us that painted outside together, and that was Virginia Wright-Frierson, Gladys Faris, Jodi Rippy and myself and another lady from Chapel Hill, I think, was in that show, but she wasn't a part of our group, but she was in that show, but anyway, the four of us. And so Kay came to that show at New Elements and I said, "Tell my buddies about wanting me to come to Paris," and so she started talking about it to everybody and we said, "Well, let's just all go," and so we did.
Hayes: All four of you went?
Brown: Ginny, Gladys, Jodi, myself and then we joined Kay over there and she went with us. We stayed in Paris for a week.
Jones: Did they have the Monet museum or the impressionist museum up and going at that time?
Brown: They did. We-- the Musée d'Orsay?
Brown: Yes. And but, I have to-- I was sick that week and I missed a lot, because I had had some surgery and my doctor didn't want me to go with them as soon as I did. He wanted me to wait and join them and I wouldn't do it. So I spent about a week in the little hotel there except for getting out once in a while. So I really didn't see everything. I did go to the Musée d'Orsay, but I sat on the little bench for a lot of that time, but the rest, they all enjoyed it. We went there and we went to the Louvre. And, oh, this is funny. When we went to the Louvre, because I was so sick and I was so weak and everything from my surgery and, you know, I had just become very weak. I was living off of yogurt practically. And so when we got to the Louvre, you know, you have to cover a lot of ground.
Jones: It's a lot, days, days, yes.
Brown: And so I was sitting over on the bench while they got the tickets and here comes Jodi and she had a wheelchair, and so she put me in the wheelchair, so she wheel chaired me all over the Louvre.
Jones: A pretty good friend.
Brown: Tell me. And then we got into one section that said that the handicapped people had to get on this little platform to go down the levels instead of steps, you know, and you have to get the guard, and get the key to let you go down and everything and it got to be too much. And I said, "This is a big pain." And I said-- she said, "Well, maybe we just, you know, leave the wheelchair here and you just get on up." Then people would think that I've been healed or something like that.
Brown: So we thought we better not do that. And Jodi, she's so funny, she's just very impatient and she drives, she's always our driver because she's not afraid to drive in foreign countries like that. And so here she was wheeling me all around and we got to the Mona Lisa and...
Jones: What did you think of it?
Brown: Well, it was way over there and it was like 20 rows of people between us and she said, "I cannot believe these people. Don't they know we have a handicapped person?" She was bumping heels and everything, so we just had a terrible time getting around but it was, you know, a fun time and we said, "Well, I can't get up because they'll think I've been healed because they've seen me in this wheelchair all afternoon." But we had a good time. But we went there, we went to Paris and spent-- we did go to the Rodan. We went to-- they went to the Picasso. I didn't make it to that one. And we painted some there too.
Hayes: I wondered if you painted.
Brown: Yeah, we did. We went down on the Seine and pained right across from the Notre Dame. And Kay had a friend that lived just behind Notre Dame.
Jones: On the Left Bank?
Brown: Yeah, I think so.
Brown: And it was just really a nice area. And it was an artist friend of hers. And so we visited with her one afternoon. Her mother had been a famous fluxist artist.
Jones: Now, what is that?
Brown: Fluxist, f-l-u-x-i-s-t. It's-- it was something that was very popular in the '60s and it, I think it might have originated in Paris. I'm not sure. But it was mostly sculptors or assemblage people that put things together, but they would do it such that they invited the viewer to move the things around themselves, that sort of thing. That was one of the things that they did. So she had a catalog of her mother's work. And I can't-- I think her name was Alice Hutchins, I believe. She was American, but she lived in France. And this young lady had married a Frenchman. That was her daughter. And so that was just really fascinating to see that and have that nice visit with her in her little Paris apartment. We trouped all over that place. And we went to the Musée d'Orangerie and so we did just about all the museums there and then painted some, like I said. Then we got the TGV down to Cannes and rented a car and we went to-- it was near Grasse and...
Jones: That's a beautiful area. But most people go to Grasse to buy the perfumes, but still there's such wonderful art there.
Brown: Well this was like a little village right out from there called Magagnosc and then Gourdon was near there. And we went to all these places.
Hayes: Did you paint there then?
Brown: Oh, yeah. We paint-- when we were out there we'd paint every day.
Jones: That is such a wonderful place.
Hayes: We have this strong tradition of artists going together and going out and doing it. I think it isn't recreation, right? It's really...
Brown: Well, it's hard work, and that's why we go, you know.
Jones: You have to cart your stuff around. Did you go to Germenay?
Brown: Oh yeah, we did. And actually we paid our-- a hundred francs to paint there so we spent all-- on Mondays the photographs and the painters can pay to stay there.
Hayes: And there's a whole bunch of people there, there wasn't just you?
Brown: Just the photographers and artists.
Hayes: Well, then there was a crowd of people?
Brown: Not a crowd just, you know, people scattered about. I mean, it's not open to the public on Mondays so they just let us do that, but you have to pay. And so we did that on that Monday. We stayed-- Kay had another friend who had a B&B in ________ which is the little town that you get the cab from, and so we stayed with her. And then we went over and painted there. We toured it one day and then we came back and painted.
Jones: That's a wonderful trip.
Brown: And the American Museum there too, it's ________. So we did-- we painted for that week in Magagnosc and we painted for a week down near Aix in that area. And then we painted in, you know, all of the little villages around there like ________ and all of those. We hit all of them, ________, ________, and so and then we went back to Paris to get the-- and then did our Giverny little trip. And then back to Paris to fly out. So we were there for three weeks.
Jones: That's a good trip.
Brown: We usually stay for three weeks.
Hayes: There's a model, you know, the No Boundaries folks bring people in formally. I don't know if you've done any of those at all?
Brown: They invited me to come over a couple of times and so I have been over. The one time that I came it was just local people. It wasn't the people from out of the country, and...
Jones: This year they've got somebody from England which is different and somebody from Hungary. And I think they've got somebody from Japan and China.
Hayes: It was the sister cities. That's how they did it.
Jones: I know they did it, but some couldn't, one couldn't and they were working on it, but they're going to expand and make it larger, you know.
Hayes: They seem to have-- I'm just saying going as a group somewhere seems to be a very European tradition. So you were really in a kind of European method.
Brown: I guess so.
Hayes: Or maybe that's for watercolorists. Is there more of that ________, or it was more of a friendship than...
Brown: Well, it's just that we wanted to go paint.
Jones: You all know each other so I think that's why they got together.
Brown: We had been painting together around here for years, you know, so it was just sort of an adventure. And most of the time I just, you know, painted in watercolors simply because it's easier to paint on a ________ watercolors when you're traveling that far, but Jodi takes her oils. She prefers oils so she takes her oils. She took them to Italy and to other places. And I think I'm going to do that more. I did go out this summer. I went out to British Columbia. My family was-- my husband, and my son and his family were kayaking off of Quadra Island and I stayed behind and painted, and I took my oils.
Jones: Where were you up there?
Brown: Well, it was on Quadra Island. It's off Campbell River. And you get the ferry from Campbell River to Quadra. And so I just stayed behind while they went on their kayaking trip. They were like two hours away from where I was. And I was on my own then. I just painted. And I took my oils this time just for the practice. Like I said, I was trying to get more into oils and so I did do that. Got home and had one day to wash my clothes and went to Maine with a bunch of girls.
Jones: Good for you.
Hayes: Let's end with something about teaching. You keep mentioning teaching. You started very early with that. Is there a reason you think? Are you...
Brown: I've been teach-- well, I started teaching down at St. Johns when they had their classes in the Cowan House. Gladys Faris was doing it at the time and I just though it might be a good thing to do, and so I did. And she would teach on Tuesdays and I would teach on Thursdays or whatever. And I taught everything from watercolor to life drawing to, you know, I taught several things down there, and I taught another drawing course down there. So I taught down there probably about 15 years. And then people would get me to come and teach in nearby towns. I've been up to Jacksonville several times, over to Pinehurst. People that just might know that I do this and will call me to come to places like that, mostly just regional places. And then I got started-- I used to go to Pawleys Island. I've gone there all my life as a child and everything, so I just love it down there. And Alex Powers had a workshop that he taught at Sea View Inn for many years and I would go down and take his workshop down there, a week long thing where you stay there and you go paint plein air. And so when he gave it up, when he started getting busier he gave it to Neal Gillespie [ph?] that was an artist out of Raleigh that had been a student of Alex's. He taught it for about three years and then moved to California. And I had taken my own workshop down there of students that I teach in this area and/or anybody that-- those girls from-- the girl that did the little print up there is from Fayetteville and she had brought some of her friends and stuff, so. I had, oh, about a dozen people that went down with me one year. We stayed at Litchfield. And I said, "I want you to go to Sea View and we'll have lunch there because it's so nice. They have wonderful meals. And so while I was there I got to talking to the manger and, you know, told her that we were here on the workshop that I was doing. And so that following December, Page Overland [ph?], who is the owner at the time, called to see, because Neal was going to California, to see if I was interested in taking that workshop for them at the Inn. And so I went down and talked to her about it and we worked it all out. And so I've been doing that for them ever since. And so this is about my sixth year, I believe it is.
Jones: Do you take them in the home too? Did you indicate to me that you taught students here?
Brown: I do have some private students that come, yes, a couple of them.
Jones: What age group, all ages?
Brown: Most of my students are adults, but I do have a little 13-year-old young man that I teach. He comes after school on Tuesdays, but he's taking a leave right now because he's in a theatrical production and he can't do everything. And he's delightful. And then I have a couple of other people that I have. And then I have-- I have some of my regular students from my teaching that will come for critiques about once a month.
Hayes: Oh, interesting. So you offer them...
Brown: Yeah, we just work on things that they're working on, you know, I talk to them about things, and...
Jones: You got some that you think are going to be really terrific?
Brown: Oh, yeah. I have some, you know, some really good people. And, you know, I can look around this town and I've taught a lot of these people. And I don't take full credit for it, but I've had-- just about everybody that's doing watercolor I've had them in my class and it's...
Hayes: It's a different tradition, I mean, it seems like there's two traditions here, the academic that you talked about, which is very different, and then this more almost self development training approach that people don't realize is going on. This isn't people just doing it as a hobby, right? This is people who are serious about...
Brown: It's sort of a love, yeah, it's both. Anybody that's going to spend a lot of money by traveling and going they're pretty serious about it. But, you know, the people that-- there are a lot of, you know, Sunday painters that only paint when they come to class. So it's a big, you know, variety of reasons for them being there.
Hayes: Different scales.
Brown: Yeah. But, well, this man that I have now privately, he was trained academically because he was a designer, an interior designer, so he knows all about the color wheel and, you know, reasons for doing things, but he had not really painted that much since he'd been in school, and so he's just started with me fairly recently.
Jones: Do you feel-- obviously art is a continuing and growing contribution to our culture here. Is there a need for further buildings for exhibits of different types? I mean, the galleries can't do it all, and obviously the one art museum that we have is pretty set in their ways, so to speak, in what they will show. I guess I'm meaning for people to display their works that are coming up. I'm thinking about Castle Street as being a new area. Yvonne Jones was going to be one of my interviews and she had to take December and part of January off just to move into a new building there and hang things with others.
Brown: Right. Right. Yeah, they moved. I'm under contract with New Elements that I cannot show for 25 miles so I'm not-- in a commercial situation. I did show with them for a while, but it was not-- it was, you know, more trouble than it was worth to me. And so-- and I didn't want to get into anything with New Elements either, but so they-- but they, they're doing a good job with their little co-op gallery down there and over on Castle Street. Hopefully that area will develop and, you know, they've got some nice condos planned for that block. And so I think they have lots of good things going there.
Jones: There's room for everybody.
Brown: Uh-huh. And when I was waiting on them to build the museum I taught out at Racine Center for a while. And then when the building, when the Panco [ph?] Center was built I went back there, but now they've taken that over for 3-D and Hiroshi Sueyoshi's work, so I don't have that spot any more. I happen to be privy to some knowledge that I can't really say who yet, but there is another center going to be opening up.
Jones: Okay, this is-- I've heard stories about it. I was kind of hoping that...
Brown: I can't talk about it quite yet, but I think that will be. And so, you know, I have people a lot of times asking me, you know, when are you going to do some more classes. So there's a need for me to have space. And I don't like to teach more than just about once a week because I don't want to take away from what I'm able to produce myself and the work that I need to do. But I do, you know, enjoy it and getting out and doing with people.
Hayes: Have you seen a difference in the last ten years with the major influx of retirees, New York New Jersey area, who have different traditions or different expectations? Has that kind of element come into the art movement here, or?
Brown: I mean you get a lot of those people in your classes, but I don't know that they're any different than anybody else, you know? You know, I have just a big variety of people in my classes. I also teach-- I didn't mention this. I should mention this. I also teach once a year at John C. Campbell Folk School up in Brasstown North Carolina. It's up in the mountains and that's-- it's very much like Penland, but different too. It's based on Danish folk schools where there's no competition, share your knowledge, that sort of thing. So I go up there once a year and then part of my pay is to get to take a free course and get free room and board, so I usually go back. So I'm up there twice a year because I go back and take my free course. And I usually take writing. I write some poetry and I've been doing some writing, so I usually take something along those lines just to keep me.
Hayes: It may be that you came to formal art late, but it seems like you keep trying to grow yourself. I mean many teachers get to the end of their, you know, the teacher, but you're still always a student. Isn't that...
Brown: Well, that's sort of true. And I think that you learn from your students too. I mean, you know, I know that I do. I mean, just to be out there in that arena and doing it and being around other creative people I think, you know...
Jones: And there are new methods coming along. You were talking about giclée, which did not exist a while back.
Brown: Yeah, that's true. Yeah, that's, you know, there are new things always coming. And I try to stay abreast of things. I've pretty much settled into a style of the way I paint.
Jones: Betty, when you look at things for the first time do you look at them through the eyes of Betty Brown I like that I don't like it or do you look at these things, it could be a building, it could be a park, it could be anything, through the eyes of an artist?
Brown: Like for subject matter?
Brown: Potential subject matter?
Brown: Oh, when I'm painting...
Jones: A sunset on the river, I mean, that's old, but I'm just talking about various things that we all might see from day to day or just occasionally.
Brown: Well, I think you've sort of hit on why I paint. I paint because I like for people to see things in a way that they haven't seen them before. And I also like for people to notice things that they wouldn't notice or barely.
Jones: Stop and take a look.
Brown: So a lot of it is the ordinary, trying to make the ordinary out of the ordinary.
Brown: And I think that's really behind, you know, my motivation for being a painter is to look for ways to interpret things to make people stop and look at things.
Jones: To paint, yeah. It's a good artist.
Brown: Yeah, that's what I do. But at the same time I'm always looking at, you know, I look a lot at things. I tell my students that if they stay at this very long it'll almost drive you crazy because you start seeing so many things that you wouldn't normally see.
Brown: And one of the things that I teach them, and it goes back to Alex, is how-- the reason we see things is because it's either light against dark or it's dark against light, and I have a little diagram that I drew. It just like a little diagram he drew, but I sort of adapted it and I do it like if you see a power line going across foliage it's going to look light against dark foliage and then when it comes out across the sky it's going to be dark against a light sky. And so when you start learning these things you can't drive down the highway without...
Jones: That's my point that I was getting at as an artist, how you look at things.
Brown: Yeah, you just, you know, it just starts coming. And, I mean, I just drove from Charlotte for the weekend and, I mean, it's just-- you just see so much that as an-- if I weren't an artist I wouldn't notice these. As a child-- you're talking about how I started out. As a child we had had this big picture window in the living room and it had panes in there. So the panes were about that big. I used to change my position and compose the pine tress through those panes. Is that not silly?
Jones: No, it's very-- see I could ask...
Hayes: See the propensity of interest. Not everybody would think that way.
Brown: Well, I can remember sitting there doing that and changing my position to see how that pine tree would compose in that little rectangle and how the pine tree would compose in that little rectangle.
Jones: Photographers do the same thing. I can guarantee you that. I grew up with one who would get me up in the middle of the night and do backdrops and color and lighting and shadows and such.
Brown: Yeah. It just becomes the way you are, but that they're...
Jones: _________ and say that's-- and frame things in the old days they did that, you know.
Brown: One of the first things I do when I go to a foreign country is I take my camera and go out and look through my lens and take pictures. And that kind of gets me to know the area. Before I ever start painting I will do a little photo session to try to get used to where I am, and see where I am, and compose things and that sort of thing.
Hayes: Do you consider yourself a realist, maybe, then or?
Brown: Representational, I think. And because I look for the abstract underneath there, but I try to-- like I've heard Elizabeth Darrow [ph?] speak about how she takes realism and abstracts it with her photo collages out of Maxine clippings. She'll take something real and then bring it down to where it's abstract. I sort of go in the opposite direction. I see the abstract composition, but I then try to bring it up to realistic.
Hayes: But you're not trying to copy it.
Brown: But I'm not trying to be photorealistic because I have a camera for that. I'm trying to put myself into it. I might, you know, explore the color and I might, you know, define shapes in space in a way that you wouldn't have thought to and that sort of thing. So I set up problems for myself that I solve.
Hayes: You're not worried when the person says that doesn't look exactly like that. You're not a copyist.
Brown: No. No, because if I were I wouldn't even need my camera, you know, I've got my camera to do realism and that's as close as I want to get to realism.
Jones: Do you have any favorite type subject, sceneries, people, down the road, old tobacco barns, whatever?
Brown: Well, Don Furst had tobacco barns on his list of clichés, so I stay away from that along with the tear drop coming out of somebody's eye.
Jones: Oh, yeah, okay.
Brown: He had a whole list he would bring in.
Jones: Or a sweating glass.
Brown: Because I've done a few tobacco barns in my life, but not for him.
Jones: I just-- I threw that out, you know.
Brown: No, I like just about anything. I enjoy florals, you know, I've always loved flowers and been the garden club lady and all that. So I enjoy florals. I started out loving people and I still enjoy doing people, but when I'm working plein air it's usually just the landscape, and things that I'm looking for, and just the way things fit together in the landscape and the way the light hits things.
Jones: You see it through your mind.
Brown: Yeah. Yeah, so.
Jones: You're a viewfinder wherever you are.
Brown: Yeah. Yeah, and I use a viewfinder, you know, when I'm out painting. It's probably one sitting right over there, but I'll cut them out, you know, according to the size of my picture plane and I look through the view finders and try to bring things down.
Hayes: That's good.
Jones: Well, Betty, this has been wonderful.
Brown: Well, I've enjoyed it.
Jones: Have you enjoyed it?
Hayes: There a lot of history here.
Brown: Well, I feel like I just scratched the surface. I-- like I told my granddaughter, "I'm so old I know a lot of stories."
Jones: Oh, stop it. Stop it.
Hayes: Well, thank you ________.
Brown: Oh, thank you for doing it. You know...