What makes an artist an artist? Is it just the act of putting paint on a canvas, writing lyrics to a song, designing a building, or something more? You guessed it – it’s something more. But what? What is that “something more” that separates a true artist from everyone else who just dabbles in the arts?
Well, it’s a few things. Raw, innate, God-given talent is part of the make-up of a “real artist”. Another is drive. True artists put their art first and make time to create because it is just something they “have to do.”
Artists can lose a sense of time when engaged in creating. They also give much care to detail while striving for excellence in their work. We can also consider the practice of patience. Artists are good at waiting – waiting for inspiration, waiting for paint to dry, waiting for the right word or image to come to mind.
In short, being an artist is more than just having a talent and expressing it. It is the lens through which an artist views, experiences, and interacts with the world. It is something that wells up from deep within and their talents help to make the world a better and more beautiful place for all.
Taking all this into account brings us to the point of this article – to introduce Westerly Life readers to an incredible local artist whose work needs to be known, not only in our community but far beyond. Yes, her art is that good.
Today you are being introduced to Betsie Withey, an artist whose work is so unique that, with the right publicity and connections, has a very good possibility of becoming known as a famous artist.
As a child living in Zeeland, Michigan, Betsie recounts “I loved nothing more than making art and being outside. I had this big window and I would draw. I would just draw for hours.” As adulthood approached and college choices had to be made, she chose a practical major in elementary education. As part of her course requirements, she had to take a painting class and it was there that her childhood love of art seemed to resurface and started to mesh with a viable career path. She changed her major to art, and the rest as they say, is history.
Betsie’s formal training includes a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in painting from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and a post-graduate degree in Fashion Design from The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.
Although she enjoyed painting in college she found that she couldn’t adequately express her ideas with it. She painted huge canvases of women with patterned garments and lots of natural images, but Betsie said, “it didn’t feel natural” so she continued to explore the best way to employ her skills.
During a year off from college, Betsie was given the gift of a sewing machine from her Oma (a.k.a. Grandmother) which ended up being a major influence in her career path. This gift inspired her to transfer some of her artistic work from the canvas to cloth.
Betsie’s patrons must be grateful to her Oma for this gift because it has resulted in many beautiful works of art. One should never underestimate the power of a grandparent’s influence, even in small ways, in a grandchild’s life.
In essence, it seems that Betsie learned how to “paint” with thread, material, and a sewing machine. Her artwork continued to focus on images from nature but in a three-dimensional, tactile way and in a form that is portable and wearable. Betsie also enjoys blending her interests of fantasy elements, renaissance fairs, and folklore into her work.
Betsie uses a sewing machine in a freehand style which she calls “free motion embroidery” which basically means that she draws with her sewing machine without a pattern, freehand as if the sewing machine needle is her pencil or paintbrush. She also does a lot of hand embroidery and beadwork. Each work is a one of a kind creation, incredibly detailed and beautiful.
She creates custom sewn pieces from the smallest accessory to interesting hats to an entire dress, even wedding dresses, and uses a variety of top quality supplies and fabrics. For readers who are old enough to remember, the name Bob Mackie might ring a bell.
He was the costume designer for the over the top ultra-creative outfits that Cher of “Sonny and Cher” fame wore on their weekly variety show. It is this writer’s opinion that Betsie is the same caliber of an artist as Bob Mackie and he would be very proud of what she is doing in the fabric arts field.
In describing her current work, Betsie explains, “I create fiber art knitwear and hair accessories as well as large-scale textile art/sculptural dresses and hats. My inspirations come from a variety of places: from nature- all manner of leaves, flowers, roots, and other organic shapes can be found in my work, from faerie folklore, fashion and costume history, and from exploring the vivid world of color …… It’s my desire to create both a feeling of enchantment and a little island of color that the wearer can take into her everyday life.”
Readers may be curious to know how Betsie ended up in Westerly. She made the move east about three years ago at the encouragement of a friend who had already relocated to Westerly. Since Betsie felt her life was a little artistically stagnant in Michigan, she decided it was probably time to make a life change, so she packed up and moved to Westerly with the goal “to live more deliberately as an artist.” Except for needing to do some part-time work to help meet the practicalities of everyday expenses, as many artists must do, Betsie spends much of her time creating – sometimes as much as ten hours a day.
Betsie has shown her work in boutiques and galleries and hopes that soon her art will be in a gallery in Portland, Oregon. If you haven’t seen Betsie Withey’s unique creations yet, then please put it on your to-do list because she will probably be famous someday and you’ll be able to say, “I knew her when.” Better yet, support our local artists by purchasing a piece of her artwork. Although she has art for every budget, all of it is truly priceless
Locals and visitors can check out some of Betsy’s creations at the Artists Cooperative in downtown Westerly and https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheFaerieMarket . You can also check her out on Facebook or Instagram.