Laura Bethmann talks latest watercolor series
Laura Bethmann answers the question “if you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would you invite?” in her latest watercolor series.
In Invitations, Bethmann, 68, invites one of her heroes to dinner with her and she imagines what food they would eat.
The completed Invitations include Ben Franklin, Beatrix Potter, John Bartram, Maria Sibylla Merian, Georgia O’Keefe, Albrecht Duer, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Marian Diamond, Ursula Le Guin and Edith Wharton.
Other Invitations on her list include Margaret Mead, Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Von Humboldt, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Oliver Sacks, Walt Whitman, Carolyn Brady, Edward Gorey, Cecila Payne-Gaposchkin, Elizabeth Catlett, Mary Musgrove, Maria Clara Eimmart, Edmonia Lewis, Emmar Lazarus, David Beck, Ellen Hading Baker and more.
As she paints, the photos of her muses stand high above the artist’s studio wall.
“That series was just about who would I invite? I was painting my breakfast; I painted my dinner. I painted images of food. And when I thought ‘who would I invite?’ I thought of people that I just admire so much or learned about so much. I like reading biographies. I like learning about people that have a lot to teach us,” she said.
Some of the paintings were previously exhibited at the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society in their library in Philadelphia, and they are currently being virtually exhibited in Monmouth Museum now through June 4 at www.monmouthmuseum.org/virtual-gallery.
“I’m hoping that people who see these will be interested to learn more about these people and also think about who has inspired them and who they would invite,” Bethmann said.
In the artist’s living room, she has two giant paintings from the In the Garden series with flowers ten times the size of the real flowers. Bethmann said it took over 150 hours to do just one of the paintings. In the Garden series was first exhibited in the Monmouth Museum in 2014 as part of the museum’s Emerging Artist series.
“The images [from Invitations] are a lot more spontaneous than the In the Garden series. There’s a lot less planning involved, and I always start out with where I’m going to put the plate,” she said.
Ben Franklin’s invitation features a franklinia flower, which was named after him. There’s also a turkey dinner with cranberries, a meal Franklin would’ve enjoyed. Meanwhile, Maria Sibylla Merian’s invitation includes a written invitation “dear Maria, the ants, caterpillars, etc. are munching our lunch, come as soon as you can.”
Emily Dickinson’s painting, however, is darker compared to the other paintings with bright colors.
“It was really hard to paint her. I guess that’s why it’s so dark. She loved daisies. She loved her garden. She made an herbarium book of pressed plants. She loved to bake and cook, and coconut cake was one of her things she liked to make. And there’s a few of her lines from her poetry. ‘Will there really be a morning?’ ‘Bring me the sunset.’ And it’s about dwell and possibility,” Bethmann said.
Researching is the fun part for Bethmann.
“I really love learning about them and when I’m doing a painting about them, I get to learn even more,” she said.
Georgia O’Keeffe is the only one Bethmann didn’t make food for because O’Keeffe “got so much nourishment from the land” from when O’Keeffe lived in New Mexico. The painting takes place in O’Keeffe’s White Place, a white hilly landscape.
Bethmann wants to add more diverse people for the ongoing Invitations series. She said she’s researching less well-known women from different backgrounds.
Another ongoing series called Human was recently available inside Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery in the early part of May. The 8-inch by 8-inch framed paintings were recently taken down this month.
The Human series begun during the pandemic lockdown. Each tiny image captures an idea, emotion, belief, question, revelation or life choice, according to the flyer.
“It started during the pandemic during lockdown and they kept me company. They were people in my head. A lot of them are me or somebody I know… They were just fun to do,” Bethmann said.
The tiny paintings are colorful, which is different from her previous exhibit Just Between Us, which was also featured at Casciano’s in 2019.
“After doing all of these black and white, lots of little tiny lines that drove me crazy, having it be colorful helped,” she said. “Painting keeps me sane and has got me through a lot of difficult times. Probably because I can work and just concentrate on that and be productive.”
Along with being a watercolor artist, Bethmann is also a writer of three books, Rustic Accents for Your Home, Hand Printing From Nature and Nature Printing With Herbs, Fruits & Flowers.
Nature printing is a direct printing process of inking or painting actual plants, then direct printing them on paper and she uses it in her Invitations series, Bethmann said.
Bethmann is working on a fourth book about working with your hands.
“I’ve been researching a lot about why working with our hands is so beneficial and how the connection between our hands and our brain and how that kind of works,” she said.
When she lived in Tuckerton, Bethmann had a bigger garden outside her Victorian home with flowering plants and herbs. She moved to Hammonton three years ago, and her garden now has peonies, a bleeding heart, day lilies, rosemary and other herbs.
“I always liked Hammonton, and actually we were looking for a house in Hammonton when we were looking to buy our first house together which was in 1978, but we couldn’t find anything in Hammonton that we could afford or liked so we ended up in Tuckerton. Once I convinced my husband [Christian Bethmann] that we had to downsize—because we had a big Victorian house; my studio was on the third floor… There’s other things you want to do in life after your family grows up and moves away, so it was time to revisit Hammonton,” Bethmann said.
Bethmann is the secretary of the Hammonton Art Club. She also used to do workshops before the pandemic and hopes to do more in the future. To learn more about Bethmann and her artwork, visit her website at laurabethmann.com.
The Gazette asked what dinner she would have with a stranger who wanted to learn more about her.
“As long as chocolate is for dessert, I’m good,” she said.