Betty Branch is a world-renowned artist whose travels throughout the years have expanded and reinforced her knowledge of art history and techniques. Her studio here in Roanoke is a magical place where thirty years of artwork, much of it focused on the female form, creates an environment of self-reflection and personal growth. Five of her eight children are also artists and showcase their creativity within the space. The family shares an affinity for exploring the complexity of femininity through different mediums. Betty and two of her daughters, Bonny and Katey, shared their thoughts with us on this process.
Isabel, part of the Taubman Museum of Art’s permanent collection, is elegant, a muse, and her expression reflects that she too may be captivated by something unseen. What was your inspiration when you created her?
Betty: “She was the first female figure that I have done that was something other than straight realism. Isabel is an impressionistic sculpture that represents my impressionistic realism. What I had in mind with the pose was an introspection. I wanted the piece to be a meditative piece, but it also had to do with the centering of the self in the female.”
What have you been able to share with your daughters as an artist?
Betty: “I would say that I’m pretty convinced that all of the girls saw my delight in the art. There was never any question that I was exercising a great love and freedom in doing it. I was part of that period that was on the edge of feminism. I was not espousing feminism per say at the time, but I still very strongly needed to exert for myself the power that I felt was due to women. My daughters have come along and fully exercised that without any need to worry about any repercussions.”
A Friend for Life, outside of the South County Library, captures the moment that literature opens the realm of possibilities for children to pursue their interests. What was that moment for you as a child?
Betty: “I am an only child, and we moved around a lot. I was in 15 different schools growing up. Reading was my main source of entertainment. That was the thing that was very important to me. Early on, I was fortunate to have access to nursery rhymes and fairy tales. That, I am quite certain, is a very solid foundation upon which much, if not all, of my work is based. The sense of possibilities of mythology, all of that is very empowering. That is what fairy tales are all about—empowerment or the lack of it.
I have painted and drawn for as long as I can remember. It never occurred to me that it could be a career until all of my children were in school and I was without that major focus of child-bearing and raising them. There was a sudden void in my life and the art was there. It really burgeoned.”
As your children began to develop their own artistic interests, how did you encourage their development?
Betty: “Obviously, they have a gift that is undeniable. They saw what art meant to me. I took them to classes with me way before I was making sculpture art as a career. I would take anything that I could get myself into—weaving, paper-making, or pottery. It was pottery that led me to sculpture because I had not experienced real clay before that time. My pots sprouted faces and arms. It was through that experience of piling all the kids that were at home in the back of the station wagon, and driving to whatever little art festival there was to spend the day that they saw other artists with the things they had brought. Those were really special good times. I think it’s just in them. Every one of the eight could have been artists had their lives taken just a slightly different turn.”
Bonny: “When I was nine, Mom and I traveled to Greece for the summer and I was given an old brownie camera. I fell in love with the old door knockers on Crete and used my camera to record the variety of brass hands adorning the ancient wooden doors. I didn’t know I had a passion for photography until I returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The images I captured thrilled me because I could show exactly what I saw with others and I used those images in my first art exhibit.”
Much of your family’s work focuses on the feminine form—both young and old. What about that resonates with your family?
Katey: “ I am blessed by powerful women, like my mother, who have forged the way through a time dominated by men, to create a way for those who have followed to have less barriers when they step out in the world to follow what has heart and meaning with more vulnerability.”
Betty: “It’s very meaningful to us. Katey teaches a course in self-realization and she’s done large scale canvas paintings of women that are used at that conference. All of them are very conscious of the necessity for there to be a legitimate equality in the exercise of power. It’s not that anyone wants to flip it over and say that women should rule the world, but if half of the rulers were women, then we would probably have a different result.”
For more information on Betty Branch, her family, and her art (which is exhibited all over the world), visit www.bettybranch.com.