Bellingham artist Susan Bennerstrom’s distinctive paintings that explore light and shadow on landscapes and everyday objects have been featured on posters for Bellingham Festival of Music, a calendar for Northwest Poets and Artists, and in shows at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, the Tacoma Art Museum, and Bellevue Art Museum.
Awards she has won are too numerous to mention in full, but include a Bellingham’s Mayor’s Arts Award, Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award, and a very cool one for Ireland’s County Mayo’s Ballinglen Art Foundation.
Her painting “Expect to Wait” is on display in the “A Curatorial Perspective: Collection Selections” exhibit at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher. She will give an overview of her work at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, in the Lightcatcher studio. Learn more about her at susanbennerstrom.com.
My grandmother in Chicago was a working painter and sculptor and she occasionally sent me stuff — canvas boards, a starter set of oil paints, etc. I think now about what an unusual woman she was for her time; as a young woman she got herself to Florence to study sculpture in the early 1900s, and she never stopped making art even as she raised six kids.
I loved the hands-on directness of pastel, the richness of color, the matte surface. But eventually the dust got to me, and I had a yearning to learn to paint with oils.
In 1997, I took an oil painting class from Barbara Sternberger at WWU. She is a great and inspiring teacher, but I wasn’t quite ready to make the transition from hand-held color to the distancing of paint on the end of a brush.
I was using the oil pastels directly on gessoed panel, and since oil pastel never completely dries, I needed to come up with a varnish to protect the surface. With the help of my framer in Seattle, I was able to develop a sequence of spray varnishes that worked adequately, but not always consistently.
I finally went cold-turkey off of pastels, picked up the paintbrush, and haven’t looked back. I love oil paint, and feel I can keep learning new things about it for the rest of my life, and will never get bored.
I’ve had a variety of awards, but my favorite has been the Ballinglen Art Foundation Fellowship, a residency in the village of Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland. For two-and-a-half months, I had a little cottage to live in and a beautiful studio, and no responsibilities except to make art and keep myself fed.
Two years later, my now-husband, David Scherrer, was awarded the fellowship, and we got to return to Ballycastle to deepen our experience of the place and the people.
Two other great passions are singing and paddling canoe. I’ve sung in the Whatcom Chorale for 40 years, and also enjoy singing in a trio. I can’t imagine life without music, especially singing.
David and I have done the canoe leg of Ski to Sea together for our family team for about eight years, and we also paddle twice a week year-round. I absolutely love getting out on the bay, local lakes, the Nooksack River, in every kind of weather, especially in the snow.
There is a special kind of peace and exhilaration in being close to the water in a human-powered craft.
I am also making paintings for my show at Linda Hodges in Seattle, opening Sept. 3, many of them inspired by nearly two months on the Greek island of Ithaca last fall.