Galleries : Everything Comes Out in The Wash : Artist Betty Wolfson
Hanging laundry out to dry might not seem like a particularly promising subject for art, but long-time Oak Bluffs seasonal resident Betty Wolfson has turned it into a persuasive statement about how to celebrate and how to respect the environment. Her inventive and all-encompassing exhibit, "Let It All Hang Out," on view at Featherstone Center for the Arts through Oct. 1, includes a range of subjects and objects executed in watercolors, ceramics, and pastels.
In her artist's statement, Ms. Wolfson explains the rationale for depicting laundry: "To begin your day with the simple, conscientious act of hanging your laundry to dry, be it on a wooden rack over your tub, a line strewn in the cellar, or an elaborate clothesline strung in your yard, is the frame surrounding the picture that is your day."
And there's more. Ms. Wolfson points out that drying laundry without benefit of a dryer - "actually has a pretty big impact." According to the nonprofit organization, Project Laundry List, in this country electric dryers use 5 to 10 percent of residential electricity.
To enter the Featherstone gallery, viewers must bob and weave under several lines of laundry that hang from lines strung across the gallery's vestibule.
Another dramatic display of the artist's ceramic work sits on the floor in a corner of the gallery. She has spread sand and interspersed a scattering of beach flotsam to accessorize the display of her ceramic bowls, platters and other pieces of pottery, a reminder of the connection between her work and the environment.
But it is the subject of laundry that may best articulate an activist artist's concerns. She has subtitled the exhibit, "Choices for Our Future."
Ms. Wolfson's pastels -- she has been a student of pastel artist Ellen McCloskey -- and watercolors are done in a muted palette, and her drying clothes often seem animated by the environment. They frequently blend in with the surrounding trees and foliage. In "Painter's Pants" clothing hangs from tree branches as well as lines.
Photo by Jennifer Brown
Other watercolors and pastels range in subject from pumpkins in a field and a still life of persimmons to a particularly well-executed landscape, "Paradise Pond," where the artist has balanced the precision of dry-brushed trees in the foreground with a blurred rendition of the body of water in the center of the work. "Saris in the Sand" is a clever collage of colored paper strips set against sand-colored ones with gray water and hill strips behind them.
In the back room of Featherstone's gallery Ms. Wolfson has arranged a collection of books, quotations, and other materials intended to promote, inspire, and engage citizenship. The artist has supplied page references, along with a rocking chair and notepaper so viewers can peruse the books and magazines supplied and take home some of the information they glean.
In addition to her paintings and ceramics, the energetic Ms. Wolfson sells environmentally inspired items. Her note cards are made of reclaimed paper and decorated with delicate arrangements of an unusual, reddish Oak Bluffs seaweed. The removable paper inside intended for a message can be replaced so the card can be used repeatedly.
"Shopping Bags" consists of a collection of cloth bags made from remnants by Ms. Wolfson and her friends cleverly displayed on a hat rack.
"Let It All Hang Out" is Betty Wolfson's first Island show. It will be interesting to see where this innovative artist's explorations will take her next.
Brooks Robards writes on art, film, books and theater for The Times.