DescriptionSpouses Bo Bartlett (65) and Betsy Eby (54) sit down for a conversation about how their respective childhood homes have influenced who they are today, the inspiration behind each of their artistic styles, and the role that the Bo Bartlett Center plays in Columbus, GA community.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Bo Bartlett
- Betsy Eby
Recording LocationsColumbus Public Library
- Abstract art
- art museums
- artistic expression
- artistic inspiration
- Childhood memories
- Classical music
- Community History
- Community Outreach
- family history
- Family origins
- homeless community
- memories of growing up
- Middle Class
- museum exhibitions
- racial tensions
- risk taking
- rugged individualism
- Sense of Place
- Social justice
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00:04 I'm Bo Bartlett. I was born in 1955. I'm 65 years old and today is Sunday, October 31st 2021.
00:14 Where in Columbus, Georgia?
00:19 The name of my partner is Betsy EBY, and I am her husband and she is my wife. We don't say that very often. And she is my wife.
00:29 And hi, there. I am Betsy EBY and I'm 54 years old, born in 1967. And today is Sunday, October 31st 2021, and we're in Columbus, Georgia.
00:44 And I am sitting here with Bo Bartlett. My husband.
00:50 Where do you want to start Betsy? Well?
00:55 Let's start with, I'm going to ask you a question. First, girl. Where are you from?
01:03 I'm from Columbus Georgia born and raised born here in 1955 and Georgia. And the 50s was as you might imagine a wonderful and interesting and complex place to live.
01:20 I grew up all over in Midtown where Copa, which was back, then of never a middle-class area. And in some ways, still is and we live in an area that was surrounded by Forest. It was a spring that girl up across the street. We had a pool in the backyard, which was spring fed and all around the backyard. All directions for trees that went all the way down to 13th and 13th, which was half a mile away. So my backyard was a was a giant forest.
01:55 Well, and how about you message? You want to go to come and go back and forth like that? Yeah, I was born in Seaside, Oregon where you from Bessie. I was born in Seaside, Oregon and I spent my formative years there and until first grade, then we moved to the suburbs around Portland, Oregon and my memories of childhood are filled with really Wandering. Inn in the old growth forest behind my house and the Pacific Ocean, The Majestic Mighty Pacific Ocean and growing up in such a place is that where nature is large and unbridled and it didn't forms one sense of self, I think because
02:50 I grew up feeling a part of nature, not separate from nature but a part of Nature and I'd say that nature has gone on to influence me and my work and and to this day. But
03:07 It was a beautiful place to grow up and I think psychologically would inform me from that place of the young age, was that it was the place of the pioneering spirit. It's where people came to, to Enterprise.
03:25 And it's also Seaside Oregon was also the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail. So what informed to see the psychological make-up of our culture? There was a real rugged individualism.
03:48 I think we have many similarities and differences and where we grew up similarities. We both had Woods all around and we were free to just wonder everywhere and I'm almost free to just go anywhere. I wanted my parents were there but they didn't really know they were off at work. So they didn't really care where I went or what I did. It was a very free time, and I think that informed, I mean, both of us actually. So, how would you say that's informed you in, in, in your becoming of who you are today? And who are you today from earlier painter artist, but I think that sense of freedom is something that it continues to to inform me, you know, not restricted. Not job bound are duty-bound in or just treated to roam around and discover.
04:43 But I think that that's something you said, which I find interesting, was that your forebears? The frontier, Spirit on your spirit, was her? What informed your area. Where is? I think it was a bit of that early on in the history of Columbus here with Nina beings were the last colony of the last 13, states, last City farthest away, City on the 13th colony state, but I think that
05:11 Over time, it became more of an insular kind of place because it was sort of at the end of the road. It was down all the way down here. Way down in Columbus, Georgia. I haven't joked that I live at the end of the cul-de-sac. Now, exactly. And I think it was the last land battle of the Civil War, because the news, after Appomattox was just slow arriving here. And I think that, that's one of the things that still in some ways in forms Columbus. A certified, the news is a little bit late arriving sometimes and so we're not always right on the cusp of the other latest thing, that's always the way it felt even when I was growing up here, and fifties and sixties. So you and I met when, when 17 years ago, and, yeah, and I will tell the story. So I was living in Seattle, Washington, where I spent my adult life, after going to the University of Oregon and it's all my adult life. They're informed, my started informed my career there, as an artist.
06:11 And Beau came to town and while he was having a museum retrospective, which was traveling different museums around the country and that's where we met. And so,
06:26 We knew in forming a life together. The probably, the biggest challenge that we were going to come up with was placed. Which place did we wear it? Where we want to settle? So, we, we gave the first seven years to me, or seven or so years to me and we live together and Seattle and Vashon Island, which is right off of coast of Seattle. And we both had Studios there, and, and continued making our work. And, and having our, our work like there and was a beautiful place. And then in at the end of that spell, I started feeling guilty for stealing bow away from the East Coast since Billy's, which really formed him and his work and had a sense was twofold. Why why we decided to come back and move to Columbus, Georgia got his beer, birthplace bow.
07:15 I had the feeling that my painting life, my work is, derived from very interior place. I'm inspired by nature and music cuz I also play classical piano and I thought, while I can take that with me, wherever I go, where as I felt that bows world of painting, needs the narrative tension and in the Pacific Northwest, very homogeneous place for the most part. And I felt I just was getting this Instinct that, you know, Bo needed to return back to this.
07:52 Place that had more narrative tension.
07:56 To infuse your work and Inspire your work. So we moved back here for that and also to help open an art center. So we, we had worked many years in the form formation of building the bo Bartlett Center in collaboration with the community and Columbus State University Art Department.
08:17 And happily we got that built, got that done three years ago.
08:22 Can I get some sort of a natural urge to spawn back to where one is from originally examined? Like salmon smelling like salmon Upstream back to their home, the place of origin. I think we did that. I think it was 10 years. Not seven years. I was like 2005-2015 ish? We were out west. I was counting. And then when we moved back here, you would live in Seattle, not in Oregon for much of your adult life and I had lived in Philadelphia. I was in Philadelphia for 30 years, and raised my children there before getting a divorce and
09:02 Lot of separating when we met, we were both still attached when we met. And we decided right away. To be honest, friends. We were going to be best artist friends. That was the agreement and we said, we are we still? Are you still married?
09:17 But I think several things, I think one thing is,
09:21 The similarities are the way we were free to roam as children and now different locations. Me and the southeast you in the Northwest. You couldn't be further apart, but the differences are that.
09:36 The east coast is informed for my European tradition and the art world as well as a sort of thought.
09:48 Conservative Puritan kind of Aesthetics order that runs through the core, the whole history of Western Art, which is your piano part and then, but you are more informed by the Northwest aesthetic of the sort of occasion aesthetic of the Northwest. So, those two things when we met those things had to mail this. Well, I think these two different, you have a sort of a modern aesthetic, very clean, very clean. I said, I can have a horse or like accumulate more stuff have more stuff. How interesting is that you do that? The more stuff, the better go to get these two Aesthetics to meld with weave without a good job at it. I think in terms of our life.
10:31 Things are clean. But yeah, they can be a little eclectic old and new button.
10:38 Speaking of those similarities and differences. Yes. Similarities in that early on, in our formative years were not say informed by an urban place. So much as a naturalistic place and that's that sensitive, FreePlay and wandering which, you know, cash. That was just a joke.
11:02 Such a
11:05 I want to say luxury actually, and my my my best work comes even today. My best work comes in. My best ideas come. When I have time to Noodle. I think noodling is so important just to live in this unconscious room. But anyway, wouldn't I think that when we first got together, you know, I mean, our similarities and differences. I come from this rugged. Individualism, very observant dependent and connection to other people isn't necessarily the thing in the Northwest. It's very individual. And then moving to Columbus Georgia. That's where the gifts and the challenges come in because Columbus's Community First Place, and it's very beautiful. And I see, you know, the philanthropy done here in in support of one another. Very beautiful. And where is in the, you know, in Seattle, you know, we had the gate Sunday.
12:05 Do we have these major philanthropic initiatives? But they're in there. Of course, they all do reinvest in the city, but they're larger scale their overseas. You know, there are malaria. They're doing all these things Columbus's, very much taking care of their own and there's something so different about that from where I come from at the same time. I don't easily.
12:31 Subscribe to affiliations and I think and that's a challenge for me cuz I'm not and I'm not a joiner. And Columbus is all about affiliation and joining and who you who you belong to and who your family is and what church do you go to church to go to? That was the philanthropy really stems from a kind of charitable giving your tithing that comes out of the church and other religious tradition is very religious town and he has a church on every corner and is sometimes that's the sum of the first. If you need someone a stranger, you don't know. The first question. Is that, where do you go? Which means what church do you go to?
13:12 And I have a child. We went to the nearest church a few blocks away Eastern Heights. Baptist Church up the street. So I was born into a Baptist Church and I would go and sit in church in the Pew and draw down the bulletin. That's the way I that was my first introduction to Art. You know, that little short pencil would be out there on the front Pew on the pier. In front of you, you pick it up and draw on the bulletin. That was how my drawing again. And I will just write the stories that they were telling in in church, could be Jonah and the whale or shark, or you might be just a less writing those stories as they were telling them and it, but in the afternoons, I would go out and in the field behind the house at some point when I was a child, a chore down the trees and, and there was a big Field, Four Mile, and a mile or so. And that was a good eventually. A shopping center was built there.
14:03 The int. But I would sit there and just look out over the grasses and watch the sunset over the church, Steeples downtown and watch the sunset across Alabama across the Chattahoochee River. And that really informed, that was my own special time. And I would do that every afternoon and it's watch the sunset. That was my primary activity as a child and that really did inform my sense of place and sense of wonder, and sense of unity are the trains moving to the valley and that train horn sound and that would inform my sense that there's a larger world out there somewhere and that I wanted to go out into it as I was still way too young to do it. It's a Mite lot of my early Explorations for work as a teenager work or hitchhiking.
14:49 An hour ago, and it was a 70. So, it was okay. Everybody. Hitchhiked. How good is just stick my thumb out and, and go explore the world. And does sometimes not go very far. But sometimes go in Atlanta, or Charlotte or all the way down to Miami or New Orleans and just be a travel around the southeast that way. And with no money in my pocket, just traveling to Somers.
15:16 So I know there's what 10 11 years difference between us, you know, by the time you came along that that would has not been something that was done.
15:23 And in the northwest,
15:26 I think it's such a different.
15:29 General sense of connectivity. Anyway with people,
15:34 Hi everyone here. So friendly at least outwardly. Friendly everybody. So congenial you, how you doing, but out west, there's a much chillier relationship with was people and strangers to get to know people in their Jeep friends, but
15:52 It's harder to get to know them. I think what do you think Betsy? I think you're right about that and I as you painted this picture of the early childhood memories that inform you, I think they didn't informed you early on of sitting and looking at the sunset in hearing the distant Train sound that stuff still gets you going actually, and I would say that you are kind of at heart, if you could be a vagabond, you would be
16:18 But I think at heart you are still available on romantic.
16:22 And that shows up in your paintings. I think quite a bit.
16:27 Yeah, I think one's use really informs us. I'm at our youth really informs us. So you're here. We had all the racial stuff happening when I was growing up. I mean, they're still racial tensions and obviously still paper siloed and very the culture wars are ongoing, but there was a real sense of Selma's, not that far away. And so that epicenter of the racial Americans struggle was going on as I was growing up in the 60s and the library was integrated schools, were integrated, all of that was happening. So they were protests and marches and things going on with a child, that really inform my sense of social justice, I think. And
17:10 I remember being told by my mom one time that I won't say that.
17:18 There was a sense of there was a sense of
17:23 Who you couldn't couldn't be friends with?
17:25 You're just bestowed upon us, and I never really quite understood those rules. It just didn't make sense to me that.
17:35 Based on this kind of racial boundaries that we should or shouldn't be friends with people. I think that speaks to help children become enculturated because we're not born knowing differences between people.
17:48 Where I'm from in the Pacific Northwest we didn't have well that is such a remote part of the country. One feels one feels removed from federal government in a way once because all that's happening in DC and that's such a distant Land. One feels removed from racial Strife, one feels removed from the past because I because, you know, my ancestry. My ancestors are an example of this. My great-great-grandfather had a are my gray, my great-grandfather, and his father, as well. They were from
18:29 Midwest in the night. They just went prospecting. They said, hey, do you know we're looking for an opportunity to for this. And and somebody said we'll hey, there's a Trading Post in General Stores. It's for sale out of Neah Bay, a Native American reservation. And so
18:48 He thought that sounded interesting. So he went way out there and started in and ran as with the postmaster was the purveyor of this General Store in the abbaye and then my grandmother, then ended up out there. My mother was raised out there. My uncle was raced out there. And so that kind of sensitive. I said earlier that rugged, individuation, that rugged rugged.
19:22 Individualism informed, everything. I think that it was
19:26 Immense risk-takers who found themselves out there. So it's a different Spirit, really? It's I think back then.
19:38 Bravery think I had braids you had to be this to say yeah. Sure. I'll go out to, you know, the westernmost point of the lower States aside, from Alaska, you know where the weather just was so terrible. It was really challenging at it. So that's that sort of
19:59 One, informed me and then
20:03 Yeah. Yeah, but I think I think I, when I move there and visited you there, you know, I realized I came from a very Multicultural placed in the top. Where is very complex Fabric and when I moved out, I realize how out there it was more, there were many more white people there at 3, right. By the politics were extremely Progressive and no one. There could understand like, what racism, what the origins of rice was as a moron because if they're, there wasn't a lot of bumping up next to a different culture. And when you moved here, I and I remember we had this conversation was like, oh, you know, this isn't this isn't easy, you know, you really have to like a gesture your own constantly gesture.
20:56 Relationships is here. And that's basically the middle class for. But so far that, you know, what? I asked for a car. Once when I was a kid. My, my mom told me to go outside and play with a brick at toy car, toy car. She could go outside and play with a break and she said, that's what I did when I was a kid, but she's really did, she was racing the depression so young. So I, I did I did, I went out and pretended. It was a car and I moved it around my imagination was sparked. Tina. And so we were relatively poor, but we always said, we have Indian blood. That was it. That was the phrase. Was that we had Indian blood and sure enough, my my grandmother for my mom's side. Look very much like a Native American with high cheekbones.
21:47 Yeah, but later on it, hang out with 23andMe. It's revealed that it was so you don't have to American blood and it was just very
21:58 We get tan very easily and but I always generally Associated as white growing up, but I was very friendly with, with was very easy. I mix very usually with, with others, and it felt very comfortable.
22:15 So, I
22:17 I think that kind of Who We Are.
22:20 Even when we don't know who we are really in forms, how we interact with the world, well, and your paintings involve people and situations and they're deeply embedded with psychology, multi-layered psychology and storytelling and they're based around The Human Experience. My paintings don't have a single human in them. That's another big difference were both painters at similarities, but big difference in in our subject matter and how we and both also very informed by place. I think so what form of a text message well minor from emotional landscape, then, which is subjective, but also feel very Universal because they don't involve.
23:08 Depiction of the human form, their abstract better nature based so you can find ties to The rhythms of Nature and The rhythms of music and it and I feel like they're feeling route there. You know, I'm painting energy and away for medium.
23:25 I'd like to talk about the Centre though. That's backup for once. I get there, just about the paintings before we go into the center, if that's okay. So here's our nature-based abstraction and gorgeous and I like Turner's butt with like, forms that look like music and forms that look like musical notations and pressure piano player and bird wings, and leaves and flower petals. But none of that, literally, this more like that's just a shapes of the marks as they wind heavenward, gorgeous, translate The rhythms of the natural world, which also inspire
24:08 Approach to music and music making and it's that realm of everything is breathing. Everything is animated. Everything is communicating. If you just are silent enough to witness it and you realize that you're a part of that natural living breathing Dynamic organism yourself and
24:33 It's a sense of mimicry of that channeling bad into the medium.
24:40 Micro to the macro and micro to the micro and then your paintings though. Are my pain is a much more figure bass and more narrative expressions of America, who your influences Akins and Homer, Winslow Homer, Thomas Akins, Winslow Homer.
25:13 Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, spend a lot of time with Andrew Wyeth. So when I was living in Pennsylvania, so we were friends and and he was a major influence on me and learned a lot from him about why to paint not how to paint. I learned more how to paint the Pennsylvania Academy and studying privately but meeting and your wife later on after school, he really and encouraged me to paint my own life and make my own story. So that was when I really began, this would have been in the early nineties. Really hearkening back and painting scenes of my childhood and seeing some my life, which we all have a different story to tell. And so, being given the license to paint your own story and express your own life. And so he might be high school football games, and bonfires and people going hunting and pickup trucks and, you know, not with a dogmatic or political ads just fight from Up.
26:13 Seljuk, but real objective place going back in my memory and and owning that life of a child sitting in the field, you know, watching the grass is sway back and forth in south, Georgia and owning.
26:30 The turmoil that was happening across the river and sound mind, owning both that piece of that in her life. And that knowing that there's a struggling outside chaos in the outside world and putting all that into the paint. So that the story has become both private and public new intimate and psychological privately, but social in their larger context that you're speaking of that, as a personal in the Universal of that reminds me of one of the last things that Andrew Wyeth said to us before he died, and he said, keep yourself free.
27:07 People always want a guy to do but keep yourself free.
27:12 And then he also said, he said,
27:16 People only.
27:18 Will make you swerve.
27:24 I think what that means to me.
27:27 Is, it's a tightrope walk in a way?
27:33 To be a member of.
27:37 Love and friendship with people.
27:40 You know, we need that as social animals, we need love and we need connection and that
27:47 That bolsters our. It's just it's it's it's it's it's essential but also the need to protect one's.
27:56 Vision one's Studio life also and one's original vision. And one's personal story. So is an artist, you know, it's that, I find that I'm walking this.
28:13 Midway between the love space, were I'm connected. And also, the individual space where I'm creating.
28:23 Yeah, I think, I think that there's no one right way to create. You know, I think that the thing is just Channel your own feelings, and thoughts, and emotions, and history, and DNA's your Channel at all into the work, and that's when it's going to be true it and, you know, if you're true to your own temperament, the word quote on quote past residents with others, cuz it will be true. And that's true. Whether you're, you know, we were young boys race, and your world Georgia with the grass is swaying in the afternoon or whether you were in a young woman raised in Oregon and the, you know, the old-growth timber or whether you're in or where in the Bronx, you know, raised traveling to let you know.
29:14 In the afternoons, on subway, trains with that you and clacking of the of the graffiti going by, the thing is to be true to your experience, whatever that is. And so as we all have our own stories to tell their own story, that is our life. This question, I guess becomes like
29:31 A true. Can we be to that in terms of the form that it takes, not just whether we choose to be artists or painters. But like, then how Progressive is it how cutting edges? And how much we bumping up against something that never been done, or how comfortable, we are you with a Convention of making it? So that it seems comfortable for people to view and then nudge them along a little along the way? How I love to think about that. The forms that are that are at extended why? I know that mine is somewhat conventional because I was raised in a conventional place. Maybe I was a nonconformist in a conventional place, but I but I know that I want to make paintings that don't unsettle people too much and I might unsettle them after they get into it, really? But at first I can look at that painting with people I recognized that you're not pandering to an audience so much. You're never didactic their Mysteries.
30:31 There are Mysteries that you leave to the viewer to to take themselves and to contemplate themselves was funny because when when you're here and in Columbus with met so many people come up to me and say oh, yeah, but we loved your paintings you do and you just a standing there like you never looking down at your shoes. All, you know, I'm not even in this world outside of Columbus that, you know, I know about that, nobody else. They love them, and they love the narrative, and they love seeing people, something they recognized in that comfortable for them. I think, if you're not painting people, you're not really nervous. And then I go to the Northwest with you and people don't even know that I, that I exist. I mean, I feel like the Invisible Man and they said all Betsy EBY Betsy being a local team, and that's all, just because of place, but the importance of place.
31:27 So so we built an art center, the community built the Arts Center. We were just here to
31:39 For years. I was living in Pennsylvania and not the most organized person in the world necessarily. I'm and I'm an artist, you know, so it would come to the end of the year and I would realize I had some taxes 2020, taxes, and so I would call my successful brother-in-law who was a developer and I'd say you not, do you want to buy a painting or something? Like I have like a certain amount of money in taxes and he was like, yeah, sure, I'll do that. So he started buying paintings at the end of every year. As time went on. I got a little more successful, the price of the paintings and the taxes went up. So it was, you know, he would decide to start taking.
32:19 Whatever was available at the end of the year. Large paintings time. Came when over till like 20 years were, they had a giant collection of paintings. He said, do you know, we need to do something with this collection? We need to get it into a museum or something. I can't just like you pausing, I'll just fill out. These paintings were giant rolled up. Can you see if never seen before? I mean, only seen them in reproduction. And so he talked to the local Museum and then he wind up talking to Columbus State University for the University of Georgia system, and they said that they would build a center for these paintings, to be exhibited like a museum. And his idea was it would be part Outreach part education in part exhibition, Space Museums face, so it's at some it and that's basically that the fruition and we moved here in 2015-16 to, to actually help it.
33:14 The bill that you had found your one of your best friends, too. I'm kind of the architect from Seattle, from kinda Oleson contact designed it. And you brought him on board. So between the two of us and the community where the donations that were great and support was great. We were able to put this together in and we have out reaching the community. We have we work with the homeless or with the prisons and we basically give them off Trinity Express themselves, and we going to the schools and school, children come to the center. And I think what I've noticed is mainly, you know, the results that I've been able to see have been more apparent with the working with the homeless population and how a number of those artists.
34:04 Found their interagency through the creation of art. It's their expression alone. They're not conforming to other people. In order to, you know, get help or what not. It's just all about their creative expression and I'm of the big belief that you we we should all be making things like we should all.
34:29 The world would be a peaceful place. If every if everybody works from their imagination, work with her hands, whether it's making an art form or making music because all of that because life life does deal, you know,
34:45 My feels deals things are way that we don't anticipate in. Life can be kind of hard at times and
34:52 Those practices, give us a place to sublimate those emotions in a healthy way. And so it's been beautiful to see the community outreach take form and lives really being altered through it. If there is suffering and the has been proven through some studies that we're done out at Crystal Bridges in Arkansas, that the study was Art makes you smart and that was going at the schools and introducing children to our that they hadn't seen before, then they did test afterwards and realize that not only did it increase them cognitively but also their empathy increased. So their understanding of other people and their ability to have sympathy and situations with people that are different from them. So I have been one of the great things in the home is where the heart is art program with a homeless and start introducing. I'm sorry to interrupt you. I was just, you know,
35:45 These guys are allowed to express themselves, you know, and then, I've seen people that have gone from living underneath the trees, to, to being able to just buy literally, just by making their art, expressing himself, being able to sell their art, and you'll get an apartment and be in a relationship, and they are really complete. And I believe in the power of art to transform lives. And this this, these Outreach programs.
36:11 Have really come to a kind of fruition wear, one of my drive down the street. I don't know what to put on my blinders and say, I hope there's someone that I can't see over there cuz I don't know anything about them. Instead. You know, I look over and wayman's there a Max, you know, ever, hey, Jamie in a small town like this, that actually starts to make a difference cuz we have volunteers with a program that they engage with this community and and vice versa. And I think that it's I think that we went to an event at the center. It's called the bo Bartlett Center and we went to an event there the other night and it was just too beautiful to see Community together as students for their the student. The music school musicians for playing jazz, and it's it was to celebrate. It was a celebratory. Reception for South are switch is a organization that chooses.
37:07 States fellow from every state in the Southeast and then the coming together of their work forms, this exhibition, and then their honored at this reception, and it was just so beautiful people in from various States. People were from the community and this Center has energized. I think it's become a hub of, of sort of.
37:35 It's become a hub of a creative Hub in in the city. It's it's just been beautiful one. The things I wanted to do and billing, the center was one of my excitement about it. When the presenter was supposed supposed to be able to share this place with the outside world because it is at the end of the cul-de-sac, it is down here with it at a place where the interstate doesn't run through. It just runs too or just went out but it is a place that is sort of held in time and away and I want to be able to share the Wonder and the beauty of the place.
38:08 The weather light streaks across Alabama in the way that the rust in the iron oxide in the soil, in the dust of Alabama in the late afternoon, the sunlight streaks through increased, the kind of pink light here in Columbus Georgia, the beauty of that and end with a center. I wanted to share that with the outside world. And so when the great things is to be able to have exhibitions like that that are National or Regional and bring people here and show them the beauty of this place.
38:43 I believe in the power of art to transform lives.
38:47 You know, I do too and it's it's it's a beautiful statement, but it's even more beautiful to see how it plays out.
38:57 As I witnessed.