Betsy Packard Artist Statement
I am a visual artist whose work leans toward the visceral and conceptual. I revisit themes of journaling, reuse, autobiography, manifestation, and record keeping—employing a variety of media and drawing from a vast array of found and saved materials.
These preoccupations stem from experiences in Italy,1974-75, where stores that sold rags existed side by side with the masterpieces of Early Renaissance art. This left on me an indelible impression of reverence for all physical materials and objects, and a respect for their endurance and their ability to mark events and periods in our lives and evoke powerful associations.
I began as a painter, but was drawn to collage, assemblage, metalwork, printmaking, and the handmade. Saved mementos and letters became a handful of pulp, resulting in a “thing” rather than an image. Deconstruction and compression as processes were a way to keep this physical journal in my sphere, easy to store and transport. At times, I was ready to let a particular chapter go; i.e., in 1977, I plastered written material and objects in the walls of the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, in the exhibition, “Louisiana Environments”.
Soon, common everyday items—egg cartons, packing materials, styrofoam and plastic containers— became molds for sculpture. The excitement of 3 dimensionality and the discovery of the versatility of plaster led to a more traditional series of sculptures. The found forms suggested botanical and figurative subject matter.
My artmaking process can be either meditative or one of fast-paced immediacy. Painting in melted wax, hand sewing, mosaic surface– these are some of the meditative processes. Newspaper, cement, and plaster, additively or cast— are the structural or “binder” materials, used when I begin a piece with a concept and set a few specific parameters. Then, creation of the work is quick and intuitive; chance and the subconscious play a role.
My work can be autobiographical- sometimes with the goal of personal transformation. Though our stories are unique and precious, there is a universality to some human experience, and it is my intent that the viewer will relate physically or emotionally to some memory, humor, or mystery they sense here.
There is a naturally “green” aspect to my work.
I use both mundane and special saved objects as molds and as material, drawing from what is abundant in my environment. The objects and molds are often recognizable; the saved materials have a history and a meaning for me. I alter these items yet they retain a vestige of a previous life and function.
Currently, used fabric is my medium of choice. Saved clothing embodies some essence of its owner—an aura that can emanate from the new form. Garment pattern pieces have the ability to conjure the figure—a recurring theme. Contemplative, slow, repetitive processes in the construction of this fabric work have been essential in earlier works as well: painting with melted wax- one brushstroke at a time, or the painstaking application of broken glass to sculptural surfaces. Embroidery, weaving, and hand sewing can produce this meditative state, and imbue the finished piece with mindfulness and weight.
Betsy Packard exhibited at Galerie Simonne Stern in New Orleans and installed a site piece for the 1977 inaugural exhibition, “Louisiana Environments,” at the Contemporary Arts Center there.
Her work has been shown most recently at Curator’s Office, D.C., The Shiva Gallery, John Jay College, CUNY, New York, and at The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in “Outliers: Kurt Godwin and Betsy Packard.” She has exhibited at the West Hubbard Gallery in Chicago, The Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, and in the D.C. metro area at the Washington Project for the Arts, McLean Project for the Arts, the District of Columbia Arts Center, Maryland Art Place, Anton Gallery, and Gallery 10. She is currently represented by Green Chalk Contemporary, Monterey, CA. Packard received Visual Artist’s Grants from the Maryland State Arts Council in 1988 and 1991, and served on the WPA Board of Directors from 1985-1987. Her work is included in numerous private and public collections, including The Krannert Art Museum, The Newcomb Art Museum, and The American University Museum.
“Can’t we see more of Betsy Packard’s expressively vigorous personal icons with which she has filed her “Artist’s Studio” space on the second floor? There’s more, much more.” – Luba Glade on “Louisiana Environments,” at the Contemporary Arts Center. New Orleans Times-Picayune, November, 1977.
“With Packard, layering, the history of materials like old clothes and implements, and the opposition of the short lifespan of mundane materials to “eternal” art transformations meet in objects concerned with residue. Her surfaces, colors, and textures, achieved through unlikely means, and her approach to classic sculptural problems of interior/exterior, time, and space make for clever, potent images, socially and sexually allusive.“ – Lee Fleming, “Open Studio”, 81 Images and Issues, Fall 1981.
“Wrapped, muffled, like mysterious icons whose underlying structure remains concealed no matter how many ‘clues’ Packard plants as key to its original function or state, these small objects have a satisfying blend of material and idea. Taking her cue from the wrapping and binding efforts of the past decade and more, Packard manages to move a step beyond building mysteries through material alone. The basic ‘inside-outside’ concerns of sculpture are presented in ways which stress the object’s symbolic and/or emblematic relationship to outside reality. The pale swaddling of two thick rings and larger ‘body’ is papooose-like, a mummified (or Holy) child. Objects like masks, faces, or shields grow from corduroy strips and crumbling plaster as if the life mask of early man were here mounted outside its cultural context, although still strongly hinting at some mysterious purpose. Shoes buried under mud-like plaster, forms revealed and dodged, the male/female sexual set-up of the more figurative arrangements, finally seem less about the act of concealing and building up than about bringing forms and outlines to light again, bursting through the wrapping process in the real world.” – LeeFleming, “Betsy Packard at Gallery 10”, The Washington Review, June/July 1981.
“The exploratory Hesse is reflected in the work of Betsy Packard, who creates idiosyncratic biomorphs from plaster, artificial flowers, emulsified paper, wire, and cloth to create heavy, writhing, compacted pieces which seemingly converge with the use of more and varied materials “Washington Walkabout.” – Scott Lucas, New Art Examiner, Summer 1981.
“Displayed in a deadpan manner on long shelves on the bare walls of an equally spare room, a space more suggestive of a store or a mail order catalogue page than a gallery, Packard’s small mixed media pieces-122 of which are shown- are beguiling in their ingenuity and variety. In their humor, playfulness and incorporation of materials and processes not usually associated with the creation of fine art, Like a master alchemist, Packard has the capacity to turn otherwise mundane materials-old magazines, dirt, bones, feathers, potsherds-into something precious. Her art deals with transformation, disarming literalness and visual puns.” – Richard Rubenfeld, New Art Examiner, June 1984.
“(Packard’s) part of the WPA show will be a special revelation because of its sheer quantity–122 pieces dating back to the mid-1970’s, when she was still a graduate student in art–and even more so because of the diversity of her inventiveness. The installation does much to emphasize this quality: the smallish pieces are scattered across long, wide shelves lining the walls of a second- floor gallery, rather like still-unclassified finds from a recent archeological dig in the artist’s studio.
The work is distinguished by an experimental wit. In the past eight years or so Packard has dealt with a striking variety of mostly non-art materials (including socks, egg crates, burnt pies, chicken bones, pots, pans, bits of furniture, shards of pottery) and handled them in an even more surprising variety of ways. It is as if she were compiling a loose-bound directory to the ways such materials can be manipulated: compressed, wrapped, sliced, sawed, broken, stacked, added to, subtracted from, combined… and so on.
In addition to this lively interest in process, she displays a keen, somewhat surrealistic sense for the imagistic quality of such found materials, so that, for instance, an angel food cake pan becomes a persuasive headlike image, or tiny pieces of a shattered ceramic cup are pasted together like Humpty to make again a recognizable, and thoroughly unusable, cup. Many of the recent works, including several of the angular, stemlike pieces shown at Gallery 10, are made of painted plaster and are more formal in appearance and conception. Even though some of these pieces are quite compelling, one hopes Packard does not altogether abandon the open-ended energy that is the real strength of this show.” – Benjamin Forgey, The Washington Post, April 14, 1984.
“In “Advent,” a small, sketchy encaustic painting, Betsy Packard lists daily I Ching readings. The broken and solid lines of the hexagrams represent yin and yang respectively, the female lunar, receptive qualities mingling with the male–solar, upward-moving. Traditionally, Chinese ideology calls for the balancing of these two forces in every aspect of life. Packard, with her customary nimble wit, drops the Eastern idea into a Western framework by setting her readings in the Christian season of Advent. The first Advent set the stage for a long-term dilemma: is woman inescapably the Original Sinner, or is she the Beautiful Virgin and Mother, laudable in her purity? The categories that for centuries have puzzled men are, for women, a ridiculous context for defining individuality.
Motherhood is one of Packard’s themes, along with the traditional roles of women as personifiers of grace, beauty, and ideal femininity. Packard approaches these ideas with affection and humor in her large series of plaster busts. They are grouped around the gallery in homey array, with tables and chairs (including a high chair) for pedestals. Far from the aggressive male-dominated individuality of portrait gallery personalities, these female counterparts are as blank-faced and anonymous as mannequins or mummies, but at the same time strikingly familiar, lively, and human. Their slender elongated necks arch gracefully and their heads tilt sometimes coyly, sometimes with concern, like a mother bending over a child. Many are encrusted with broken glass and ching, like clumsily reconstructed archeological finds. Their glinting surfaces are Packard’s mocking version of “beauty is only skin deep.” “Lady with a Necklace in a Tiled Room” has the gold edging from a dinner plate for a necklace and the pale pink flowers from it’s center arranged across her cheekbones-literally, “roses in her cheeks.” Very much the blushing young lady of fashion, she is just as plausibly a fragile old woman in pink and white. The shards of china and colored glass call to mind antique store nostalgia and remembrance of past times when women’s roles were ordained by nature and that was that. Packard celebrates these roles, even as she pokes fun at them, but more importantly, she qualifies these still heads with an enduring, if gawky beauty, a quality of aliveness that makes roles seem quite beside the point.
The goddess in woman has many sides in Packard’s work, as “Statue of Liberty/Crown of Thorns implies. This small plaster head with a spiked crown of broken glass is constructed on a wine glass with the stem for a base. In this concise look at society’s ambivalence toward unedited femininity and to individuality as a whole, the embodiment of Liberty is toasted, revered, and martyred. The once all-important earth or fertility goddess, whose worship was outlawed with the coming of Christianity, crops up in Packard’s work in the form of blank-faced heads banded with beaded ridges. The motif belongs to the bulbous “Venus of Willendorf,” every art student’s first fertility figure.
Female energy runs strongly through Packard’s work, but it would be a mistake to view it in strictly feminist terms. The diversity in her concerns is akin to the multiplicity of meaning allowed by the I Ching. In the clumsy haloed figure “Myself as Siva or as Hebe” (Waitress of the Gods), Packard probes at the difficulties of finding balance and resolution of creative and destructive impulses and male and female energies, even within the self. Siva’s contradicting attributes as a destructive and merciful, phallic and ascetic god parallel his position as the protector of misfits. And Hebe, though dedicated to her duties as a proper young goddess should be, lost her position and her husband through the pure bad luck of taking a spill while waiting tables and landing in an unforgivably indecent pose. Packard’s light, often impish, touch takes life’s awkward mixture of comedy, pathos and injustice and translates it into strangely moving forms, each with a surprisingly tenacious presence. Her work, despite its anonymous countenance, has a relaxed familiarity that is far more personal than any actual personality could be.” – Mary McCoy, Washington Review, March, 1987.
“The Sherry Jones-Alan Stone Collection includes a gem of the show: Betsy Packard’s endearingly humble yet eminently dignified totem, “The Bride,” fashioned from painted plaster and metal screen.” – Alice Thorsen on “Recollections: Washington Artists at WPA 1975-1988,” Washington Project for the Arts. The Washington Times, December 22, 1988.
“10 years of working in Washington, Betsy Packard has made her reputation wresting eloquence from the humblest of materials. The artist continues in this vein in her series of wax on In wood “paintings” and plaster sculptures on view at Anton Gallery (2108 R St. NW) through Feb. 29.
This is a highly moving show, ranging in subject from cosmic reverence to worldly pain. Again and again Ms. Packard seeks resolution between self, God, and the cosmos. At times, as in the several wax on wood pieces reflecting her involvement with the I Ching, she seems to be using ritual as a means to relinquish the self to the workings of greater forces. But the hatch marks and scrawled dates which emerge through their waxen surfaces bespeak a similarly strong urge to control an unruly universe by trapping time in records and objects.
Throughout, attunement to the cycles of nature vies with an awareness of cultural exigencies- waiting, aging, the passing of time. Like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Ms. Packard’s “Happy New Year,” a whirling blue vortex of wax punctuated by silver stars, is rendered as a cosmic event. In contrast, the poignant “33rd Year,” a row of melted, multicolored birthday candles in the center of a purple ground, commemorates a deeply felt, personal experience. Always, Ms. Packard chooses means and materials with an eye to the tension of opposites, mingling creation with destruction, exaltation with pain, godliness with humanness.
In “Love Like Death,” a skull of formed plaster and broken glass mounted on a red wax heart asserts the cruelty in caring. The presence of fire, connoting celebration and destruction, and, in this context, the idea of immolation as a means to immortality, is incipient in the warm wax and more aggressively evident in the burn marks that scar so many of these pieces. Two burnt holes double as eyes in “The Tears of God,” a visage of white wax streaked with red rivulets.
The sense of religiosity continues in two roughly fashioned plaster sculptures on the theme of “Statue of Liberty/Crown of Thorns,” in which loosely applied gold paint heightens the iconlike quality established by a birthday-candle crown of thorns. In these, too, human pain and sorrow intrude on divinity, as driplets of wax stream like blood or tears down faceless heads.” – Alice Thorson, The Washington Times, Feb 18, 1988.
“What makes these artists notable is the distance each has gone down a road less-traveled, the scope of their differences from conventional contemporary art…..Betsy Packard has always engaged with the hidden poetics in everyday, abundant materials, re-using them or recasting their shapes. She also uses saved or salvaged objects or images that possess “aura,” that quality of abstract presence that history, ritual, or basic uniqueness can imbue. She explores the languages of divination, employing the I Ching, astrology, and the meanings of letters, numbers, and colors. She resolutely departs from the ordinary. And as she works, sometimes in quiet, meditative processes, like sewing or wax painting, or more physically, in casting or reconstructing from found objects, her aim is always to exalt and transfigure the materials she works with into new, psychically active symbols… “ – JW Mahoney, Curator, “Outliers: Kurt Godwin and Betsy Packard”, The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, D.C., 2015.
“When I first saw Betsy’s work while I was the director at Anton Gallery it took no talent on my part to recognize genius. She’s the real thing! 30 years later it still looks startling.” – Tom Nakashima, artist. 2021.
MFA, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.
BFA, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Il.
SELECTED DUO/SOLO EXHIBITIONS
Outliers: Kurt Godwin and Betsy Packard, American University Museum at The Katzen Arts Center, curated by J.W. Mahoney.
Hillyer Gallery, Washington, DC.
Anton Gallery, Washington, DC.
Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, DC.
Gallery 10, Washington, DC.
St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN.
Gallery 10, Washington, DC.
Frostburg State College, MD.
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Collector’s Night 2020, WPA Benefit Auction.2020
High Frequency, WPA Benefit Auction.
The Art Party, Green Chalk Contemporary, 701 Hawthorne, Monterey. CA.
Party for Democracy, Green Chalk Contemporary, 701 Hawthorne, Monterey, CA.
Kindled by Things, Mclean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA; curated by Nancy Sausser.
Off the Grid: Contemporary Fiber and Textile Art, Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, Silver Spring, MD.
Strictly Painting 11, Juror Prize, McLean Project for the Arts; Juror: Anne Reeve (Glenstone).
GEOMETRIX: Line, Form, Subversion, Curator’s Office, Washington, DC; curated by Andrea Pollan.
Readymade @100, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC; curated by Mark Cameron Boyd,
Transformations, juried by Jack Rassmussen, McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA.
Washington Art Matters 1940’s-1980’s II, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC.
Recontextualizing the Found, Shiva Gallery, John Jay College, CUNY, New York, NY; Curated by Bill Pangburn and Thalia Vrachopoulos,
Hair Apparent, curated by Twig Murray, The Athenaeum, Alexandria, VA.
Signals, DCAC, Washington, DC; curated by J.W. Mahoney,.
Four Perspectives: Becoming MPA, curated by Deborah MacLeod, McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA.
Catalyst: 35 Years of Washington Project for the Arts 1975-2010, curated by J.W. Mahoney, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC.
Mundanity, Catholic University, Washington, DC; Curated by Beverly Ress.
Disclosed, Chroma Projects Art Laboratory, Charlottesville, VA; Curated by Deborah McLeod.
Alternative Objects, James Backas Gallery, MSAC, Baltimore, MD; Curated by Beverly Ress.
Media Mix: 21st Century Collage, curated by Iciar Sagarminaga, Civilian Art Projects, Washington, DC.
Transmodern Ocean, Mayer Fine Art, Norfolk, VA; Curated by J.W. Mahoney.
Pass/Sculpture, Pass Gallery, Washington, DC.
Sculpture Unbound, Edison Place Gallery, Washington, DC; Juror: Glenn Harper.
Hystoria, DCAC, Washington, DC; Curated by J.W. Mahoney,
Cartography 101, Johnsonese Gallery, Chicago, IL.
Sculpture Now, Washington Square, Washington DC; Juror: Rex Weil.
Anonymous Returns, Washington, DC.
Summer Show, Signal 66, Washington, DC.
Flora: Sculptures of the Natural World, U.S. Botanic Gardens, Washington, DC.
Plastic Memory, McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA; Curated by Deborah McLeod.
Spirit Materials, McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA; Curated by Alice Thorsen,
Enclosure, The Annex, Washington, DC; Curated by Sharon Fishel,.
Crossfire, The Annex, Washington, DC; Curated by David Carlson.
Collecting, Organizing, Transposing, Curated by Olivia Georgia, MAP, Baltimore andcSnug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, NY.
Artery ’89, Second Prize; curated by Julia Boyd.
Arnold and Porter Gallery, Washington, DC; curated by Sarah Tanguy.
Recollections: Washington Artists at WPA 1975-1988, WPA, Washington, DC; Curated by Jock Reynolds.
Spare Parts: Realignments in Abstraction, Tuttle Gallery, McDonough, MD; Curated by Carol Wood.
Selected Sculpture, Anton Gallery, Washington, DC.
Ten Artists Working in New York City and Washington, DC, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA; curated by Jock Reynolds and Robert Feldman.
Objects and Installations: Selected Sculpture from Maryland, Curated by Phyllis Rosenzweig, MAP, Baltimore, MD.
Painterly Sculpture, Gallery 10, Washington, DC.
In Memory of Cynthia, Old Dominion College, Norfolk, VA.
Ten Washington Artists at Gallery 10, Washington, DC.
Faculty Show, Montgomery College, Takoma Park, MD.
Washington Sculpture: Prospects and Perspectives, Georgetown Court Artist’s Space,
Washington, DC; curated by Michael Walls.
O Street Artists, Marlboro Gallery, Prince George’s Community College, Largo, MD.
The Art Barn Presents, The Art Barn, DC; curated by David Tannous and Caroline Huber.
O Street Artists at the Art Barn, Washington, DC.Group Show,” Jack Rassmussen Gallery, Washington, DC.
Bookworks: DC, Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, DC.
Paper: Changing Uses and Concepts, Gallery 10, Washington, DC.
Six California Artists, West Hubbard Gallery, Chicago, IL
New Talent, Galerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, LA
Louisiana Environments, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA.
Fujistudio Group, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy.
Board of Directors, Washington Project for the Arts.
Visual Artists’ Grant, Maryland State Arts Council.
Visual Artists’ Grant, Maryland State Arts Council.
SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
The Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, D.C. The Newcomb Museum, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.
The Washington Post
Past Brewing Company
Klein Hornig LLP.
DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative.
Jenkins, Mark, THE WASHINGTON POST, 7/18.
O’Sullivan, Michael, Catalyst, THE WASHINGTON POSTt, 11/19.
O’Sullivan, Michael, Plastic Memory, THE WASHINGTON POST, 1/2/04.
Zinnia, Spirit Materials, THE NEW ART EXAMINER, 2-3/92.
McCoy, Mary, Spirit Materials at Emerson, THE WASHINGTON POST, 10/26/91.
Alice Thorsen, Galleries, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/18
Forgey, Benjamin, Betsy Packard at Anton, THE WASHINGTON POST, 2/27/88.
Thorsen, Alice, Recollections: WPA 1975-1988, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/22/88.
Frank, Patrick, Betsy Packard, NEW ART EXAMINER, 7/87.
McCoy, Mary, Betsy Packard, WASHINGTON REVIEW, 2-3/87.
Fleming, Lee, Visual Arts: Young and on the Way Up, WASHINGTONIAN MAGAZINE, November.
Rubenfeld, Richard, Betsy Packard, Jeff Spaulding, Yuriko Yamaguchi, NEW ART EXAMINER, June
Forgey, Benjamin, Strong Showing, THE WASHINGTON POST, April 14
Allen, Jane Addams, Three Young Sculptors, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, March 22
Fleming, Lee, Betsy Packard at Gallery 10, WASHINGTON REVIEW, April/May
Lewis, JoAnn, Flowery Objects, THE WASHINGTON POST, 2/23.
Fleming, Lee, Open Studio’81, IMAGES AND ISSUES, Fall
Lewis, JoAnn, Sculpted Books, THE WASHINGTON POST, 3/15/80.
Forgey, Benjamin, The Book as Art, THE WASHINGTON STAR, 3/13
Krainik, Paul, Six California Artists, NEW ART EXAMINER, Summer.
Fosberg, Joselyn, New Artists at the Stern, THE COURIER, (New Orleans), 2/23/78.
Marshall, Keith, A Fresh Look at Art, ART VOICES/SOUTH, 3-4/78.
Glade, Luba, Louisiana Environments: A Major Triumph, NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE, 11/29/77.