Barbara Bennett Parsons hopes Shelton students are inspired by the scenic silkscreens created by her late father, Elton Bennett.
“I want children to realize that being an artist is an attainable goal,” she said. “If my father, growing up in Hoquiam, struggling through the Great Depression, serving in the Navy during World War II, if he could follow his dream and become a success as an artist, then anyone with perseverance and talent can do the same.”
Parsons recently donated 22 silkscreens, also known as serigraphs, to the Shelton School District. The intricate pieces depict mountains, water, forests, beaches, birds and boats, many of them set in a backdrop of rainy or overcast skies. The pieces can be seen in all seven schools.
Parsons’ connection with Shelton comes through Pam Farr, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning. Parsons donated pieces to Central Elementary School in Hoquiam when Farr was principal there.
“She wanted to make her father’s art accessible to people,” Farr said. “He believed art should not just be in museums.”
Parsons echoed that sentiment.
“He felt art galleries were elitist, that they catered only to a small segment of people, i.e., those with higher income than the general public,” she said.
The two stayed in touch, and Farr asked about pieces for the Shelton schools.
They walked around each school together for the first time about five years ago.
“I specifically wanted to choose areas in each school where students would see the artwork on a daily basis,” Parsons said. “I did not want it to be hidden away in conference rooms or offices.”
Parsons said she insists that the prints be framed to “archival standards” before she donates them. That’s where Farr’s husband, Dan Johnson, stepped in. Johnson spent about $10,000 getting the 22 pieces framed.
The silkscreens can be seen in the libraries at Mountain View Elementary, Olympic Middle School and Bordeaux Elementary. They are in the commons at Oakland Bay Junior High, and four adorn the lobby of Shelton High School’s Performing Arts Center.
Farr said she loves the fine detail in the silkscreens. The pieces “capture the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “There’s a lot in Grays Harbor that’s like Shelton. … It’s very much like the flavor you get in Shelton.”
Parsons said she hopes the students “connect” with the works.
“On a subtle level I hope that by having art in each of the schools, students will recognize the art as they transition to the next level, that it imprints on their psyche, that they have a personal relationship in identifying with the beauty of the scenes, that they make the connection that this beauty is right here in their corner of the world,” she said.
Bennett and his wife died in an airplane crash in 1974. But he left behind a drawing and handwritten insights into his artistic process.
“The idea comes first,” he wrote. “Most often in early spring, sometimes in smoky October, and anytime when there is wood to cut or garden to spade. … The mind turns to distant hills, or the moving tide, and the feet follow.”
The drawing is made on transparent acetate, sometimes at the scene, more often from a sketch. This is exposed over a sheet of photo film, made especially for serigraph.
The exposed film is then given a chemical bath and washed; most of the film washes away, leaving a stencil. This is laid on a piece of glass and a dampened screen placed firmly in it.
After the stencil is dry, the backing is peeled off, and various open spaces are filled. The screen is now ready.
“There only remains the selection of color and paper, positioning of the screen, and we take the squeegee and start to print,” the artist wrote.
The Elton Bennett Gallery is now open in Hoquiam. Original silkscreen artwork, reproduction prints and notecards by Bennett are now available every Monday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. or by appointment. The gallery is located on the second floor of the post office in downtown Hoquiam — 620 8th St.