When Gwendolyn Atwood came to Bremerton, she found the end of her quest for artistic freedom. She bought her first home there in 1998 thanks to a clever artists’ conference hosted by downtown gallery owner, artist Amy Burnett.
And ever since, she has lived, worked and created here.
“The Bremerton art community has always welcomed me in,” she said. “Bremerton has always been good to me.”
Now she’s taking the opportunity to give back by recognizing and offering artistic respect to the wizened women of Bremerton who have had a positive influence on her, and the community in general, with this month’s exhibit at the Wesley Art Gallery.
The show, called The Wizened Art Ladies of Bremerton, is a collection of eight portraits of select local artists, including a self portrait of Atwood. Each artist is age 60 and older and still an active art scene contributor.
It was an idea that Wesley Gallery owner Don Wesley overheard Atwood and her friend DeDe Beckley talking about over a glass of wine at the Augustino Cafe. Artists Jean Freeburg and Bernice Walsh were sitting at a table across from Atwood and Beckley.
“I was looking at them and I was thinking, oh, these women are so beautiful, I would love to paint them,” Atwood said. “I have so much admiration for them.”
Wesley happened to overhear that part of the conversation.
“As soon as (she) said, ‘I’m painting the portraits,’ I said to myself, ‘That’s a show … that totally rocks!’” Wesley said.
So the idea traveled down the road from Augustino’s into the art gallery, where Wesley matched Atwood’s portraits with one additional piece from each artist and an upper level row of Atwood’s other works — including her signature, artistically-free nudes and other abstractly colorful still-lifes.
“(Don) has really made this show,” Atwood said of the curator’s work. “He’s a genius.”
Atwood’s work is not too shabby, either. Each of the portraits is a colorful and whimsical acrylic on canvas representation of the artists seated and seemingly pondering. And in the front of the gallery and in the middle of the showroom, Atwood’s abstractly fashionable painted lamps protrude.
“My ideas are fun, they may be off the wall, but they’re fun,” she said. “These women are doing what women do … they are doing their thing despite what art history has told us from the male perspective.”
Whether it be in front of the easel with paintbrush in hand, or out on the streets promoting the arts, each of the women in the show have paid their dues and more, Atwood said.
Just to name a few: Hazel Witte was major volunteer player at the old Metropolis Gallery on Callow, while Rose Smith, also a player at Metropolis, is now involved in the work that the Artists For Freedom and Unity non-profit is doing. Burnett is the curator of the Amy Burnett Gallery on 4th St. downtown — who incidentally gave the Wesley Gallery owner his first show in Bremerton. While DeDe Beckley is more of an “art activist,” Atwood said, rarely showing her own work, but organizing and volunteering for events like the West Sound Art Council’s annual Spring Tea that help keep the scene alive.
“These women are all active in bringing art to us,” Atwood said. “They don’t compete with each other, they just do their thing.”