St. John painter Kat Sowa is going back to her portraiture roots and taking the opportunity to honor esteemed island elders.
Sowa, who has called St. John home for more than two decades, has recently been spending winters in the Pacific Northwest, not the ideal location for the plein air landscape work she has been focusing on lately. Sowa has also been asked to once again paint the evocative faces for which she was once known, explained the artist.
“I worked as a portrait artist for many years and then I got away from it and starting doing a lot of plein air and outdoor painting,” said Sowa. “In recent years people have asked me to do portraits again and I thought the best way to get back into that would be to paint people I love.”
It didn’t take Sowa long to find inspiration.
“I’ve lived on St. John for 25 years and I love the island and the community,” she said. “There are a lot of elders who have touched my life directly and indirectly who have done a lot of great things for the community.”
Sowa is unveiling the first two paintings in her Island Elder series at an opening reception at Michael Banzhaf Gallery on Friday, February 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. While the show will also feature Sowa’s plein air and landscape painting body of work, portraits of Ruth “Sis” Frank and Guy Benjamin are sure to be huge hits.
The artist was inspired by Frank, the founder of the St. John School of the Arts, both as an artist and as a teacher.
“Sis and I weren’t very close, but she was always a part of the art community,” said Sowa. “She was a huge supporter of the arts and she inspired me as a woman, as a leader, as an artist and as a teacher.”
No ones loves St. John more than Benjamin, an esteemed island educator for whom the Coral Bay elementary school is named, Sowa explained.
“Guy Benjamin is a very significant teacher and is someone who just genuinely loves St. John and all the people who live there,” said Sowa. “I wanted to honor him.”
Sowa was able to take photographs of Benjamin when she was on island in the fall and was loaned images of Frank for inspiration, she explained.
“When I was on St. John in the fall, I was able to spend time with Guy Benjamin and he was so excited that I was going to paint him,” said the artist. “I took some photographs and worked from those. When I came back to Oregon, I found out that Sis had passed and I knew I wanted to honor her.”
“I found out that [St. John School of the Arts director] Jan Kinder had some really great images of Sis and I asked if I could use them,” said Sowa. “So it’s just something that really felt right.”
The portraits of Frank and Benjamin are not for sale but Sowa is confident they will end up in the right locations.
“The other body of work, the new landscapes, in the show are for sale, but the two portraits of the elders are not for sale,” said Sowa. “It’s more of an act and how I could honor these two very important people. I’m confident that they will find their way home, wherever they belong.”
Stop by the Michael Banzhaf Gallery on Friday, February 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. to see Sowa’s latest works. Her paintings will be on display for the month. For more information call the gallery at 779-4005.