I was born on an island. This is how much of my writing starts. I was born on the island of Bermuda. My parents moved us to London, England when I was seven. We moved to New York City when I was ten. In Bermuda I was surrounded by incredible natural beauty, and a lot of extended family, my grannies, my cousins, aunts and uncles. We moved to England, which was a big change, but it was mostly very happy because my parents were very happy there, my mother especially, who was an Anglophile. Then we moved to New York City. This was a pretty shocking change. My two brothers and sister stayed in boarding school, or college, in England. I, as the youngest, moved to NYC with my parents, and went to day school there. New York was tough, my mother became incredibly depressed, I was living in a huge city, when I was very much a nature girl at heart, and we were living in an American culture, when we were British. It was a time I felt like I had no idea of myself. For me growing up in NYC, which to me felt all about appearances was confusing as an adolescent. American , East Coast culture was completely baffling to me. There seemed to be a list of rules that everyone had been given at birth, which I had no idea about, and everything I seemed to feel or think intuitively was not in line with those rules.
One of my favorite books is Robert Johnson’s Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir of Visions, Dreams, and Realizations. In it Robert Johnson, the Jungian scholar, writes about “following the golden threads” in your life. You’re going along in your life, and you have no idea what you are doing, but then you find somethingthat makes sense, or excites you. Life , he says, is about finding our golden threads and following them.
I was really at sea in NYC. I went to an all girls school. It was one of the “top” schools in NY, (I’m not quite sure how I got in!), but there I was at a very competitive, academically oriented school in Manhattan. I made really great friends there, I did fairly well, I had to work really hard to keep good grades, but what I discovered there was the photo lab. In the deep recesses of the building, in the basement, was the photo lab, run by a quite kooky, but lovely woman named Mrs. Lazar. I stumbled into photography, I think we were all required to take Photo 1 in sixth grade. For the next six years this place in the basement became my sanctuary. It was dark. We had a radio down there. We could stay after school , and mix chemicals, and play with enlargers, and make our own prints. It was an island of sanity for me. A refuge. A place I first connected to my ArtSelf. It was a very safe place to explore artistically. There was a lot of room to mess around, play , and experiment. Back in those days we learned how to develop our own film, cut negatives, and mix all the chemicals to print . Mrs. Lazar was usually around somewhere in the background, muddling around, if you needed her. But I remember her presence was minimal. I do remember her saying to me : If you get one good photo out of a roll of film, it’s worth it” and that has stuck with me. The photo lab at Spence was one of my first golden threads, and I am still following it. Photography has been a love of mine since. When my dear friend Laurie and I had little kids, she said “ Bettina let’s take a photography class at the College of Santa Fe”, and we did, and that led me back to college , and eventually to getting a BFA in painting.
I am sitting in my studio/gallery space on Canyon Road, thinking about how I got here, as I write my first blog for my Flying Fish site. I am thinking about how lost I felt as a teen, so out of place, so like the proverbial fish out of water, when I looked around NYC, so little felt like me. I looked out and didn’t even know where to begin to find my way to myself. I am thinking about my twenties, which were all about seeking, and trying to find my way to some sort of home, trying to find a world that reflected me. I journeyed to California to college, eventually dropped out, journeyed around Europe by myself , and eventually settled in Vermont. In California I discovered the thread of women’s studies, travelling in Europe I wrote consistently for the first time, and when I settled in Vermont I started making art.
In 1995 , when my daughter Acadia was born I started making art for the first time. I was gun shy about classes after some bad experiences at an art school on the East Coast. I took a workshop with a woman named Tina who went on to become a tremendous mentor for me. I went to her studio once a week, and would draw, paint, do whatever I felt like. She helped me to make art from the inside out, to find my own voice and my own images. And she taught me the practice of making art.
Here I am eighteen years later, daughter Acadia has just left for her first year of college. The thing about getting older is-you begin to see that all the golden threads come together, they come together to make your own unique piece of cloth. And they do come together. I certainly never believed they would in the early part of my life. I would never have ever believed it if someone had told me in my twenties that I would end up here holding this beautiful, interesting, wildy imperfect, but unique piece of cloth called my life. But here it is.