Episode Three

Artists and Craftsmen of the Great River Road 

Rabecca Jayne Hennessey of the Bent Willow Studio in Guttenberg, IA, an artist whose love of the outdoors and the Mississippi River Valley shines through.

Read the Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: In this episode we speak with Rabecca Jane Hennessey of the Bent Willow Studio. She’s an artist and a gallery owner in Guttenburg, Iowa.

Rabecca: I’m fortunate that I have a gallery, a studio and a classroom all in one building.  It’s trying to reach out to the people in the community and bring them in so that they can experience art hands-on, and not make it one of those hoity-toity things, like ‘oh it’s an art studio, I can’t go in’.  So we do a lot of activities here in the classroom, and so I try to reach out and get people in to experience art, and get people to create something, that’s really really where my heart is community wise.  And we are so fortunate that were right on the Mississippi river, I look at my front door and there it is, just awesome.

Interviewer:  When did you decide that you’re an artist?

Rabecca: Oh gosh, I’ve been an artist since I was born. My grandmother, from a very young age, taught me how to draw and paint and color on the back of anything that she had. She saved scraps of wallpaper and calendars and newspaper. So she always had me with a crayon or something in my hand.  I’ve loved it since I was a wee one, and I raise my kids being a freelance commercial artist and then as they got older I can put the art away and started dabbling in some oil painting.   I just began this big love of oil painting and I’ve been really focused on that, probably about 10 years ago.  I started developing my own painting style and a few years ago, took up outdoor painting which is now my big love. I went from painting people’s pets for them as a little tiny business and I once I stepped outside it was all over. I love landscaping and being outside and try to get more people outdoors painting around here.

Interviewer:  Let’s talk a little bit about plein air or plein air painting what is it?

Rabecca: Plein air painting is just you walking out your back door and grabbing a paintbrush or a pencil or whatever your medium is, and trying to portray the feeling, or what you’re seeing, onto a piece of canvas or a board or paper. But it’s, I think, mostly trying to convey a feeling.  Plein air painting is mostly impressionistic. So if you think of the old masters like Monet, whose outside painting is water lilies, that’s where it really developed with the old impressionistic style painters.   A piece of time outdoors. In Guttenber there are some beautiful limestone buildings, so it’s a great place to try to capture the history.

Interviewer: How does living by the Mississippi River help you or inspire you as an artist?

Rabecca: I’m a water lover and have been on water since a young age. The reflection of the light on the water,the way the light bounces from the water onto a subject is for me, a bit mesmerizing.  I do a lot of kayaking and so I’ll go out and take a lot of photo references for paintings when I out kayaking.  I think there is something magical about the history of the Mississippi River. In my opinion, when you can go back into the back sloughs and backwaters were nobody else can see, you can see the wildlife in so many little animals back there that people just don’t get to experience. So I try to bring some of that back into the studio and worked that on canvas.

Interviewer: How long does it take to do a piece of art?

Rabecca: I get that a lot from people coming into the gallery and you should come down to Guttenberg to the gallery sometime.  And people will walk in and point to a painting and ask how long did it take you to do that. I say, oh about 35 years.

Interviewer:  Rabecca, where can we find your work?

Rabecca:  My work is in my gallery at 14 Schiller St. in Guttenberg, IA. The gallery is exclusively my work because it’s small and otherwise my website is www.bentwillowstudio.com but most of my work can be seen there and  can be purchased there as well and in my gallery