Artist finds her passion through many mediums
Denise Bohart Brown picked up her first camera when she was seven years old. It was her mother’s — an instamatic with a flash cube on the top — which she would sneak out of her desk drawer when her mother was occupied in the garden. Bohart Brown would set up still lives of her stuffed animals, photograph them, and then return the camera to the drawer.
“Somehow, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the evidence would be obvious when she got the photos developed, but apparently, she never minded,” Bohart Brown said.
Her love of photography grew throughout the years, and she continued taking pictures throughout high school, working on the yearbook and photographing local weddings. She attended the Colorado Institute of Art to study photography and then moved to San Francisco with the intent of becoming a world-famous advertising photographer.
“Life did not work out that way, but I did spend several years working for a number of advertising photographers in the city. Enough to realize that subjecting one’s passion to the whims of art directors is a really good way to kill said passion,” Bohart Brown said.
When she met her future husband, the pair moved from San Francisco to Davis, California.
“I heard there was a place on the UC Davis campus that had a darkroom available to the public,” Bohart Brown recalled. “I went to check it out, intent on rekindling my passion for photography. I did find the darkroom. … I also found the ceramics lab, the jewelry-making shop, the sewing room and the glass studio.”
Eight years later, when she and her husband moved to Steamboat Springs with their 1-year-old daughter, some components of all of those mediums came with her; she arrived in town with clay, glass, fabric, a sewing machine and two kilns. And while it was difficult to find time for art while raising a 1-year-old, Bohart Brown had resolved back in California that her life’s purpose was truly to be an artist. She set about trying to figure out what that would mean for her in Steamboat.
In early 2006, she saw an ad in the paper from the Arts Council stating they were hosting a meeting for local artists interested in starting a cooperative gallery. She attended that first meeting and every meeting that followed over the coming months, despite being the youngest person in the room. This was the start of the Artists’ Gallery, which officially opened in 2006 with 22 members.
“I always say we were like a big, dysfunctional family, working our way over the nine years. We were open to disagreements, artist changes, shifts in the economy, periodic crises … and also experiencing a lot of success, love and joy along the way,” Bohart Brown said.
Through the process of starting the Artists’ Gallery, Bohart Brown was able to take a close look at her own work. By this time, photography had taken a back seat to other mediums, such as clay, but when the Artists’ Gallery opened, Bohart Brown’s business cards identified her as a “glass and fiber artist.”
She has continued to work with glass throughout the years, finding inspiration in nature.
“Sometimes, it can be an image of an actual place,” she said. “Other times, it’s more of an idea — a concept in nature but not necessarily based on a specific location.”
Bohart Brown currently creates smaller pieces like glass ornaments, which she sells on her Etsy page, and larger, fine art pieces that can be found through Artful Home. Her pieces are also available for purchase in her local studio.
“Fifteen years ago, my work was very tight and geometric,” Bohart Brown said. “I was a young mother, trying to incorporate yoga into my life as a calming counterpoint to my increasingly busy schedule, and I found a sense of peace in designs with symmetry and balance.”
As her experience in the art world grew, though, she found herself wanting to break away from that symmetry.
“It took a conscious effort to do so,” she said. “My brain did not easily let go of a medium that often is about hard edges and straight lines. I love that my abstract designs are, for me, usually based in a tangible image, but the viewer is able to interpret what they see through their own lens.”
She doesn’t see herself moving away from glasswork any time soon.
“One of the reasons that it has continued to appeal to me over the years is that it is the first medium in which I have felt fairly successful in my ability to translate the idea in my head to a completed piece of art.”
Visit Bohart Brown’s website at denisebohartbrown.com.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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