Deane Bowers, you may not know by name, but you may have seen her work. This environmental artist is a voice of Charleston. From educating our youth to bringing conscious awareness of our natural treasures through her work and message, Deane is leading a life of meaning.
She recently spoke to a summer camp sponsored by a local North Charleston church and in the sparkle of the children’s eyes where wonder was as ample as air, Deane was saddened. Recently the county cut funding to several school programs including the art program. With all the ambition and enthusiasm, she was able to share with the children, she knows it will be challenging for these same children to continue to foster their love of art.
This is Deane Bowers: Driven by desire for an Earth filled with balance and fueled by a creative pulse that is the center of her heartbeat.
We took some time to pick her brain and learn more about her passions, vision and hopes for the future.
CD: Do you feel using recycled local material helps you connect your work with the Charleston community?
DB: Recycling and re-purposing local materials definitely connects me to the Charleston community for so many reasons. First, just the physical process of collecting the found objects. I have walked through more neighborhoods and parking lots than I would if I didn’t collect things. I am familiar with which parking lots have the best materials and are the dirtiest and which parks provide the best scraps. The act of collecting has brought me out in the community and now, several businesses recognize me when I walk through their parking lots. The employees at Gerald’s Tires have even chased me down the street, offering up more nails, screws and washers than I could find!
As an artist, my recycled folk art has been a liaison to meet some wonderful people in the arts community. Mike Gibbons with the Charleston Arts Alliance is one of the first to come to mind. I adore him and that organization and will do all I can to support them. My art has opened doors to meet gallery owners, art collectors, store owners and other artists as well. Two years ago, I joined a local nonprofit group called Gallery72 and we do pop up shows around Charleston and a portion of our proceeds goes to outreach in the community. I love exhibiting my work in non-traditional spaces such as bars, coffee shops, EarthFare, Local Works, The Sustainablity Institute, Queen Street Grocery, Southend Brewery, the Johns Island Library and the Downtown Library just to name a few places. And all those exhibitions put me in contact with some wonderful people! And all those wonderful people in their own way, make Charleston a happier, better place to live!
As an environmentalist, my art has put me in contact with awesome people like Dana Beach, the Coastal Community Foundation, Keep Charleston Beautiful, The City of Charleston, MUSC Sustainability, Charleston Waterkeeper, Charleston Green, Charleston Parks Conservancy, Fisher Recycling, Charleston County Recycling and most exciting Mayor Tecklenburg and his executive assistant, Kristen! We are all working to make Charleston a cleaner, greener space and hopefully through my art, I can help educate, motivate and donate (art for fund raisers) towards this goal! The recycling, green community have been my best supporters and have been extremely receptive and encouraging to me as an artist. Most of my followers on Instagram and Twitter are individuals with ties to the recycling community! They truly are my favorite followers!
CD: How important is it for your customers to take away the importance of being green, recycling and conserving our natural resources?
DB: I find that people don’t enjoy and even buy my work if they don’t “get” the green, recycling feature about my art. Usually viewers are first attracted by the vibrant, bold colors I use and on closer inspection begin to see all the intricate details of the found objects layered one upon another. Then they start to get excited and want to know more about my process and when I share that each piece is almost 100% created from recycled, salvaged and reclaimed materials, I see their faces light up. Especially satisfying is to see parents point out individual hardware scraps to their children and begin a dialogue with them about recycling. It is very important for me that the viewer realize that recycling can be an art form and that even that busted, cracked piece of metal, wood or wire has an artistic purpose!
CD: What first inspired you to create this type of art?
DB: Before working with found objects, I spent years painting and as a ceramicist. Working with ceramics, you have to be precise, a perfectionist, and follow the rules of working with clay. I hate following rules, (my husband says because I am stubborn), I am anything but a perfectionist and I don’t like to always be precise. So I was growing weary of ceramics and feeling frustrated by it all. It is a very expensive medium due to the cost of the clay, the glazes and running a kiln to fire all the work.
One weekend about 10 years ago, one of my best friends, who is also an artist and I spent a long weekend at the Outer Banks. We had planned to sit on the beach all weekend and take long walks and maybe do some art each night. But the rain changed our plans on Day #2 and we had to quickly find a way to occupy our time. Because we are both artists, we had packed a few things to work on, but had very limited art supplies. My friend went to work creating a ladies jacket out of about 50 brown grocery bags she stitched together. I started collecting the wood I found on the beach and walked through a few parking lots and found some old nails, bottle caps and wire. I made a couple of sculptures with birds in the composition and my friend, who has an incredible eye saw the potential. She said “Deane, I think you have found your next medium. You seem so free and happy working with these things and I love hearing you laugh while you work.” No one ever said that to me when I worked with other mediums. And found objects are not only freeing, but forgiving and there is no right or wrong way to create with them. Plus, this medium would be a totally unique, new and different path for me to take as an artist. As in any profession, if you don’t keep evolving and changing, you don’t thrive. So the rest is history! From the start, I loved that I could simultaneously clean up the streets around me and make art with what I found. Free art supplies and cleaner streets! It is a win win for sure!
CD: Is there a commissioned piece that you are personally connected to that left a lasting impression on you?
DB: The commissioned pieces that give me the greatest joy are the ones I create for hospitals, child advocacy groups and any nonprofit that loves artwork in their facilities, but doesn’t have the budget to purchase it. My recycled folk art really took off in 2009. Ironically, it was the same time our country went into a deep recession. Art budgets were the first things slashed! About the same time, my mother was hospitalized for about a week as she recovered from a stroke. I was dismayed by the depressing and dismal artwork I saw in the hospital and some of its clinics. That is when you need uplifting, cheerful artwork the most when you or your family are facing some sort of medical crisis. I started doing some research and contacting various art curators (who hadn’t been laid off) at local hospitals about providing them with some free artwork. I also contacted several child advocacy centers where I had contacts and just spread the news that I would love to donate my artwork to their facilities. As a result, I provided artwork for waiting rooms, hospital lobbies, children’s cancer wards to name a few. One of the happiest installations I had was with two of my children and my sister present. I had been commissioned to create 3 huge pieces for The Levine Children’s Center at Carolinas Medical in Charlotte, NC. These were the biggest pieces I had made to date and I had my support staff with me. While the pieces were being installed, the nurses starting coming out of the wood work to see. Some of them went from somber stares to smiling faces and others, who were already smiling said they were going to go get some of the children who were patients to come see the new artwork. To me, that was better than any paycheck I could ever receive! And next month, I will be heading over to Winston Salem, to provide artwork in the lobby of one of their biggest hospitals on a rotating three-month cycle. Last month, I outfitted the entire Barrier Medical Clinic in Ridgeville, SC with artwork. They just opened up a brand new beautiful clinic but had no money for artwork. So I found out via Twitter that they had put out a call for local artists and a relationship was formed!
CD: What are the five attributes that define you as a person and an artist?
DB: Five Attributes that define me as a person and an artist… I had to look up Webster’s definition of attribute to get this question right! Passionate, Driven, Enthusiastic, Optimistic and Loving! Not in that order, but those would be the big 5!
CD: What does art mean to you?
DB: What does art mean to me… Freedom, self-expression, vitality, happiness, satisfaction, community, peacefulness. I could go on…And I hate more than I cannot adequately express my deep sadness that the Charleston County School Board just slashed their art funding. A huge mistake!!! We all need the arts! Whether it is visual or performing, we need the arts to give our lives meaning, dimension, character and solace. To lose one self in a song, or in a painting or just by looking at a beautiful color is extremely healthy and necessary! Art is what gives us personality, definition and character! And hope!
CD: What is the five-year plan for Deane? Where do you see your career and your work?
DB: My five-year plan…I hope to do many more commissioned pieces for hospitals and non-profits. I hope to travel to new cities with my art and spread my mission and passion of being an environmental folk artist. I would love a green organization or company to use one of my images on their labels or packaging. I want to continue to meet new people and hopefully uplift them with my art. Personally, I hope I continue to develop my skills, flair and personality as an artist. Whether I make a million dollars or just one dollar, I will continue to make my happy art because it comes from my heart and it is my way of bringing a very small dose of sunshine and love to this world that continues to be plagued with sad and tragic events!
Recently, Deane was commissioned by the Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. She created three pieces named after her children. This commitment to helping others, sharing the beauty of art and leaving a family legacy that will carry over is only a fraction of the selfless gift that Deane has to offer. Take time to see her vision and share in her love for our environment and the beauty that is art.