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This weekend at the Edwards Community Center in Aloha, join for a free art show and sale of late northwest artist Elton Bennett's work



SUBMITTED PHOTO - 'The Distant Shore' by Elton Bennett. His pieces reflected scenes from his native Washington home. To the right, dark trees loom on a cliff and silhouettes of bigger trees and bigger mountains engulf the background. The colors are greens and greys, but this isn’t always the case. In the bottom left corner of the image, a group of hikers walk. One of them wears a red jacket.

“All through the years, I would hear people ask (my father) about that red jacket,” said Barbara Parsons. “’Is there symbology there?’ He would sort of evade answering that question.”

Parsons’ father was acclaimed silkscreen artist Elton Bennett, who died in a plane crash with his wife in 1974, when Parsons was just 20 years old. Over the years, she’s made it her mission to carry on her father’s legacy by hosting art shows with both originals and prints of his work for sale and viewing. On Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22, Parsons will host a show of her father’s work at the Edwards Community Center in Aloha.

“It’s been a gradual thing, because when my folks died in 1974, everything was put into a (bank) trust and the artwork was unavailable,” said Parsons, now 62. “They really didn’t know what to do other than just sit on the artwork. I knew in my heart that if you do that, then you lose all the momentum of years that my dad was in the public eye, and that his work was out there and he was part of the northwest art world.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - A Pacific Northwester to his core, Elton Bennett's silkscreen art depicts scenes that are classic to this part of the world, from foggy forests to misty beaches.

At the time of her parents’ death, Parsons was working on completing her English literature and teaching degrees. After graduating, she worked as an educator until 1979 when she was approached to help write a book about her father. She agreed, and the course of her life was forever changed.

“That was how I then gradually developed my sense of what needed to be done and what I needed to do,” said Parsons, who still lives in her hometown of Hoquiam, Wash., where much of her father’s inspiration was found and where his artwork was created. “Anyplace somebody wanted me to come and talk about my dad, I’d load up the car and come and present, and talk about him, his philosophy, and the artwork. It just seemed very important to me to maintain that connection.”

For more than 10 years, Parsons continued like that, bringing her personal collection of her father’s artwork to talks and spreading her dad’s message. Finally, in the 1990s, large groupings of her father’s art were released from the trust, and she and her sister finally took possession of pieces that could be sold and reproduced — all adding to her father’s greatest mission of making art accessible to the masses.

“I really, really want for people to grasp the concept that you don’t have to live in the middle of the city, you don’t have to be surrounded by a million people,” said Parsons, echoing her dad’s philosophy. “You can be true to yourself, you can live out where you want to, and still make a contribution and create beauty that will last.”

Born in 1910, Bennett only made it through one year of college when the depression hit and he had to drop out to work at whatever job he could find. Parsons said it wasn’t until after World War II and the GI Bill that herSUBMITTED PHOTO - 'The Mountain' by Elton Bennett. Since he didn't care much about writing titles, his Bennett's wife took great care in coming up with the perfect name for each piece. father was able to start focusing on art again, finding silkscreening through a two-week art course at the Portland Art Museum School of Fine Art.

“When my father took that course, it was like the angels sang and the heavens opened up — it was what he had been waiting for; it was love at first sight,” Parsons said. “He knew that this was where he wanted to put all of his artistry. He could transfer what he had in his brain that he was seeing through this silkscreen medium.”

An avid hiker, much of Bennett’s art centers around scenes from hikes he took with his family and friends — scenes of trees and fog and oceans and rocky shores. And having grown up in a booming coastal town in the early 20th century, much of his art also reflects scenes from his childhood, of massive ships sailing in and out of the harbor.

“My folks met in a hiking club — the Olympians Hiking Club — and that’s what we did on weekends. So he was always sketching, on every break time, every time we were with the group and stopping to make coffee on the trail, there he was with his sketch pads out,” said Parsons. “It was our life, so it seemed completely normal to me.”

To make sure that he never missed a moment, Bennett carried three sketch pads with him everywhere, something Parsons said she realized wasn’t standard only in retrospect. This was how much of her childhood was, she said, full of unconventional practices that she assumed were totally normal.

“They were so exceptional,” Parsons said of her parents. “They had a philosophy about how they lived — things didn’t happen by chance, they were matters of principle, and everything was very thought out and very deliberate.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - Elton Bennett, who died with his wife in a plane crash in 1974, always let her name the pieces. He liked to focus on the art, but she liked to come up with the perfect title to describe each installation. This picture was taken on the first day they met as members of the Olympians Hiking Club.

The result of this was a relatively unmonitored childhood for Parsons and her sister, where they were expected to make good choices and be thoughtful while contributing to society. But other than that, she said, her parents didn’t care about her every move, noting that they were very much ahead of their time.

Bennett’s artwork seems to be ahead of its time, too, and timeless in a way too. Parsons said that when she hears 20-somethings resonating with his work today, she knows that all is well, and that her father’s fears of being a “flash in the pan” can be forever quelled.

Just days before her parents left on that final plane trip, Parsons said an interview was conducted with her father. Ten years ago, she was given a cassette tape of it, an item which is her most precious possession because of what it contains, all coming back to the infamous red jacket.

“My father never made a human figure the center of his work, but by giving them that red jacket, it’s like the life force is there,” said Parsons. And her father, who never said what the jacket meant, finally provided a reason in this rarest of recordings.

“Oh, yes. It’s me. It’s the artist,” Bennett said on the recording. “I want it to become you. I want the person looking at my artwork to feel so much a part of it that that figure becomes them in that scene.”

Dark tree silhouettes rise over a misty land, a land that Bennett — with his family beside him — likely trekked through decades ago. And in the corner, a figure in red, making up The Distant Shore.

“Over the years, I have acknowledged to myself that that is my favorite,” said Parsons. “We have that hanging in the bedroom, and I look at that when I wake up and if I could, that’s where I’d want to be that day.” SUBMITTED PHOTO - 'Sea Birds Cry' by Elton Bennett. Since Bennett worked in silkscreen, no two of his original pieces were ever the same.

See the show

What

Show and sale of original hand-pulled silkscreen artwork by Elton Bennett

When

Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where

Edwards Community Center; 4375 S.W. Edwards Place, Aloha

Cost

Free; originals and prints will be on sale

Contract Publishing

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