I have been living in New Hampshire for four years now. We moved here from Maine where we lived for almost 20 years on and off. I have been married to Jim Runyan for almost 49 years. We have two boys. Joshua, married to Emily Runyan has a daughter, our granddaughter, Addie who is 3 ½, in Dover, NH. Ben Runyan and his life partner, Teresa, are expecting our second grandchild in June in Burlington, VT.
I grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. Still some family there and although it hasn’t been home for many years, it still holds a dear familiarity.
As a child I had an active imagination that took me on adventures and stories because I had few close friends and depended on myself for entertainment. We had a chalkboard that I liked to draw on and one day I asked my dad to draw me a horse. He did. I copied it over and over until I could master the lines. His rudimentary drawing was the foundation for my exploration into the world of art. I was rarely without pencil and paper after that.
In 1965, art school wasn’t something parents encouraged after high school, and mine were no exception. As a result I ended up in “business” school to learn typing, shorthand and “charm” with a little accounting and business law thrown in. I worked for many years as a secretary but decided in my late 30s to go back to school. When I turned 40 I earned my Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Montana. I was fortunate to find a job as a graphic artist with a company who was willing to train me on desktop publishing programs which were just becoming available. That job launched a fun career in the graphic arts for quite a few years. Eventually I found my way back to the fine arts and a Masters of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College in Vermont.
Paint is my favorite medium. It keeps sneaking back into my studio. Study took me into printmaking, in particular wood block prints which aren’t favored these days, too much work I think, but I love working large with tools and my Dremel.
After I finished graduate school in 2013, my life focus became making a geographic change to be close to family, thus the move to New Hampshire from remote Washington County, Maine. Since then my artistic practice has been limited. However, I have been journaling and sketching.
For several years I created and sold hundreds of floorcloths at shows and fairs in Maine. It was probably the first of the “themes” I worked in, mostly folk art, animals, garden themes, and occasionally custom orders which were mostly for quilt designs, suggesting the correlation between the hand-made quilt and hand-painted floorcloth as features in the home. I very much enjoyed creating designs for home décor.
The basis of my graduate portfolio and thesis was the challenges of life for the rural woman. This was so personal to me living in remote, rural Maine. I met and interviewed many women to get some sense of what specific difficulties women face in rural communities. Research narrowed this down to four health challenges that women face and how the rural woman meets these challenges: Obesity/Body Image, Mental Health, Domestic Violence, and Substance Abuse. I identified four women who worked within the community to help others meet these challenges, interviewed and photographed them, then developed “portraits” to tell their story.
Women’s Caucus for Art/New Hampshire
I found that the graduate school experience changed the way I create and view works of art and I began searching for new path. When we decided that the Lakes Region in New Hampshire would be the area we would search for a home, I researched online for artistic communities in the State to find a group (preferably women) to become a part of.
I was drawn by the fact that The Women’s Caucus for Art was an organization of women statewide, and a national organization as well. The web site whetted my appetite just enough to explore the group further. I recall joining in about 2014 at the Spring Members’ meeting. I didn’t know a soul but found the group interesting and committed.
I think the New Hampshire chapter’s greatest strength is the group of dedicated women whose interests go beyond furthering their own artistic endeavors through hard work and encouragement for others.
And its greatest challenge is to reach out in a more personal way to members in far-flung communities. One of the ways this has worked is through the PODs which have formed throughout the state. Expanding this outreach program to include areas such as the northern part of the state may accomplish this. There are lots of artists in the rural communities. I think it would also be helpful to move the geographic location of the two members’ meetings in the fall and spring.
Last spring I attended a National Board Meeting and Retreat in California along with two members of WCA/NH who are on that board. It was an eye-opening few days with the women who make up the National workings of this group. It brought a new, more intimate meaning to the idea of a “caucus” rather than just a national club of women. The foundation of the Women’s Caucus for Art is a deep feminist commitment to not just women artists, but the soul and basis for its creation, the “why” of women’s art. There were several women founders at the meeting whose artistic connections at WCA’s inception left my jaw on the floor. This is what I would like to convey to the women in New Hampshire, that they are a part of history, the history of women’s art. And when we create, we do so from this foundation.
I attended a National WCA conference in 2017. The best part, for me, was The Feminist Art Project, which was an innovative and thought provoking full day. I think the word “diverse” may be a bit overused but it’s the best I can come up with. I was surprised by so many different women from so many different backgrounds and geographic locations. The conversations and stories were as diverse as the attendees.
I would recommend all members attend a National Conference. In fact, a large contingent of women from NH attended the conference a year after I did. I would love to see us take a dozen women or more in 2019 when it returns to the east coast. It is a grand and inspiring experience that takes you from the solitude and confines of the studio into the vibrancy of like minds.
To any of our members who would consider serving on the Board or a WCA/NH Committee, I would say: New board members bring new ideas! Everyone benefits from being part of a larger community. Board participation broadens the scope of its members by understanding better the workings and needs of the membership; but it also helps educate the membership when a new board member sees first-hand the volunteers who make things happen. The women I have worked with up until now are dedicated and outstanding!