While Vidabeth Bensen was studying art at Brooklyn College in the 1950’s, some actor friends asked her to make posters for upcoming plays they were performing in.
Creating multiples of posters by hand using pens, brushes, paint and India ink was very tedious so she did a bit of research on silk screen printing. “My friend and I decided that that was the cheapest and easiest method of printmaking that we could teach ourselves to do,” she said. They got started in her basement.
“The first time I pulled a squeegee across a screen was an ‘Aha!’ moment for me and I have been printing ever since.”
For 27 years, Vidabeth lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the Middle East and her travels still influence her work. She is also inspired by the natural setting of her home in Chatham County where she settled in 1991. Her studio, House of Life Prints, is located upstairs.
“My recent prints have evolved into colorful abstract compositions,” she said. “In addition to making ‘edition’ prints I occasionally create one of a kind prints which could be called ‘screen paintings.’ I paint designs on my screen using drawing fluid and screen filler to create abstract compositions which vary from print to print. I also make screen printed collages by printing on fine hand-made paper, then collaging the prints onto stretched canvas.”
Vidabeth teaches art and screen printing at various locations in the Triangle and at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown. She was an artist-in-residence for the Durham school system for eight years. She returns every summer to the University of Connecticut (she earned her MFA degree there) where she teaches in a graduate program for teachers from all over the world. In recent years she has traveled to Okinawa, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Turkey to teach screen printing to students and teachers in the Department of Defense Overseas Schools. The N.C. Art Education Association picked her as the Retired Art Educator of the Year in 2013/14.
Vidabeth was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. “I was a quiet, shy child, drawing all the time. My father was a sports writer and he brought home newsprint and those big dark pencils used for editing. I drew all the time. My mother said I drew from the time I was about two years-old,” she said.
“I was married for 56 years. My husband died three years ago. I have four children, six grandchildren and one great grandson.”
View her work:
An exhibition of “Selected Prints” from her studio is currently on view at the Chapel Hill Town Hall through July 14. Her prints are also on display at Liquidambar in Pittsboro, the Ackland Art Museum Shop in Chapel Hill and at Stray’s Ship & Shop in Southern Village. “I am teaching a workshop in October for the North Carolina Art Education Association and will be on the Chatham Artists Guild Studio Tour in December. I have been on the Tour every year since its inception 25 years ago,” Vidabeth said.
Take a workshop:
Vidabeth teaches screen printing classes for students of all ages. She specializes in familiarizing art teachers and classroom teachers with her simple printing methods. See a list of her current classes. Or call her at (919) 542-6087 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purchase her book:
Vidabeth, along with Barbara Forshag, guide you step-by-step through the printmaking process in their book, “A Simple Guide to Screen Printing.” You’ll learn how to print your own designs on paper, cards, banners and T-shirts. The materials are inexpensive. Order here.
From the artist:
Full name: Vidabeth Bensen
I was born: in Brooklyn, New York.
I live in: Fearrington Village in North Carolina.
A childhood memory I cherish is: taking art classes at the Brooklyn Museum every Saturday morning.
If I hadn’t become an artist: I honestly can’t think of anything else except possibly an art therapist.
I am inspired by: my surroundings. While living overseas, my surroundings were very influential on my art. I have hundreds of sketch books filled with drawings of my life travels in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, especially Japan and Morocco. Sometimes my husband would photograph the scenes I was sketching but I found that by the time the photos were developed I had already made my prints. Working from my sketches is much more satisfactory. In Chatham County I am inspired by the woods around my home where my studio is located.
Most people don’t know I: worked as an illustrator for the US Army for five years in Giessen, Germany. During that time I created over 300 original silk screened posters, as well as “other duties as assigned,” most of which are currently at the Museum of the American Military Family near Albuquerque, NM. I think the 12 years living in Japan have had a very strong influence on my art. My professors in college were mostly Abstract Expressionists and in recent years I have found that my prints center more on color and composition in abstract prints. In Morocco I worked for USIS at the American Embassy in Rabat.
When I’m not creating art, you’ll probably find me: reading.
I’m most proud of: my ability to create art that makes people feel good. I also am proud of the fact that I have taught hundreds of students of all ages, many of whom are still making prints. I recently heard from a woman who took my workshop in Morocco in the early 70’s. She has started screen printing again after all these years. I am also proud of being able to inspire children and adults of all ages to try a new medium that excites them and enables them to create multiples.
I was a caregiver for 18 years, caring for my mother and then my husband. During those years I was able to continue working in my studio which is on the second floor of my house which enabled me to keep my sanity.
Since I make multiples of my work I am pleased to be able to donate prints to the many worthwhile causes that that help people in difficult situations.
My favorite places to shop or dine in Chatham County are: New Horizons, Liquidambar Gallery for gifts. Restaurants are Albarello and the Breakaway Cafe.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: Shannon Bueker, Julia Kennedy and Emma Skurnick.
The next thing on my bucket list is: to create prints for the rest of my life.
Chatham Arts Council artist directory: https://www.chathamartscouncil.org/artist/vidabeth-bensen/
Chatham Artists Guild page: http://www.chathamartistsguild.org/portfolio-item/vidabeth-bensen/