Carolina Art Crush – Betsy Birkner

“Our personal armor is made up of habits and fears, and we can begin to let those go, to claim our warriorship.”

– Pema Chodron


“I Should Follow My Spirit”, ceramic, glaze, beads, shells and horse hair


Today’s Carolina Art Crush is the truly strong and genuinely gracious, Betsy Birkner.  Currently in residence at McColl Center for Art and Innovation as an 11 month Affiliate Artist, Betsy is exploring some intense personal and societal themes through interpretations of the human figure. Read her answers to our questions here and then go and visit her in her studio at the Center on Open Studio Saturday, September 27th.

HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?

BB: I am working in ceramics to make armor. While I am at McColl Center, I am playing with the figure and figuring out anatomy. Protection of our children and the whole of humanity is a swirling theme.

I am intrigued and inspired by dieties, royalty and pop culture icons and how their garments contribute to their presence and personal power. Is the function of their fashion to reveal, conceal, protect or invent the wearer’s identity and belief system? The “I should be…” armor series explores this question, specifically as it relates to women. Growing up in the South, there were expectations about how a successful woman should be. “I should be nice,” is the first rule of southern charm. The larger cultural expectations dictate that women should be sexy, or skinny, have babies, careers, etc., sometimes pushing us to illness or outrageous surgeries…


“I Should Be Healthy” , found object on armor with porcelain calla lilies, glaze, paint and wax


BB (cont.): We armor ourselves against the onslaught of family, media and cultural messages, protecting the vulnerability of the ideal self. Until our true values can emerge from behind the curtain, the ceramic armor serves as a façade of adorned fragility.

The decorated armor addresses the issues of human development as we make choices about rules for living. “I should be nice”, uses rose thorns to show the paradox of how difficult “nice” can sometimes be. Later in the series, becoming a better person is explored as shown by the happiness of wax lips, the spirituality of horse symbolism, and the good fortune of a cookie.


“I Should Be Beautiful”, ceramic, porcelain, underglaze, caisein paint and wax

The fragility of the utilitarian object of war being sculpted of clay suggests our temporary nature as we invent and protect our authentic self.  We can break free from the messages that do not ring true for us.
BB.head.1 BB.head.2

HCLT: Where can we see your work?

BB: McColl Center for Art and Innovation, Facebook,

HCLT: Best meal in Charlotte?

BB: Carpe Diem or Earl’s Grocery, Commonwealth Market, or Mama Ricotta’s depending on mood

HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?

BB: The Great Path of Awakening, Game of Thrones, Medicine Buddha Teachings, The Gifts of Imperfection

HCLT: Describe yourself in three words

BB: Perceiver, passionate, sensitive

HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?

BB: Nature, that’s a given for my color work and class, Diego Rivera, Chinese Terracotta Army, Jim Dine, would love to meet him

Baby Tiles – Small glazed tiles of press molded children


HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?

BB: Pecha Kucha, Charlotte Ballet, Jazz at Bechtler, and of course McColl Center for Art + Innovation, & our beautiful museums

HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?

BB: Learning to sew and crochet and garden with my grandmother, and making books in third grade for projects led me toward creativity, but labeling myself as an artist occurred when I finished my BFA in painting

HCLT: What is up next?

BB: I would love to know that answer! I will continue to create in clay. After McColl Center, I would like a studio where I can create figurative work, in a daily studio practice, and develop lots of art connected relationships. I am open to the universe throwing something my way. I would love to see very large bronze casts of the armor on building facades or bridges, somewhere public.

Something else that Betsy is working on at McColl Center is a project called “Gratisphere”. She says that the mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to express gratitude and pass that spirit on, and create a movement of thankfulness.

BB: Gratisphere is a project which will encourage acknowledgement of gratitude. Studies show that as we focus on positive ideas, our lives change toward that focus. Rupert Sheldrake’s research on morphogenic field resonance considers the 100 Monkey Effect:
“There will be an experience of internal shift in the rest of the world to varying degrees, if millions shared gratitude every day.”
–Angeles Arrien.
BB: Could we help create that shift?
BB: Using printed cards and social media, I want to show how gratitude will blossom from McColl Center for Art and Innovation. A series of cards will be printed directing the card holder to the Gratisphere website, where they will acknowledge one thing they are grateful for at that moment. A login prompt will set a dot on the globe showing location of the cardholder. Step two asks for the card to be left somewhere for the next person to follow the directions to one grateful idea and login. As the cards travel out from the Center, we will experience a web of light on the map, showing gratitude expansion.
Go to Betsy’s studio, meet her and be grateful!

2 thoughts on “Carolina Art Crush – Betsy Birkner

  1. Pingback: 2014 Carolina Art Crush Recap | HappeningsCLT

  2. Pingback: Daily: Carolina Art Crushes, Sculpture Edition | HappeningsCLT

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