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Philomene Bennett: inspiring budding artists

Philomene Bennett
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Philomene Bennett is a painter and co-Founder of the Kansas City Artists Coalition. She has been a fixture in the Kansas City arts scene since she arrived from Nebraska in 1956. Since 1988, Bennett has run studio sessions, an opportunity for budding artists to find their voice.

She’s featured on the February 5 edition of KCPT’s Arts Upload. Below are excerpts from that interview:

Philomene Bennett: (painting) “You know this interesting to do. I don’t know where I’m going with it at all, but it’s sort of fascinating to not know.”

Bennett: (in her South Kansas City home studio) “Whenever I work, it’s like I have a conversation with me and myself. It’s about the conversation that is going on and how strong it is and how interesting it is. If it’s boring I have to figure out what to make that conversation better. And sometimes I’ve done strange, unbelievable things. You’re searching for something. You want some kind of a statement that you can say that feels good. I’ll stop there.”

Janet Simpson, Executive Director of the Kansas City Artists Coalition: “Philomene really is a strong advocate for the individual artist’s vision and I think this is one of her primary gifts to the artists in this community. She encourages them to find their voice, and she helps them achieve it through her own eye, her own experience, and by working with them in a studio where they can collaborate with her and the other artists and it’s just a wonderful practice and I do think through that many artists have found their creative voice. and their identity as an artist.”

Bennett: “First of all you look at what they do. For me, I know that each one is an individual, they are doing their own thing. So what is it that they do that’s really good and does it really well. You build on it and make it stronger. And it may be something that nobody else likes. It doesn’t make any difference. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with them trying to find out the way they put down their creative energy.”

Jane Booth, a painter and former student: (in her Spring Hill, Kans. studio) “She’s a very energetic powerful woman and she takes command of herself and her artwork and then she gently coaxes out of her students these beautiful little threads. She could just find that one beautiful line and she would just light fires.”

Lowell Smithson is a retired lawyer who has been working with Philomene for 17 years: “In this workshop she has all manner of media being used: oil, water-soluble oils, watercolors, acrylics, charcoals, you name it. There’s even a kiln in the back in the back. And she walks around rather like a golf pro and comes up to each artist and says ‘Do you have a problem?’ and of course everyone does.”

Booth: “I got into this painting and had this brush. I made this mark. She comes over and she goes, ‘That mark right there. Do you know what you just did?’ And I said What do you mean, what do you mean?’ She said, ‘That brush loaded up with magenta and red right there that you drug across without thinking anything about it, look at how beautiful that is.’ And a light just went on for me. And I thought the only thing I’m interested in is color and mark. It’s just color and mark.”

Bennett: “I think I give them freedom. Freedom to become who they are. Freedom to establish a sense of themselves without anyone negating it.”

Vickie Trotter has worked with Philomene for almost 25 years: “She makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing. She makes me feel what I am doing is important. She makes us all feel that way. She has a great eye and and she can see things going on in your work that you might not see at first, but when she says it you know she’s right.”

Bennett: “I think you have to realize that you are uniquely you. There isn’t anybody else like you. And that you also have experiences that are uniquely yours. You have all this richness that you can use to do a painting.”

Holly Miller is an artist who has spent eight years working with Philomene: “She thoroughly enjoys working with us all. She wants us all to succeed and that’s just amazing. There is such a gift of her time and talent that she freely shares with us. And at the same time She wants us to develop our own style. She’s not somebody who does a demonstration and then says ok, this is how you do it. She doesn’t want that. Her thing is more what do you feel, what do you want to express, and how can we help you get there.”

Simpson: “A lot of times we’ll see artists come in here and we’ll say oh, xyz’s student. We’ll wait five or six years and see when they’ve developed their own voice. you don’t see that with Philomene’s students. You wouldn’t know that they are hers by the basis of their work.”

Bennett: “It’s all about trying to get the best out of people. And it’s certainly not going to be what I do. It’s gotta be what they do. And that, to me is the essence. It may take, and I’ve talked about it. It takes years and years and years. And determination and desire. You want to be obsessed. It’s really obsession.”

Booth: “She could just move from one medium and one person to the other. And you would just see as she would go by and talk to to somebody, they’d just go huh! (laughs) you know, they’d look at their work and and become incited.”

Bennett: “There’s no dogma about it, but people have to realize that when you start working with this, you may not have a clue what you want to do, but if you keep putting some marks down, it kind of talks to you. Maybe it needs this, maybe it needs something. And if you could really trust yourself, put it down, if it doesn’t work get rid of it. You know. I think a lot of people are afraid.”

Miller: “There’s no right or wrong in a sense.It’s like well, do it and see what happens. And I think that’s more her philosophy of, ‘Well, why don’t you find out what happens if you try that.’

Bennett: “The feeling of a mark making, one charcoal line versus another charcoal line and the difference. What they feel and the feelings you get from each one. If you put it on heavier, It’s different than it is on the lighter one. And the feelings of what you can do then when you know and work so much that. When I push something, a color into another color it changes the whole atmosphere. That’s what I like to see.”

Trotter: “I think before I came to Philomene’s, I had a voice, but it just has become better and stronger since I’ve been there.”

Bennett: “If they are with me for quite a while, they even start looking different. They have more sense of who they are. To me, it’s just a matter of getting confidence and a belligerent conviction that that this is ok even though nobody else thinks it is. But it’s a way of finding out who you are and what you’re about really.”

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One thought on “Philomene Bennett: inspiring budding artists

  1. Hi Philomine. Bill McKean (Creative-Coldsnow retired).
    I’m am trying to find Tom Dolphin any idea????
    How are you doing?

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