Three Rockford artists impact Grand Rapids ArtPrize

by Cindy M. Cranmer

LeAnne Mawby Sowa with Moose Bath II

Rockford watercolor artist showcases moose print

Bright colors and larger sizes often attract people to ArtPrize entries. A Rockford watercolor artist has both going for her in her 2012 entry.

LeAnne Mawby Sowa uses her unique watercolor style, which uses colorful washes and bold details to show off her artwork.

“The small painting Moose Bath has been one of my most popular paintings. I’ve sold quite a few prints and I’ve gotten lots of smiles and laughs from people who see it,” Sowa said. “This inspired me to create a larger than life painting similar to it.”

Moose Bath II consists of nine panels, which are stretched watercolor paper on foam board and attached to each other to make a seven foot by nine and a half foot painting. This is the fourth year that Sowa has had an entry in ArtPrize.

Sowa is a self-taught artist but has enhanced her natural talent through attending various professional workshops and college classes. One opportunity she enjoyed was studying in England while residing there with her family.

After pursuing a degree in mechanical drafting and several years of drafting, Sowa wanted to “get back to my creative roots and become a fine artist.”

Sowa, a member of the Rogue River Artist Association of Rockford and the Pentwater Art Club, is now a full-time artist with artwork displayed at Our Gallery of Pentwater, the Frame and Mat Shop in Rockford, E3 in Rockford, the Eclectic Gallery in Ionia and the Saugatuck Artists Collective.

“This has been such a popular print that I decided to go big for ArtPrize,” Sowa said. “This is the biggest thing I have ever done.”

Sowa, who has been working on the piece since May, hopes that someone will purchase Moose Bath II for display somewhere that children could appreciate it such as at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “That will make me feel good,” she said.

“ArtPrize is so much fun. I love being a part of it. It gets you a lot of exposure as an artist,” Sowa said.

The size and bright colors of her 2012 entry are definitely drawing attention to Moose Bath II.

Linda Bassford with her painting, Dog Days

The approximately 30-foot by 40-foot oil painting by Linda Bassford, appropriately titled Dog Days, depicts a black dog swimming in the water. From the water dripping from the dog’s coat to the eyes that express feeling, Bassford captures a realistic image that is displayed at Huntington Bank, 50 Monroe Avenue.

“We’ve had black labs and it’s a favorite subject of mine,” Bassford said of her choice to paint the dog. “A lot of people have said they’ve seen it and are contacting me about work for them.”

“I do people and animal portraits primarily,” Bassford said. She said as long as she can see a photograph or view a building she also can do a picture.

“My work comes from a visual stimulation and not from my head. If I can see it, I can paint or draw it.” Bassford loves displaying her work at Huntington Bank. “They are absolutely awesome,” she said about her venue. “They’re amazing.”

Bassford got involved in ArtPrize to serve as a role model to her children and grandchildren. “I’m in my 60’s and still doing what I love. I have been doing art since I was little,” Bassford said. “I want to be a good example to my children and grandchildren.”

Bassford, a member of the Rogue River Artist Association of Rockford, said she loves being a part of ArtPrize and spends a lot of time at the event. “I love the energy that comes into Grand Rapids,” Bassford said.

Paul Willis entered four images from his Light Stories series for 2012 ArtPrize

Light—fluorescent, solar, natural, incandescent— it’s something we seldom think about as we move about our days. A Rockford artist not only thought about this subject but made this topic the focus of his 2012 ArtPrize entry.

Paul Willis entered four images from his Light Stories series as his 2012 entry, which is being displayed at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

“The theme of these pieces is to capture a moment in a story using the source of light so it becomes an important part of the story,” said Willis, who is a photography student at Grand Rapids Community College as well as an award-winning photographer.

“My goal is to create compelling photographic images that satisfy my desire for artistic expression and hopefully appeal to others,” Willis said.

He selected four of nine photographs from his Light Stories series for his entry.

Curiosity focuses on a young girl who is approaching a doorway with something ominous on the other side. The light from the keyhole illustrates the story.

Portal to Afterlife is about a woman who doesn’t realize she is no longer alive and shows her approaching a photo frame with a bright light that represents the afterlife.

The Gift is about a woman who is receiving a ring as a present. The brightness from the gift of the ring reflects her joy.

The fourth image is Twilight Discovery, which showcases a teen girl who happens upon a wooden box. The item in the box features an amazing light and reflects her emotions at the discovery.

“These four were my favorites,” Willis said of his selections.

Willis said the photographs are considered staged photographs since they need to be planned to capture the setting, location, lighting and subject.

“The primary light is not natural light in these photographs,” Willis said. “However, they still need to be shot at the right time of the day if you are to use the natural lighting.”

Willis has worked for the Area Agency on Aging for West Michigan for the past 12 years and does not plan to seek a career change to photography.

“I just really like photography. I do it for myself,” Willis said. “My goal is not selling art. My goal is creating the things I want to create.”

Willis loves being able to display his work at the Amway and hopes to display a larger series for 2013 ArtPrize.

“They have a great space. I’m hoping to continue the connection that will allow me to show my other half of Dark Art and Music Students next year,” Willis said.

“Being in ArtPrize is very rewarding,” Willis said. “The supportive comments and people showing an interest in your work is great. It’s really an extraordinary chance to feel good about your artwork.”


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