Schrager & Clarke Gallery is pleased to present a collection of prints by Eugene artist Germaine Bennett. The Nora’s Bar images evoke Bennett’s Depression-era childhood in the northern Wisconsin mining town of Hurley. Hurley was known as far away as Chicago for its colorful nightlife, its 75 – 85 bars, and its “lovely ladies.”
Bennett, with her parents, revisited Hurley after 50 or so years to find:
“Most of the bars were gone. But ‘Nora’s Bar’ was still standing, along with Nora herself. As soon as my folks got seated on the bar stools, Nora said to my dad, ‘You still look good, honey.’ Since he had been disabled by a stroke, he smiled at the compliment.”
Returning to Eugene, Bennett began creating these striking, colorful images, utilizing a variety of printmaking techniques, including etching, chine colle, soft ground, aquatint, linocut, collagraph. As the series progressed, an element of fantasy took over. Nora left the bar and travelled with the artist to Mexico, India, the Egyptian afterlife, and eventually heaven! A number of the original printing plates will be on display to expand understanding of the printing process itself.
Germaine Bennett received an MA in History from the University of Oregon. She later studied art at Lane Community College, and the University of Oregon. She has taught at the high school and junior college level. Until her retirement in 1995, Bennett coordinated the talented and gifted program at Thurston High School.
Germaine Bennett, Printmaker to the Stars
Article by Geri Larkin 6/2013
Printmaker Germaine Bennett is quietly lovely. Sparkly blue eyes to go with a wide grin. A longish honey colored pixie cut. Slender in blue on blue tee shirts, blue jeans and sneakers. She could be a guidance counselor, maybe, or a teacher at a local middle school. That she has children closing in on fifty is difficult to fathom. Harder still is believing that this woman has conjured up some of the sexiest, most whimsical and bursting-with-life art this side of Paris. If Frida Kahlo mated with Marc Chagall and their daughter took up art, her pieces would look like Germaine’s. As just one example, the print, “Why Not Take All of Me?” offers up a resplendent character in fishnet stockings, fabulous red heels, shocks of red hair, a red and white striped bow tie and bright gold nipple rings.
When she tells her story, Germaine’s art starts to make sense. Bennett was born in Chicago during the gangster era, moving north to Hurley, Wisconsin, when she was small. Surrounded by iron mining country, the town had about 3,500 residents and 75 to 85 bars. In old photographs of Silver Street, the main drag, you can make out their names – The Ritz, Carnival, and Lovely to name just a few. More than half a century later Bennett can still remember all the signs for “Girls” and how at least two close family friends were former prostitutes.
Germaine was a good kid, the sibling who watched over her three brothers and ended up caring for her parents in their elder years. It turns out that she actually was a counselor for a time after getting her Masters degree in history. She also taught a multiple of subjects at Napa College for several years and ran the Talented and Gifted program at Thuston until she retired a while back. Along the way to now, Bennett took art classes in various places, including the University of Oregon and Lane Community College, where she focused mostly on painting nudes until the subject of a lifetime introduced herself. It happened around 1990 when Germaine returned to Hurley with her parents for a visit. By then most of the bars were gone – except for Nora’s Bar. Always a dump of a place, its owner, Nora, was one of the town’s most colorful characters with her thick black hair and exotic looks. She was still tending bar some forty years later, when the trio visited.
Returning to Oregon, Bennett started to make prints of Nora’s Bar – and Nora. The first was a woodcut of the bar itself with Nora and her parents sitting together. Since then the Nora theme has grown and transformed from largely realistic pieces to ones of iconic fantasy. Nora has moved out of the bar, now travelling in print form with Bennett wherever she travels. To date this has included a trip to Mexico; “seeking good karma” in India; and sitting on the throne of Osiris in an ode to the afterlife. Intermingled among the main image of each print are bits and pieces of artwork that reflect back on other aspects of Germaine’s life, from the communist cell meetings that her parents took her to when she was little to images related to the Catholic church that stood on the hill looking down over Hurley when she was growing up.
Twenty five of Bennett’s Nora Bar prints will be shown at the Shrager-Clarke gallery from July 3rd through July 27th. On Saturday, July 13th there will be an opening reception from 2-4 P.M. The artist will be there to delight in our reactions.