Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Retrospective: Deborah McWatters Padgett (the book)

Cover Image

This video is a slide show depicting the pages from a book I've published compiling my visual work from the time I was a student in the 1970's until the present. The text does not appear with clarity in these images so I am providing the text below and just prior to the slide show. 


My work now, as always, is about one woman’s journey to and through recollection, retrieval, expansion, acceptance and embrace. The work is about my journey; my travels, through the territory of "the examined life." Some images point to my fascination with ancient and/or decorative tile work. These images also reflect the connection I experience with all living things and the world around me. Current work features images of birds, trees, oceans, mountains and is about the healing calm and freedom found in art and nature.

Deborah McWatters Padgett, a Minnesota artist and writer, lives with her husband, ceramic artist, Michael Padgett in St. Paul. Deborah has been working as a studio artist for more than forty five years and as a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibits in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and in Scotland. Deborah and her husband share a studio and open the studio to the public for sale and exhibition of work twice yearly.

Deborah’s mantra is a quote from Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”
A true indication of the healing capability of art!

Visit Deborah’s website at


My earliest memories of creating original art include designing, drawing and coloring the clothes for the free Betsy McCall paper doll that arrived with the rare issue of McCall’s Magazine in our home. I would cut out the paper doll, tape her to the window, hold a sheet of paper over her image and, using a pencil, would draw the outline of her shape. I would lie on my stomach on the bare asbestos tile or linoleum floor of our home; paper, scissors and crayons at the ready. I knew to add shoulder and waist tabs to the dresses, nighties, blouses and skirts I would create for Betsy. My legs on the cold floor beneath my dress grew warm and would sometimes stick to the surface of the floor. The memory of rising, peeling lose and approaching the window to create the silhouette for one outfit after another is visceral and carries me back to the smells, sounds and textures of being lost utterly in the world of making something appear in the world that was conceived in my own head and heart. I received a small allowance as a child and would sometimes buy store bought paper dolls, extra crayons and paper and create home and play environments as well as clothing and accessories for these make believe playmates of mine. I remember this time spent, alone and uninterrupted as exhilarating and freeing. Making art in school or designing Valentine cards with my mom and siblings, while pleasant, didn’t hold the same pleasure or comfort for me as these untold hours of letting my mind drift to color, shape and line with only my personal preferences in mind. I remember one high school art class and feeling a miserable failure in my attempts to draw and paint.

The only art I remember adorning the walls of my childhood homes were the mail-order 8 x 10 Audubon bird and botanical prints in the dining room of our small parsonage in Lansing, Michigan. Dad was a Baptist preacher and enjoyed a photography habit. I remember a few hand colored family portraits in the living room and various pictures of Jesus. Oh, and paint by number canvases were popular in those years and occasionally Mom or Dad would finish and frame a small piece for the wall.

When I was 23 and carrying my first child, Tamara, I began to take the occasional class at the University of Minnesota where I worked as a secretary. My first class was a beginning Classics course and my second was Anthropology. My eyes began to open to the world around me and I started to take notice of the way art and design informed human made environments throughout history and throughout the world.

Necessity proved to be the mother of invention for me and I became adept at sewing my own clothes, adapting patterns to create personal and original designs. I decorated the rooms I lived in as a young adult with curtains, pillows and framed fabric pieces. I loved the freedom that adulthood gave me to embellish and enhance my own environment. My small budget and my desire to decorate my walls with art led me to my first painted image. I bought a 16 x 20 canvas covered cardboard, divided it into geometric shapes and filled the shapes with black and red (predominantly), then painted a yellow border to divide the shapes and left just enough white to create strong contrast. The image hung over our stereo system and the board and brick book cases and reflected some of the coloring in a large oval rag rug. I am sad to say I never kept a photograph of that piece. I know now that it wasn’t good and probably wasn’t even art. Making that piece, though, taught me the joy of laboring to create a pattern unique to me and the pleasure of putting to use the tools of art. Soon after this, I took a class in Art History, came to know classmates studying studio arts and signed up for classes in drawing and color.

My interest in study was entirely focused on liberal arts. I loved literature, philosophy, feminist studies, anthropology, astronomy, romance languages, art history and applied art. I worked for a living but my education was not career driven. As a working mother it took me ten years to complete my degree but the degree gave me career opportunities I would not have had otherwise and led me to life-long curiosity and a desire to learn.

I settled quite early on painting as my primary medium. I loved the art of Max Beckmann, Milton Avery, Susanne Valadon, Alice Neel, and Larry Rivers. I was drawn to the work and ideology of Judy Chicago, Helen Frankenthaler and Susan Rothenberg.

My early work had to do with self-discovery and I used large and loose gestures and color filled forms. To me, laying down the image was and continues to be almost a form of dance. In recent years my work has become more detailed, perhaps more refined and certainly more decorative. I have gained skills allowing me to create portraits of people precious in my life and I can make quite lovely images drawing from nature and landscape but I do not consider myself either a portrait painter or a landscape artist. How would I characterize myself as an artist? I would say, I am a painter. Overall, even my drawings have tended toward a painterly quality.

Title: “Chair-scape: Child is Mother to the Woman” 2006

My “seating arrangement” speaks to the a little girl’s attempt to escape, then overcome, a sense that inclusion in the family required her to “sit down and shut up. ” The little girl was never good at taking orders or sitting still or keeping quiet. Her reach was higher than her grasp with on-going reminders throughout her life that she “expected way too much.” She expected to be heard, understood, cared about and respected. My seating arrangement is about the child as mother to the woman and depicts a grown and healed woman, relaxed in herself and the place she’s made for herself at the table. She reflects on her child-self and is able to applaud her own courage in continuing to reach for what she deserved though it left her, leaves her still, excluded from the family table. The “chair” sculpture itself consists of a divided chair, secured, one half to either side of a painted panel. On one side a little girl, dressed in ragged overalls too small for her, stands on the chair on her tiptoes reaching as high as she possibly can. On the panel behind her is the painted image of her grown self, watching the child reach. On the opposite side of the panel, and on the other chair- half, is the grown woman seen from the back watching the painted image of herself as a child — reaching, reaching, reaching...

The piece is constructed of a chair, plywood panel and two cut-out wooden figures with photo transfer fabric, acrylic paint and found object collage. It is 3’ across, 5’ high and 2’ deep.

Page 7

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  1. This looks fantastic.

    1. *I thought the website was going to post that the comment was from me - Sheila Path-McMahon :)