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The art of Elton Bennett comes to Issaquah | Silkscreen artist left behind a massive body of work

The art of Elton Bennett focused on daily life in and around Gray
The art of Elton Bennett focused on daily life in and around Gray's Harbor.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Barbara Bennett of Hoquiam in Grays Harbor County, still lives in the house she grew up in and where her father, Elton Bennett had his art studio. She will be the first to tell you that her dad was a genuine individualist.

Elton and his wife, Flora, died in a plane crash in 1974. They were on their way back to the United States from their first “exotic” trip, to Australia and New Zealand. A scheduled stop in Pago Pago, America Samoa, Jan. 30, ended when a combination of bad weather and shortage of fuel brought the plane down, crashing through the jungle vegetation, striking a 3-foot-high lava rock wall, stopping about 3,090 feet from the runway. The emergency exits wouldn’t open due to the impact.

Elton was a lifelong resident of Grays Harbor, working the trades from fishing, mill work and dredging to support his family. To pursue art was not encouraged in those days.

In 1946 he entered the Portland Art Museum School on his G.I. bill, but didn’t enjoy it. His artistic style didn’t follow the current trends at the time. He returned to the trades, but in 1956 he had saved enough money to pursue his art. Elton would sketch scenes of every day life in and around Gray’s Harbor. While he was struggling to make a career of his art, his talent could be seen on labels for cans of Sourdough Lils clam chowder, motel brochures and paper placemats.

Within three years he was able to make the art he wanted to and make a living at it.

Elton’s medium is what is commonly called “silk-screening” or what he called “the gentle art of serigraph.”

“It’s so intricate and so precise,” Barbara said.

First, he would create a design, applying the image directly on the screen. Originally, Barbara said, he used silk, but then he switched to acetate. The drawing is exposed over a sheet of photo film. Eventually a stencil is left which would allow him to force paint through using a squeegee.

“Many, many layers were necessary,” Barbara said. “The possibilities were endless — he loved the process. With oil, you had only one chance at it. With silk screening (if he didn’t like it) he just tossed it aside and put them on the burn pile.”

She said it’s not a popular process because it can take months before the artist can get all the various (layers of) screens down, so her father was consistently working and working on a piece. However, every single one is an original.

“People who aren’t familiar with his work don’t realize that they are all originals,” she said.

Elton didn’t keep records, so Barbara has no idea how many pieces he did, but at the time of his death there were 5,041 works of art left. He didn’t believe in life insurance so he figured a big body of his work was good enough.

Like her father, Barbara doesn’t like conventional art galleries. She said his art is a family thing.

“You go into a slick gallery and they try to tell you it’s like the emperor’s new clothes,” she said. “Art is to be enjoyed. It’s supposed to bring you peace.”

That is why she shows and sells his art in venues other than galleries. Barbara only releases a limited number of originals each year, and she does this because she said it’s important to her to keep his work in the public eye.

“So, I’m trying to share,” she said.

Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10, she will be showing and selling Elton’s work at the Issaquah Hilton Garden Inn from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She said a show she held a few years ago at the Bellevue Hilton went very well.

“It just seems like the Eastside has grown,” Barbara said. “It’s very important to me that my father’s work be known by younger generations.”

Elton always wanted his work to be affordable, so in addition to originals, which run from $1,400 to $3,900, Barbara has made prints available for $60 which include hand-cut double matting.

She said whatever is left one day, she will donate to a museum.

“I believe that my father was the most talented artist that the Pacific Northwest has ever known, and it brings me great happiness to share his art work.

A depiction of Tall Ships, by the late Elton Bennett.

Elton Bennett's medium was silk-screen, a long and tedious process.

A mountain scene by the late Elton Bennett.

 

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