When Art and History Collide, Something Special Happens

When Art and History Collide, Something Special Happens

The following is a story submitted by artist Pam Gassman and published with permission. Enjoy reading!

The Sea Captain's Wife

I took my first art lesson at the age of 11. My family moved to Montreal, Canada from Minnesota. At that time, there was a problem with gangs. A neighbor told my mother that if you get your children involved in the arts - they won't join the gangs. So, my Mom marched the three older children into Shirley Smith's art studio. Art captured my heart, and I never have joined a gang yet, so it must have been true.

I have painted in oil, acrylic and watercolor for decades. A few years ago, I was intrigued by color pencil, so I took an Ann Kullberg Super Workshop. I think the sky opened up and the sun shone down. It was laborious, slow, methodical, challenging and amazing. Unlike any other medium I had worked with. The art concepts remained the same. But the process was very different. I fell in love.

I find color pencil somewhat unforgiving like watercolor. This makes me take the time to really plan out my compositions, colors and layout. I loved doing flowers with raindrops (See Hidden Treasures 3), animals and still life. I experimented with everything. But where I found my real voice was when my teenage daughter said to me after school, "Women didn't really contribute much to history." I paused and asked her why she thought that. She said, "because in her classes there were mostly portraits of the men in history."

I was a history major in college. I taught history, loved and breathed history. Later, I became a recreational therapist and used art therapy for brain injured and cognitively disabled patients. After my daughter's comment, I knew it was now my time to mix my love of history in a therapeutic and educational approach.

Contemplating Her Stitches

I knew that women contributed greatly to history, especially American colonial history, my specialty. I could not stand still and let  any of my daughters feel they were in any way less important than their male counter parts. So, I started thinking...and the process began.

I decided that I would create portraits of colonial women. Some known in our history and some to just represent the everyday unnamed women.

The next hurdle was how to do this. I started researching the clothing. I bought fabric, yards and yards of fabric in many different period appropriate prints. I got out my sewing machine and started to design and create numerous colonial costumes.

My family thought I was a little bit mad...but I think all artists have a spark or two of madness - or why would we persevere with the visions in our imagination.

After creating many costumes, I asked friends and family to model for me. Most were very enthusiastic about the adventure. I dressed them up (from historically accurate underwear to top wear), and photographed them. And then the real fun began with the color pencil.

I experimented with backgrounds; watercolor pencil, Gamsol, detailed backdrops. My mind worked faster than I could keep up. I filled notebooks with sketches and ideas. And yes, I had my daughters model for me many times. That gave me a captive audience to teach them about how important the role of women was in colonial America.

A Letter to My Best Beloved

Since then I have won first place in the national Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) fine arts contest and The Evelyn Cole Peters award for art excellence in 2016. I was thrilled to be asked to go to Washington, DC to receive my award.

My historical art was featured in Artsy Shark, The Oldfield Art show (WA), The Decorative Painter & COLOR Magazine. I will be a featured artist this July at Liberty Bay Books and in the North West Colonial Festival. And in 2017 I won 3rd place in the nation in the D.A.R. fine arts contest. And have been commissioned to do a portrait of the president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

I continue to teach history in schools. But now, as a visiting artist. I dress in colonial costume and bring some of my prints and teach kids about American history. And yes, I teach about the important role women had. So many young kids have written me notes telling me they never heard of many of the ladies I've spoken of, and are excited about what they learned. My mantra to them is, "what each of us does - matters. It matters now, and it matters to history."

I also continue teaching traditional painting classes in the Seattle, WA area, as I have for 26 years. Somethings will never change. But for each day and each pencil and each yard of fabric - I am glad I have found my voice and feel blessed to be able to share it.


About the Artist:
Pam has been an artist for 26 years, but when she discovered color pencils she found her voice. Mixing her love of art and history she makes portraits to remind today's people of the importance of history. Her art starts before the pencil meets the paper, it starts with fabric.

See more from Pam at pampaints.com.

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