Jan. 22, 2006 – Betsy Campen describes the story of herself and her husband, Jim, ending up with their business, Gallows Bay Frame, on Flag Drive as a "three bears thing."
She says, "The first business was too small. The second business was too big. This one is perfect."
The concept of Gallows Bay Frame has changed from the business the couple ran as Campen Gallery down the street from their present location.
That location was filled with the work of as many as 30 different artists. Jim says, "Now, we just represent Betsy's work. We sell it all in Giclee prints." He says trying to run the larger gallery and selling a variety of artists' work zapped the family's energy.
Betsy's lovely detailed and brilliantly colored artwork covered most of the walls of the new business.
She started painting at the age of 3. Jim urged her in a recent interview to tell the story of how she got in trouble as a youngster because she painted on all the blank pages in the books of the family's Encyclopaedia Britannica. She took her first formal art class at age 9 and sold her first painting at age 12. She graduated from the University of Richmond in 1975 and a year later made her first experiment of living on St. Croix. She and Jim returned to living in the states on a couple occasions, but since 1989 have been permanent residents of the island.
She says she paints eight hours just about every day, but does not mind it. She says, "It is the best dam job I ever had."
She classifies her work as photo-realism and primarily works in oils and watercolors. Her paintings do not show brush strokes. She works strictly from photographs. She says that painting directly from nature has some problems. She points out that shadows that are on one side of an object when a painting is started may be on the other side before it is complete.
In recent years Betsy has concentrated on paintings of well-known structures, including Government House, the Frederiksted Apothecary, and the waterfront in Christiansted. Although these paintings are very realistic, they seem to have a life of their own.
It is not surprising to hear her say that many Crucians who live away from the island choose her paintings to decorate the walls of their offices and homes. She says this gives her a lot of satisfaction. "To see St. Croix live on elsewhere through my artwork is quite an honor," she says.
She volunteers as an art teacher at St. Joseph High School and recently focused her artistic interests on another community project. She calls the project "Talking Trash" because she got the idea after hearing complaints about trash from calls to the Roger Morgan radio talk show.
She got Hovensa to donate 100 cans and Sherwin Williams to donate paint, and now she is getting help from area artists to paint them. Once all the trash barrels are painted, they will be distributed throughout the island and arrangements will be made to have them emptied, probably by private haulers. An auction will be held Feb. 18 at the Botanical Garden, where people can buy sponsorships of the barrels to help fund the project.
Jim says that Gallows Bay Frame is split evenly between selling artwork and selling frames. He says people go to the various galleries or shows, like the annual one at Good Hope School, and pick up a piece of artwork they like and then bring it in for framing.
He says he is not really an artist like his wife; instead he is the "oddest" of the family. The couple's son, Jake, is apprenticing to take over the business.
Jim's worked in heavy construction before teaming up in business with his wife. The Campen Gallery was opened from 1997 to 2003. The present building opened in March of this year.
For more information, call 778-1532.
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