Besser Museum exhibits art of Rita Stevens

A self-taught artist, Rita Stevens has always loved to watch and learn.

“No matter how things appeared on the surface, I realized that there was beauty in everything,” Stevens said of the philosophy that drives her art. “There are many people who can’t seem to see below the surface of people, nature and events, but I believe it is important in life to try to do this every day. This is what I strive to show in my art.”

What she lacked in formal training, she soaked up from the world around her, from her mom, family and friends, and from the Internet, television and books. Always, a willingness to experiment with any medium or style kept her going.

“I’ve experimented with all types of mediums,” she said. “From pencil, pen and ink to watercolor, oil and acrylics, I’ve tried them all. I’ve painted on canvas, signs, wood, rocks and even cardboard. I’ve used everything from plastic containers cut into shapes to floor tiles and old tools. Art has given me the great freedom to explore.”

Between her creativity and her zest for exploring new venues with her art, Stevens has a large body of eclectic work that she currently is sharing with the public via a new solo exhibit at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan. The exhibit, which opened May 25 and continues through Aug. 23, includes more than 80 pieces. A special reception in her honor will take place June 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

The subject matter Stevens has chosen to represent in her art is varied as well, covering barns, cars, children, grandchildren, fish and water, though all of it is local in origin.

“A lot of my work is someone in my family saying, ‘hey, can you do this or that for me?’ They challenge me,” Stevens said.

A case in point was a request from one of her sons to do a painting of a trout as a donation to a non-profit group he to which he belongs.

“Fish? I don’t even know what a trout is and I’m painting a trout,” she said, looking back in amusement.

Another son jokingly asked her to buy him Shelby Cobra. Her response to his frivolous request was that the only Shelby Cobra he would ever get from her was of the painted variety, and she ultimately followed through by painting the car sitting in an old barn.

“That kind of got me into painting cars and bikes and old barns,” she said.

Along with her various forms of art, Stevens also is a photographer and an author. She’s written numerous self-published books for her family and grandchildren, with all featuring her photographs and illustrations. These are represented in her new exhibit.

Hanging a museum exhibit that crosses numerous genres and subject matters proved to be an interesting challenge for Exhibits/Facilities Manager Randy Shultz, but he easily worked it out to everyone’s satisfaction.

“When talking to her about what she hoped to achieve from the exhibit it was clear. She wanted to share it all,” Shultz said. “So I asked her permission to hang it ‘without rules.’ I wanted to break all the ‘normal’ and regimented museum standards, and copy her free open style of art into the hanging method.”

Shultz believes the ‘no rules’ concept did her artwork justice, making the exhibit full of energy, yet not cluttered.

“I enjoy Rita’s work because it captures her thoughts and feelings,” Shultz said. “She is not afraid to try something new and different. Her subject material is small town, fish, children, barns and nature. Very colorful and eye catching. I like her use of photography of her original paintings it added a new dimension. It supports her ‘anything’ goes approach to her art.”

Stevens, likewise, is pleased with the finished look and hopes visitors to the museum will enjoy what they see of her art.

“What Randy did with the exhibit is truly amazing,” she said, adding that what he did captured perfectly her intent for the exhibit.

This marks the second time Stevens has had her own solo exhibit at the Besser Museum. She last showed her work there in 2007. All of the pieces in her newest exhibit represent work done by her over the last six years.