Art and Iconography
ABOUT BETSY PORTER
ART BIO 1999 – BETSY PORTER
Betsy Porter likes to make art, especially art that people can wear. She takes personal adornment seriously as an art form,
and believes that “the human body is just as worthy of decoration as a wall, maybe more so.”
Betsy was born into a design-conscious family, a family whose members have always enjoyed making things and going to
museums. Her maternal grandmother was an architect, in the days when few women dared pursue such a career. In
conservative Baltimore, Betsy’s mother organized the first home tour focusing on modern design, and helped establish a
rental gallery for contemporary art. Betsy’s father often took her to Baltimore’s beautiful Walters Art Museum, full of
exquisite ancient, medieval, and Renaissance objects. She married into a family of artists. Her late father in law, Fairfield
Porter, was a well-known painter.
Betsy’s wearable creations reflect her deep commitment to design that complements the human body and complexion. Her
necklaces and earrings are designed to hang and move gracefully. She often hand-knots her beads, because “it causes
the beads to move in interesting ways.” The color combinations are intended to complement, not overshadow, the woman
who wears them.
The scarves in this display are 100 percent silk crinkle chiffon, a lightweight airy fabric that drapes and knots wonderfully.
They are dyed by folding and clamping the scarf (a variation on the Japanese art of shibori), and then applying fiber-
reactive dyes. “Silk is especially delightful,” she says. “Soft, subtle color shadings are possible.” An artist working in this
technique must learn to work creatively without complete control of color effects, which will vary slightly throughout the
piece. The scarves can be either hand-washed and lined-dried, or dry cleaned, without risk of the color running.
Betsy loves to learn new art forms, and has picked up quite a number with the help of family and friends and night schools
and craft guilds, and by attending adult art/craft schools such as Penland in western North Carolina and Peters Valley in
northern New Jersey. She enjoys other fiber arts such as weaving, quilting, Japanese braiding (kumihimo), painting with
dyes on stretched silk, and marbling on fabric. She has taught workshops and classes in New Jersey, where she lived until
1997, and recently offered a small bead class in San Francisco. Her work has appeared at art fairs, galleries, and gift
shops in St. Louis, Baltimore, and New Jersey; but this exhibit is her first on the West Coast. Her latest enthusiasm is
painting religious icons in a highly traditional Russian style, using gold leaf and egg tempera
Expanding on her silk-painting techniques, Betsy designed and made large liturgical pieces including altar covers, banners,
and vestments for use in two East Coast churches. She recently painted portions of a large, elaborate applique banner for
St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco.
Betsy moved to San Francisco 2 years ago to pursue her career in architecture. She holds a Master of Architecture
degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is a member of the American Institute of Architects. In her “day
job” at Topflight Specs, she specializes in writing architectural specifications.
MY INVOLVEMENT IN BYZANTINE-STYLE ICONOGRAPHY
Although iconography is challenging, it feels natural to me. I have always taken pleasure in making, looking at,
feeling, living among wonderful things. During my childhood, my father often took me to Baltimore’s Walters
Art Museum, with its treasures of ancient, Byzantine, medieval, and renaissance art. Travels to Italy, Greece,
and Russia brought opportunities to see more icons. My work is also influenced by early 20th century
decorative art, lettering, and book illustration.
For some years I have been actively engaged in art and craft, especially fiber arts, silk painting, and bead
jewelry. But it never occurred to me to paint an icon until 1997, when my friend Grace Evans showed me two
icons she had painted during 6-day intensive workshops in Philadelphia. They looked to me even more
beautiful than those I had seen in Russia! Grace told me of her plans for a similar workshop, with Vladislav
Andrejev and his wife Olga as instructors, to take place at Trinity Episcopal of Princeton, NJ – the very church I
was then attending.
I enrolled in this workshop. Initially, I felt rather foolish for spending several hundred dollars and a week of
vacation time just to reproduce a time-worn design. But this work was not so simple after all. Vladislav’s
guidance was soon very welcome. The symbolism and theory of iconography delighted me. I could never
again look at art the same way! Here was art as it had once been, and was becoming for me - a rich
synthesis of the intellectual, aesthetic, material, and spiritual.
Since then I’ve taken several more workshops, and have painted icons on my own. I try to learn a new artistic
or technical skill with each piece, and look forward to writing increasingly complex images. Some icons are in
my home, and some have been painted as very special gifts. Several have found a place at my church, St.
Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, where they are well displayed and used. Here they are surrounded by a
whole community of other icons.
Because this work is so time-consuming, I can produce only a few pieces each year.
The "Art Bio" below was written for a small
exhibition of my scarves and jewelry in November
1999, and has intentionally not been updated.
Betsy Porter with icons, St.
Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal
Church, San Francisco, CA.
In the background, you can
catch a glimpse of the choir
practicing under the
"Dancing Saints," a
large-scale icon-style mural
by Mark Dukes.
My day job! In my professional capacity as Elizabeth Hart Porter, AIA, CCS, I
work for Topflight Specs in downtown San Francisco, California.
We act as consultants for other architects, providing specification services for
diverse building types including apartment complexes, high-rise office buildings,
shopping centers, schools, universities, and institutions, and an occasional house.
For specification services, contact the head of the firm, Richard T. Fiory, AIA,
MY PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
- Master of Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design
- Licensed Architect in 4 states and NCARB
- Certified Construction Specifier (CCS)
- Over 40 years of experience as a working architect; about 18 of those
years as a full-time specifier
- Served on the State of Michigan Board of Registration for Architects
I am an active member of the San Francisco Chapter of the Construction
Specifications Institute (CSI) and for several years have served as editor of its
newsletter "The Specifics," which you will find archived on the Chapter website.
Betsy Porter in Hard Hat
My work rarely requires a
hard hat, but there are
occasions - like this
CSI-sponsored boat tour of
Bay Bridge construction.