Matters of the heART: Betsy Bower Returns to Casper to Set Up Shop
It was, perhaps, the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but she knew she couldn’t keep it to herself any longer. They had to know. That was easier said than done, however. She practiced in the mirror a dozen times, trying to find the best words to use when she spoke to her parents. Nothing sounded right, though. None of the words she thought of could properly convey the longing and the passion in her heart. She always knew this was who she was, but vocalizing that, especially to her parents, filled her with an unbearable amount of stress and anxiety. But she knew who she was, and it was time that her parents did too.
She got dressed, got in her car and sat behind the wheel. She looked at herself in her rearview mirror and smiled. This was a long time coming. She’s experimented in the past, but she knew this was something that was about to consume her entire life- and she wanted to share it with her parents. It would be a difficult discussion, but she hoped her parents would understand; that they would accept her and love her unconditionally.
She pulled up to her childhood home, the one with so many happy memories, and walked up to the front door. She took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
Casper is full of incredible musicians, artists and entrepreneurs that dream of expressing themselves and having an audience to do so in front of. We have painters and sketchers and singers and chefs and baristas and hula-hoopers and everything in between. Casper is a place that allows artists to be who they are and do what they want to do. It is a safe place that houses an incredible amount of talented individuals.
Betsy Bower is one of those people. A Casper native, Bower has lived in various locations throughout the years, yet she still continues to find herself coming back home to Wyoming. After recently spending two years in Denver, she recently came back to Casper to set up shop, so to speak. This is where she lives, it’s where her family lives. It’s also where she discovered her talents as an artist and a musician.
“I feel like it’s in my genes,” Bower said of her inclination towards art. “My grandpa made me an easel for Christmas when I was, like, 5 or something like that. I gravitated towards it, naturally, and I felt like I was good at it.”
As a kid, Bower found herself immersed in a variety of “non-girly” hobbies. While she admitted to having tea parties as a kid, she was a self-admitted tomboy.
“I wasn’t really the princess type,” she stated.
Bower never wanted to be a princess. Instead, she wanted to create. She also began to develop musical skills; skills that continue to serve her to this day (she plays drums and occasionally bass guitar for various bands around town, including IndiSoul). It wouldn’t be long, however, before she found her way back to art.
“I didn’t realize that I wanted more to do with art until I got a little bit older,” Bower stated. “I took classes from Mr. Slafter. He was really interesting because he didn’t really care about the students’ art. He was kind of, not really mean but just, like, honest. It gave us more freedom because you weren’t just trying to impress the teacher. He actually let us explore any type of art form we wanted to, so I explored things I hadn’t yet.”
That exploration led Bower down a multitude of roads, including painting, drawing, charcoals, intaglio and more. None of those avenues felt exactly right, however. She wanted to do something different, something more. When she was 12 years old, she found exactly what it was that she was looking for. It was…a natural transition…to say the least, but one that was still somewhat surprising.
Betsy Bower wanted to be a welder. She wanted to turn metal into art. And she knew it the moment she cut her first piece.
“My dad is where I learned to weld from,” she said. “I made my first sculpture when I was 12. It was a flower sculpture. I got hooked.”
It was an unusual avenue to take, but it’s what felt right.
"Everybody draws and everybody paints,” she stated. “There are so many trendy things and I wanted to do something that was original and different.”
Welding was certainly both of those things. One does not see many welders at art galas. But Bower wanted to combine two of her passions into one thing, and that’s exactly what she did.
It wasn’t easy, though. First starting out as an artist never is, at least according to Bower.
“If anybody wants to be an artist, they have to get through the phase of just being kind of shitty at it,” Bower laughed. “Do it and keep doing it. Failure leads to success. Period.”
It took a while, but Bower has found success as an artist. Like any artist starting out, especially in a community like Casper, there was a fair amount of failure. But talent rises, and that’s exactly what she did. Eventually, Bower would host her first metal-works show at one of Casper's best coffee shops.
“When I did decide to do metal work, my sister told me ‘You’d be good at it if you just did it, so I don’t see why you just don’t do it,’ and that’s when I had my first art show at Metro [Coffee Co.]."
She did it. And she hasn’t looked back since.
Betsy has always been her own person, always marched to the beat of her own drum. This has presented itself in her art, in her music and in her relationships.
As a queer woman in a mostly-conservative state, Bower has encountered her fair share of ignorance and resistance. This was more prevalent when she was younger and just beginning to forge her path as both an artist and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Coming from a religious background did not make the idea of “coming out” an easy one, but Bower knew that if she wanted to achieve true bliss, she needed to stay true to herself.
“I came out to my friends and my siblings first,” Bower confessed. “I lived in San Francisco and Seattle for a little bit and I was around a community where you didn’t have to ask or say it. It didn’t matter. Coming back [to Casper] was kind of a reverse culture shock. I felt like I had to fit in a box again and it was really depressing for a few years until I started navigating more boldly.”
One of the hardest aspects of her journey was the reaction from her parents.
“I didn’t know how to have peaceful conversations with my parents about subjects that were hard to talk about,” she admitted. “So I just didn’t. With my dad especially; sometimes, it’s hard to feel like I’m being heard because he’s such a visual person.”
Bower continued, saying that she “feel[s] like they accept me but it’s just an awkward scenario, because it’s not something they’ve been exposed to long enough and in a deep enough way, to fully understand.”
Bower has never doubted the love from her parents, however, and it was actually her mom and dad that encouraged her to pursue a career as an artist.
“There was not necessarily a push,” she said, “but I think they saw it as my obvious avenue. I didn’t. I wanted to join the circus. I wanted to be a healer or go on a path of music.”
But when Betsy told her parents that she was interested in art, they were the ones that ultimately confirmed her decision.
“I was ready to hear it finally, because if my parents weren’t the ones telling me to do it, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to [be an artist]. They were waiting for it.”
Her career as an artist has been a turbulent one, spanning multiple states. She recently moved back to Casper from Denver, and is currently in the process of setting up her welding sculpture shop. She has taught workshops designed to "access the unconscious mind." She has also been featured in a highly-acclaimed documentary about Wyoming artists, called 'Make Art Wyoming,' directed by Anthony Stengel.
Bower has undoubtedly seen a parallel between her journey as an artist and as a queer woman in a conservative town. Both require a lot of patience, a lot of understanding and, most importantly, a lot of love. They also require a lot of work but, in the end, the beauty of staying true to oneself, as an artist, as a queer person, as a human being in general, is more than worth the effort.
“For a while I resisted it because I thought that being straight would be an easier lifestyle; like nobody would be questioning what I’m doing with myself and my life,” Bower said. “It would have definitely been easier but it wouldn’t have been following my heart.”
Bower has spent her entire life following her heart. That journey has led her to a number of adventures and experiences. Before the pandemic hit, Bower spent a week at Burning Man, an annual event in Northwest Nevada that is more of a temporary city/community than a festival.
“Someone said Burning Man is like an adult summer camp,” Bower said. “It’s where science meets art, meets love, and becomes a sort of a social evolution. It’s a boisterous inner child party that people have to go to themselves to understand. [It’s a place] where people can wear costumes, spin poi, burn things, and ride decorated bicycles around a giant neon city with crazy art cars. Every citizen must live by a set of 10 principles. It’s hard to sum up in words.”
Burning Man is an experience she has dreamed of sharing with her hometown, because she knows how important community is and how much people benefit from being near each other.
That, more than anything, is what Betsy Bower stands for. It’s what she believes is most important- smiling, being together and falling in love, over and over again, with yourself.
“Finding your own path, when you have to carve it out yourself, can be a lot of work,” Bower stated. “Any kind of dream that anybody has is like- if you don’t put in the work, if you only dream it, you’re never going to get there. You have to just stick with it and persevere and be patient with yourself. When you make mistakes or come up against failure, you just have to accept it as part of the learning process and keep going.”
That is something she has applied to her life and her work and she is better for it. When she has come up against obstacles, and there are always obstacles, she has fought through them. She has also learned to appreciate the hardships that come with who she is and what she does. She has had to come to certain experiences with the patience one might display when talking with a child. She has continually persevered, though. And she has never stopped believing in herself.
“You can talk yourself out of anything,” she said. “If you want to do something worth doing, talk yourself into it. Tell yourself it’s gonna be worth the work or it’s gonna be worth coming out. Do it slowly. Take it step-by-step. If you want to come out, take a small step. If you want to be an artist, take a small step. Stop telling yourself you’re not any good. Stop giving yourself the excuse and just do the next step. Get a canvas and grab some paints and suck at it for a while.”
Her journey, as an artist and as a human being, has not been easy. It’s been a beautiful mess, quite frankly. But it made her into the incredible, vibrant, kind, caring person that she is today, and that is something she wouldn’t trade for all the metal in the world.
She took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and rang the doorbell. Her mother answered and hugs were exchanged. She followed her mom into the family room, past the piano upon which so many lessons were given. She hugged her dad and sat both parents down. She has been fighting with this decision for a long time, but she has always, deep in her heart, known who she was. Now, it was time that her parents knew.
“Mom, dad; I have something to tell you,” she said.
“I want to be an artist.”
To see Betsy's work, visit Betsy Bower Sculpture.