Betsy Khuri, of Betsy Oh Art, is a Woodstock, GA, artist working in sculptural and functional clay. Often combining the female form with animals, Betsy takes her inspiration from nature and vintage photos. She loves round and flowing forms and makes it a point to incorporate contrasting metals and found objects.
Primarily self-taught, she has been lucky enough to find insight and information in the wonderful artists that have shared their world with her. Books and museums provide content and perspective, but it is everyday life that she finds most inspirational. We feel fortunate to visit Betsy in her studio to learn more about her work and her life. Thank you, Betsy, for being part of The Faces of Woodstock, GA, project!
What inspired you or led you to your current career?
I was born this way. I’m inspired by everything. I’ve never not been myself, which is kind of a lovely thing. Growing up, I was told that art was a hobby. And that was really a big hit knowing you have something inside you that’s bubbling and important and thinking that it isn’t really of value- that’s a tough hit for a kid. But I always made art – my whole life.
So, when I went to school, the University of Florida, I chose advertising because that was the closest I could get to being artistic while still being seen as having value in the world. I graduated with my bachelor’s there. Then I went back and got my MBA, which was really funny knowing the person I am on the inside. I graduated with my MBA and worked at Compaq computers in product marketing management. I did well at it but wasn’t doing what was in my heart.
While I was raising my children, a friend of mine said, “I’m going to take a pottery on the wheel class,” and I was like, “sign me up!” I’d never worked in clay before. I have always painted and made things with whatever I had on hand at the time whenever I had spare time while raising my three kids.
When I started in clay, throwing on the wheel, everything was round. So, I noticed myself altering all my little round bowls. I eventually got more involved in the clay community, and there was a sculptor just down the road in Roswell, named Debra Fritts. She was making these amazing clay sculptures, and I was so in awe. I finally took a workshop from her, and that was just life-altering for me.
Five years ago is when I kicked into full-time. Every day I’m here in my studio. It’s my life. It’s not a job. It’s just what I live. I live this. I sell my work at local shows and out of my studio. Social media has been very kind to me. I love seeing other people’s process and hearing about their lives. So that’s what I share about myself.
I kind of fade in and out of teaching. I’ve taught at local art facilities for a while – I taught five classes a week at one time. Now I teach out of my own studio. It’s more like an open class where we kind of share ideas, and I float around and help people. It’s really nice having a creative community to be a part of. I never see art as a competition. There is room for everyone. We should all share and help and learn from each other. Art comes from inside you, and each person has a totally unique inside.
What inspires your work?
I rarely have a plan. I’ll come up with some ideas that I’m kind of excited about, and I always try to work from that excitement. I find inspiration from nature, museums, books, and old photographs.
I love horns because they are powerful. I also like to combine male and female. I will put a male animal head on a female body because I like the contrast.
I try to start with something I am inspired by, and then I work it into a series. I like humanity and imperfection, and I love round. Males are usually very angular, but I love breasts, and I love fullness. The human body is wonderful.
The name of my company, Betsy Oh Art, came about because of the reaction that people have when they see my art. Oh. Not necessarily a good oh or a bad oh. Just oh. And I love that. Art should make people think.
What is your favorite restaurant in Woodstock, and what do you love there?
Century House, I love the ambiance. The food is so consistent, and it just feels like home. Their pork chop is over-the-top wonderful- I’m from Iowa, I appreciate some pork-, and their charcuterie board is a favorite too. And it’s all local. I try to eat local as much as I can. And, their bartender, Jason, is awesome. He makes amazing and unusual cocktails that make you feel special. And I love sitting under the big tree in the garden. I can see all of Woodstock.
How long have you lived or worked in Woodstock?
I have lived here for five and a half years. I love it. There are so many interesting people.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in Woodstock? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Woodstock?
I would nominate Trefoil Gardens. They’re a local couple, and they’re so wonderful. Rob and Melanie are their names. They’ve taken their neighborhood of King’s Ridge and created a co-op. People donate their front yards that they farm.
They sell their fresh vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms at local farmer’s markets. I’ve been working with them as a volunteer. They are one of the most underutilized resources we have here in Woodstock. They have taught me about sustainability and the importance of growing our own food. We should be eating stuff that’s grown down the road, and Rob grows it! Everyone should know Trefoil Gardens!
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
Right now, I’d probably go to Zambia – back to Zambia. I got to visit there this past summer – because my daughter’s there serving in the Peace Corps, and I haven’t seen her in so long. Honestly, it was the most amazing trip. Being there and just being, I think it kind of resets you as a person because you just see a totally different side of humanity. I think we get caught up in our everyday madness, and we forget that we are just humans trying to live our best life with what we have. I love the quote from Gandhi that we all must “live simply so that others may just simply live.” So powerful.
What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
My favorite movie is “The Sound of Music.” It evokes all my senses, and every time I watch it, I just get filled with joy. I actually bought a fabric that looks like the curtains in the movie. If you remember, Julie Andrews made clothes for the kids to play in with the curtain fabric. I recovered my couch with the look-a-like just because of the feeling it gives me [laughs].
What advice would you give a crowd of people?
Each one of us needs to believe that we can make a difference. We all think that one Ziploc bag isn’t going to matter. We all have to believe that every little thing that we do every day can make a difference. If we all believe that, we will make a difference. The earth is all we have. We need to reprioritize and put our environment first. I’ve been trying to slow down and think about what I buy and how it came to me and the effect that the product has on our earth.
What is something on your bucket list?
I don’t even know if I have a bucket list. I hear people talk about that all the time, but I don’t think I do because I like to let life happen to me. When I travel, I don’t really make plans. I just kind of show up and always find myself either meeting someone interesting or stumbling upon something off the beaten path. I don’t really have a list of things I want to do. I think it’s about your attitude. We get to choose what we see. I try to see the beauty in people.
What is your favorite music/ three bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
I’m very eclectic. Pink, Lady Gaga and Bette Midler are three. I like who they are as people, and I think they seek the truth – their truth. I admire that. I also love any live music. It brings people together.
What current / former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Woodstock?
The arts are so important to me, and I love the people over at Elm Street. I think they have great priorities. They’re doing a lot to develop our city artistically, and I think they’re always open to new ideas. It’s a happy place where all people are accepted.
Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where in Woodstock would you have lunch?
I would love to have lunch with John Lewis. We would go to Tea Leaves and Thyme. I would recommend their tomato soup. And I think he would be up for a tiara or maybe just a cool hat. I always am. When I think about being with him, I don’t even think I would ask any questions, I would just let him talk. Yeah. I would just sit and listen.
What is your favorite thing or something unique about Woodstock?
There’s such a strong sense of community here. Everywhere I go, I already feel like I know everyone, even when I don’t, which is a really nice thing.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
I feel really content with where I am right now. I love what I’m doing, and I love how I’m doing it. I’m just going to keep working hard and try to look at everything as an opportunity. I’m starting to paint again, and that has been really fun. I just love to create.
(Even for friends or family), what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
Probably my MBA. Most people think I’m this crazy artist making sh** [laughs]. I worked in the corporate world and wore a suit back then, which is really funny, like, what?! I don’t have any regrets. I have a lot of diverse qualities, and each of them has helped me get where I am today. I’m so grateful. And I’ve had red hair for ten plus years, but it comes from a box. I have so much more fun as a redhead.
What comes to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Home is where you are, but only if you are at home with yourself. I’ve worked really hard to be home.
If you had a full-time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose?
Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
I’d like a personal organizer to follow me around. I am Pig-Pen from Peanuts. But I don’t think I’d keep anyone. They’d probably quit the same day! [Laughs]