By: Karla Jensen
Silent sports are huge in the travel and tourism industry these days. Bird watching, biking, and geocaching are some of those lesser known and quieter pastimes. Sometimes they are pursued alone. Other times, they are shared with casual groups. They often do not get as much media coverage or as much hype as the more prominent sports.
Just as subtle, in the art world there are sub groups of art categories much like silent sports. While other visual arts steal the limelight, there is an incredible group of artisans who make a living designing jewelry, scarves, purses and other wearable fashion statements. You may not hear about them as often as painters, photographers, sculptors or ceramics artists. There is no Terry Redlin or Louis Vuitton in this category, but many of their creations are timeless, while some are trendy, and others are tantalizing. These are the lesser recognized artisans who add flavor and flair to the art scene in a highly portable manner. At galleries with flourishing gift shops like the Seippel Arts Center, these goods are the bread and butter that cultivate steady sales year-round.
Betty Singer is an amazingly talented silent artisan. Her work is not showcased at the forefront. It is not spotlighted in a large gallery space, awash in track lighting, consuming entire walls. Her work does not hang from a nail with a heavy wire, nor is it framed, matted and oogled at from afar. Instead, her art is irresistibly draped around a simple velour collar or mannequin bust, appearing as classic and sparkly as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like finding and examining a beautiful feather or pebble, you long to see Singer’s work up close and feel the weight of her creations in the palm of your hand or admire it in the mirror around your own neck.
Singer’s distinctive style is donned by women of all ages throughout the region. She has more beautiful pieces of jewelry, purses and scarves than a good hand in a card game; she can rarely hold on to them. She has to throw down those hands and give them up for a new set often, especially during Holiday Gift Gallery time in November and December. These are BDAAA’s busiest months, moving to expanded hours, open daily to accommodate an increased number of shoppers who love their one-of-a-kind finds. If you talk to Betty before the Holiday Gift Gallery opens, she might just tell you it feels like a zoo around the Seippel Center with so much activity and work to prepare for guests. Things can get wild and hairy with so much inventory and never enough space, but Betty keeps showing up.
As for her own work, Betty’s art is more like an exotic meandering zoo animal than a parakeet on a perch, because it does not stay put. As gift shop manager at BDAAA, Betty and her art both tend to roam. We move her art from one place to the next, showcasing her wares at Expos, River Markets, and other places where BDAAA meets the public off-site to promote the gift shop. Purchasers who sport Singer’s jewelry, handbags, and scarves are also inadvertent walking advertisements. “Who made that great scarf?” or “Where did you get your lovely necklace?” women ask when they see someone wearing Betty’s beautiful handcrafted accessories. “The Seippel Center Gift Shop,” we say with pride, and think of Betty and many of the other sophisticated and innovative jewelry and accessory artists whom BDAAA is fortunate to feature throughout the year.
I am one of the many proud BDAAA shoppers to reveal I wear “Betty Singer” like others don Coach purses and Converse tennis shoes. My personal favorites designed by Betty include a dainty bronze linked-chain choker with matching circular amulet and a longer baby blue necklace with a single teardrop-shaped stone that glistens in the light. I also own some gorgeous scarves. What do women absolutely love about Betty’s style and designs? They are timeless. They can be traditional yet contemporary all at the same time. Betty never creates anything outlandish or unsightly. She has discovered a perfect balance in her jewelry and accessories…a yin and yang to many of her creations that simply catches the eye. Her works are alluring and charming, and if you cannot find one to give as the perfect gift, you certainly will find one that you cannot live without for yourself.
Singer did not learn jewelry, scarf or handbag making from master classes or from her grandmother or from YouTube videos. “These skills are all self-taught,” Betty declared. “I started making jewelry just after I retired from John Deere in October of 2002. Just a short time after that, I approached the Seippel Center to consider selling some of my items,” added Betty. Soon, Singer replaced the previous gift shop manager as a dedicated volunteer and artist.
You have to have flair to know what flair is, and Betty has unique flair radar. She turns it on every time she scouts for new artists to add to the gift shop or Holiday Gift Gallery. She tours the area on a regular basis visiting art fairs, Art on the Square, the Women’s Affiliate Arts and Crafts Fair, driving art tours around the state, craft shows hosted by hospitals and churches, and any other gathering of creative people. She makes more connections than a power strip with a surge protector, promoting opportunities at the Seippel Center whenever she has time. Video footage of her days off would show many of them spent in pursuit of more artists and the unusual and unique gifts they bring to BDAAA.
When she is not volunteering for BDAAA, Betty thoroughly enjoys travel. Day trips, weekend jaunts with friends and family, bus trips throughout the United States. She has even taken a memorable trip abroad to Scotland. “I saved up dollar bills from tips as the bartender at Heine’s Pizza,” revealed Betty, a well-known face at the classic Minnesota Junction pizzeria between Beaver Dam and Juneau. The only thing Betty raves about more than BDAAA is Heine’s, and she has probably added to their reputation by being their best spokesperson.
Betty is also an avid gardener, and besides helping tend Mary Ann’s Garden at the Seippel Center with Dodge County Master Gardeners, she would win the award for the most decorated garden in the Community Garden plots on Judson Drive. Now that the garden beds are resting, you might find her at home whipping up another great scarf or visiting with her elderly mother who resides at Hillside Manor. Just so you do not think that Betty wears an angelic halo all of the time, she admits she is as regular as the next gal. She is a whirling dervish, feeling free to move beyond the mess to somehow create order out of chaos. At this, she is an expert. Before an exhibit opens, you will find cupboards and drawers open, a trail of trash, abandoned tags with notes, a jumble of car keys, as if someone just let a six-year-old loose. Amazingly, give her five minutes and the place looks like company’s coming and we are prepared for them at a moment’s notice.
When Betty Singer believes in something, she stands her ground, a statue of concrete. She is not a pushover or a wallflower. Neither is she a smooth stone. Instead, she is a lot like one of those imperfect gems or stones she works with to create her jewelry…the ones that do not blend in with all the others, the ones that stick out because of their character. She will bend over backwards to help if someone needs her and she does not demand the thanks and praise that she deserves as a dedicated BDAAA volunteer.
When Betty greets you at Heine’s Pizza, or at the Seippel Center, thank her for sharing her silent sport with the arts community. You might have to mention that you have seen this article about her because she probably will not get to it due to her own busy holiday schedule with family and friends, keeping track of gift shop inventory or pouring yet another drink at Heine’s classic bar.