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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: October 14, 2018

Trevett artist who lived through one war explores of the ravages of another in her paintings

Written by: Bob Keyes

Brenda Bettinson in her studio working on Ravensbrueck series.
Photos by Melville McLean/Courtesy of Mathias Fine Art

The times we live in are disquieting, and Brenda Bettinson’s latest paintings are a warning to anyone who feels safe from the oppression of war.

“Yes, it is a warning,” she said, a sniff of anger rising in her English voice. “It could happen here.”

Bettinson, 89, grew up in the suburbs of London during World War II and lives in Trevett, a tiny community near Boothbay. She shows her work at Mathias Fine Art in Trevett, where through Nov. 11 people can see her paintings about World War I, “Lest We Forget,” a collection of emotional, gritty and semi-abstract paintings that she made in response to her research of the devastation to populations and landscapes of the war.

“Passchendaele,” acrylic on board, 12 by 20 inches.

The topic is enduring, like war itself. She’s been exploring the subject of war in her paintings for more than a decade, and she began focusing on World War I in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the start of what was to be “the war to end all wars.” Her father served in the Royal Engineers for the entire time of World War I, from 1914 to 1918.

During World War II, she lived through the transition of a peacetime society to a wartime society. Growing up near London, she experienced the Blitz and could see the aerial bombardment from her bedroom window, a window that was blasted out one night by the impact of a nearby bomb. She carried her gas mask to school, explored bomb craters for bits of parachutes and aircraft and lived with rationing.

Brenda Bettinson, “No Mans Land ,” acrylic on board

She showed paintings from her first WWI series, “The Earth Remembers,” two years ago and is back with this new series of 21 wartime paintings. Red, the color of blood, is a recurring motif. These paintings offer glimpses of red ships in motion on the sea, of barbed wire fences draped in red and of abstracted grounds stained by the blood of young men.

The memory of war, and her fear of its return, compels her to carry on. Bettinson has finished another series of wartime paintings based on her research into Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women. A small number of the prisoners were Jewish. Ravenbrueck held Jehovah’s Witnesses, resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes and others. Prisoners faced forced labor, torture, starvation, and random execution.

Near the end of the war, it became an extermination camp, where between 30,000 and 90,000 women died.

The women of the Holocaust are too often forgotten, she said. With this series, Bettinson remembers them. Many years ago, she painted figures. Her Ravensbrueck series finds her returning to that form, with sad portraits of the tortured and abused. She has 17 images in the series and is trying to find a museum willing to show them.

They are timely – and urgent.

“It can happen again,” she said. “It’s happening now.”

“Lest We Forget,” by Brenda Bettinson

WHERE: Mathias Fine Art, 10 Mathias Drive, Trevett
WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, through Nov. 11
INFO: (207) 633-7404 or

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