AIR Reflections: Henrietta Mantooth

Henrietta Mantooth is a wonderful inspiration for artists and writers alike and proved to be an important presence at Byrdcliffe. Kind and warm, she was an easy person to open up to. Aside from inspiration, she offered the August residents encouragement and wisdom. Her studio was a huge hit during Open Studios, as was the opening reception for her show at Imogene Holloway Gallery.

There is an honesty that is found in all of Henrietta’s works. Through journalism and acting, Henrietta learned to “play the action and feeling will come through naturally if it is there.” Like in her acting, her painting is action through which the emotion naturally emerges. Henrietta advices emerging artists to “choose discovery over perfection every time.”

Learn more about Henrietta and her career as an artist by visiting her website:

Where are you from and how did you hear about the residency program at Byrdcliffe?
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri; went to California when I was fourteen, back to Missouri University School of Journalism BA; then to New York, then to Latin America for 18 years: Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil principally and back to NYC and Woodstock. I draw with many materials and paint with acrylic mostly; have been to the Byrdcliffe Open Studios several times, also acted and did a large set painting for the Byrdcliffe Theater. Have spent summer and fall months in Woodstock for many years.

What did you work on at Byrdcliffe?
I worked on the window installation CARS for the Imogene Holloway Gallery in Saugerties, painting cars and making cut-outs.

When did you first find success as a practicing artist?
Little by little along the way and now. I first started showing my drawings and paintings in Brazil where I lived for eleven years. I was a journalist there interviewing farmers and their families in rural Brazil . I was inspired by these hard working yet gentle and generous people, living in poor houses, growing their food in small fields under harsh conditions, trying to provide better health and education for their children. I began to draw and paint them and gave up the journalistic job.

What are you inspired by?
People, dogs, simple houses, birds, cars, trees, flowers, rebels, migrants, refugees, the political and war-torn world.

While at Byrdcliffe, you took advantage of the readings to share your writing. Can you tell us more about your writing? Is your work as a writer influenced by or related to your work as a painter?
In my youth I was a journalist, About ten years ago I started writing short stories and memoirs and reading them in cafes and other venues around Woodstock. Last spring I took Fiction Writing I in NYC with the Gotham Workshops and in October I will begin Advanced Fiction. I found that being trained as a journalist was a good basis for cutting out unnecessary adjectives, adverbs etc and letting emotion come through action. I also trained as an actor with Circle Repertory where I was a member of the Company for ten years. There I learned never to play the emotion — play the action and feeling will come through naturally if it is there.

What was a defining moment of your career or in your life as an artist?
Each day is a defining moment — always new discoveries.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
Enjoy working and experimenting with all kinds of materials. Trust your hand to play with color and form. Follow your instincts and find out your own process which will be different from anyone else’s; have fun with your work and choose discovery over perfection every time. To me the meaning and the technique are discovered simultaneously.

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