EACH SPOT, SPECK AND THREAD: Brenda Beerhorst & Hillery Sproatt


As the wife of well-known Grand Rapids painter, Rick Beerhorst, and the mother of six artist children, Brenda has long been a familiar fixture in the West Michigan arts community. Raising a household of eight is no light task, however, and when her family was younger it was understandably difficult to find time and space to cultivate a consistent studio practice. Textile art, particularly the making of latch hook rugs, was a good creative outlet for Brenda during these years. (Two of these such rugs, well-worn from daily use at home, can be seen in the bay window vignette.) She describes the repetitive process of stitching rugs as calming and prayerful. And, as the materials required little set-up and had nothing to spill, they could be quickly put down or restarted at any moment without losing much of the process.

As her children grow older, Brenda is afforded more time to explore painting. Over several years she has developed an intuitive process of creating free form shapes in overlapping colorful layers of acrylic, gouache, and ink on wooden panels. With each successive layer, shapes and color blocks are created, rearranged or even covered completely. Between layers, delicate and timeworn textures are made through reductive sanding. She works on multiple panels simultaneously, though the colors and patterns can vary significantly from one piece to the next as the works take on distinct personalities. The paintings often feel familiar to the domestic tasks involved with raising a family, such as mending, patch making, and quilting. Elapse, for example, is literally collaged with patches of fabric from an old dress. There is rarely a premeditated plan for any particular painting. In fact, Brenda will sometimes paint over her favorite areas of a piece to avoid the self-limiting block of preserving something that has become too precious. Brenda describes her painting practice as meditative, in many ways spiritually similar to her relationship with rug making.

Hillery Sproatt is a recent transplant to Grand Rapids, having lived in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Baltimore, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Though her B.F.A. concentration was in printmaking and drawing, she has often felt more comfortable with textiles. The daughter of L.A. clothing designer and fiber artist, Debra Weiss, Hillery describes an upbringing surrounded by colorful yarns, threads and fabrics. Hillery is a skilled maker of weavings, stuffed dolls and embroideries, and recently she contributed textile designs to the linen collections of retailer Unison Home.

It wasn’t until moving to Grand Rapids a little over a year ago that Hillery earnestly returned to drawing and painting. Using acrylic, gouache, enamel, ink, pencil, and even nail polish, Hillery colorfully creates both abstracts and figurative domestic landscapes on paper. She works in detail, preferring deliberate, controlled marks and, at times, nearly invisibly small brush strokes. Her domestic scenes are a mixture of imagined places with a manipulated sense of dimension, combined with charmingly distorted renderings of real-life artworks, architecture, textiles, food and home furnishings. She draws inspiration from images in books, as well as the objects she collects and uses in her intimate home and studio. Hillery continues to practice the making of textiles and drawings side by side, moving fluidly between each craft. It is not surprising that the embroideries and drawings share a familiar texture, with each tiny spot and brush stroke mimicking the delicate weight of a stitched thread.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, Curator