In Tampa, people can find the art of Betsy Lester at Neiman Marcus in International Plaza. Her work hangs near designer coats and pointy shoes, but she’s not a snob. She is an artist who wants to be seen. She was also an international flight attendant, an art professor at Eckerd College and the University of South Florida, and the lead drummer for the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band.
“I’ve got a lot of balls in the air,” Lester said with a smile.
From September 1 to 30, Lester will exhibit his contain you series at the Catherine Hickman Theater in Gulfport. Lester’s work is part of the In black and white exhibit, a show of work from the Women’s Caucus for Art Florida, an organization for which Lester serves as vice president.
All of the work on display is in black and white (and grey), a subject matter near and dear to Lester’s heart.
“Black and white cuts to the point,” Lester said. “What you see is what you get. It’s about the physical nature of opposites.”
The black, white, and gray wood pieces by the St. Pete artists will be displayed alongside other Women Caucus artists, such as Judith Segal and Karen Carassic. Lester’s own contribution to the Gulfport exhibit will feature familiar imagery, such as shopping bags and rudimentary houses. it’s intentional
“My work has what you call house-isms,” Lester said. “Memories, fragments of memories inhabit the images”.
But before Lester was a working artist, she was a flight attendant.
Born in Pennsylvania, but a Jersey girl at heart, she began her career as a flight attendant. She traveled the world, met her first husband and lived in Saudi Arabia for a month.
She and her husband moved to Puerto Rico for a period of seven years, and when they finally moved to the Tampa Bay area, Lester knew it was time for a change.
So, in 1992, the globetrotter enrolled at Eckerd College, looking for a Licensed in letters. He later got his MFA from USF. He currently teaches art at both schools.
“My intention [was] to study everything related to creating art and finding meaning in a time of transition. As Virginia Woolf puts it, she needed a ‘room of her own’ after a 20-year sabbatical from college. Flying around the world, as a flight attendant for Delta and Overseas National Airways, I saw the world. Now was the time to look for meaning in those memories… to make art,” Lester said.
When Lester’s husband of 36 years died, she swore she would never marry again.
“Then I met Tom [Kaltenbaugh]we’ve been married for 12 years and 12 years feels like yesterday,” Lester told The Gabber.
If you’ve seen a Gulfport or St. Pete parade in the last year, chances are you’ve seen the pair. Lester leads the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band with his canes and wears a stuffed gecko hat. Kaltenbaugh is in the back, playing the trumpet.
Most days, you can find her working in her studio at The ArtLofts above Florida CraftArt. For now, she is content to stay involved in local life, teaching and creating art.
“I always say that my most memorable moment is right around the corner,” Lester said.
The black and white art show September 1-30. Catherine Hickman Theatre, 5501 27th Ave. S, Gulfport. Monday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 8am-9pm; Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
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