Carolyn Boutwell, 57, has been an artist her whole life. It was something that always came naturally to her.
“When I was growing up and heard about other kids taking art lessons, I was like, ‘What’s that? Why do people have to take art lessons?’”
Carolyn was born in North Carolina. When she was six years old, her father moved the family up to New Hampshire where she grew up.
“New England is a little bit more reserved socially, but it’s nice. Folks are folks everywhere you go,” she said.
She said growing up in the countryside of New Hampshire is where she learned to appreciate nature and its stillness.
“I learned what quietness means and what it did for me,” she said. “I think when I tap into my creative side I go to that calm, quiet place. It’s home for me.”
After graduating from high school, Carolyn went on to become an art major at the University of New Hampshire. There, she focused on traditional fine art, which she said was good and healthy for her.
Coming from a small town, she knew she wanted the experience of a big school.
“College was the first time I was really on my own, and it was all for me,” she said. “It was my oyster as they say. I could do what I want there, so I took all art courses right away.”
Lucky enough to have the formal training, she said that style resonated and spoke to her the most. She said college lit the competitive fires inside her, and with a healthy sense of competition, taught her how to work hard and grow within herself.
Carolyn Boutwell came from a transparent, creative family and said what you saw was what you got. Her father is creative scientifically, and her mother is creative with the arts. Drawing and painting when she was younger, she said that’s where she first learned how to tap into the feeling of being able to create.
Growing up, her dream was to be an illustrator. She said she loves watercolors, pen and ink, and pencil art.
“There’s just something that comes alive in my heart, in my head, and in my hands all at the same time.”
Senior year in high school, Carolyn’s art teacher gave her a hunk of clay.With it, she created her first figure. Right away there was something she loved about it.
“It just comes naturally for me. I was so surprised. I guess it was all those years of daydreaming in class and looking at people,” she said. “I would do it as a little kid and notice the way people’s hands or arms were positioned.”
Carolyn loves people and loves connecting with people. She said it’s important for her to connect with the real person when she’s creating something for someone.
Part of the job for a sculptor is about understanding anatomy.
“When I look at someone physically I see what they’re made of and that connection of those two things are what resonates with me and comes alive with me,” she said.
Fascinated with how human beings tick, capturing the nuances of human behavior and psychology is how she’s able to depict emotions and meaning in her work. She said she’s a thinker, but feelings and emotions are what inspire her to create.
“When people smile, the area underneath their eye pushes up when it’s a real and genuine, but if it’s a fake smile then that doesn’t happen. It’s subtle psychology that happens with the face,” she said.
Today, some of Carolyn’s biggest inspirations include Bruno Walpoth, an artist, and sculptor that carves out of wood. Philippe Faraut, who she studied under once she decided to follow her calling, is another big inspiration. She said his work is all about expression and it was incredible to have him as an instructor and guide. Brian Booth Craig is an academically trained inspiration and she said she’s lucky enough to a call him a friend and mentor.
For Carolyn, all of those artists bring something different to the table, and she’s been able to learn different things from each of those people.
COMING BACK DOWN SOUTH
After college, life took a turn for Carolyn.
“I fell in love, got married, and had children. I put my art on the back burner for a long time and always felt this nagging feeling of my creative voice calling,” she said. “I just ignored it because I was so involved in raising my children and having a young family and all that came with it.”
She touched on art throughout the years, mainly through computer graphics and graphic art as a freelancer.
Carolyn’s ex-husband is a musician and writer and did well for himself and the family while living in New Hampshire and New England. In the 1990s, Carolyn moved her family to Nashville where she landed a corporate job with a Christian publishing company.
“At the time, I had a two children 13 and 10,” she said. “It was hard to think about pulling them away from a place where they grew up, but my ex and I wanted a more progressive life for our children, and I wanted him to have a chance to hone his skill in music.”
She said life in the corporate world for her that meant pretty much bye-bye to anything creative.
“I did a little but of graphic stuff there but it was mainly left-brain I.T. work. It was a unique experience because it taught me a lot, but I got further and further away from being creative,” she said.
In 2005, something changed.
“I had a breakdown in a way,” she said. “I realized if I’m ever going to do art I better start thinking about it now.”
“I got up one day, and I thought, this is it. I’ve got to make a difference that way for myself.”
Carolyn hunted for a workshop and found a fantastic one with one of her biggest inspirations and mentors, Philippe Faraut. She said she took his workshop and never looked back.
“I started to shift my energy toward sculpting, but I was also working full-time,” she said. “It took a few years for me to fight that balance between work and everyday living with my creative side.”
Carolyn said then in 2010, job cuts happened. She was able to dodge the bullet many times before her time came, and her job was deleted.
“The director came and talked to me and before the words even left his mouth, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to be sculptor.’ I blocked out what he was even saying, and that’s when I knew.”
NASHVILLE TODAY and COMMUNITY
Carolyn said being an artist in Nashville in 2016 is fascinating.
“This is a growing city, and a lot is happening in this town. There are a lot of creative folks here, and Nashville is going to always draw creative people like it always has,” she said. “I love that there is a lot of that vibe around. I love that there are a lot of connections with other artists. We’re learning from each other, and I’ve been fortunate to get to know some of those people.”
Carolyn said some of her closest friends are two-dimensional artists and as artists go through similar things with struggles and encouragements.
“I am concerned about all the growth and all the changes becoming superficial, and this city losing some of its heart and soul.”
She said a lot of her friends in the art community feel the same way. In some areas, she said it looks great that beautiful well-designed architectural buildings are replacing ones that looked shabby. She said it’s wonderful that people want to move to Nashville and want to bring money, a business or a vision here.
“Hip is fun. Hip is cool. Hip is sexy and adds a lot of life and spice to everyday life, but at the same time, it can be a slippery slope, and it can become superficial quickly. It has to have some substance underneath it. We shouldn’t lose our substance because of money.”
Lately, Carolyn finds street art to be encouraging and makes people think.
“The louder the buildings get, the louder the creative community is getting,” she said. “A lot of this art was once a boring side of a building, and now it’s a beautiful piece of art. The styles are all different, and I love that.”
She said it’s easy for some to get discouraged through the talk of the day or if they hear about something negative happening on the news.
“It’s easy to go down that rabbit hole, but the real truth is that there’s more good in this world than there is bad. There are more people that are down-home, good, family people that love each other and love life with meaningful relationships. It’s not as sterile and bad as we may be led to believe if we pay attention to only the news.”
She said it’s good to have that balance of criticism and concern, but the biggest take away from those experiences and things are what can be done to about those issues.
“We’re creative people,” she said. “We have a voice. We have a chance to make a difference because what we do taps into feelings. Theatre, painting, writing, music, and sculpting taps into feelings and that’s what makes the world go round. Nashville has that, and I hope that continues.”
Carolyn said she’s grateful to have that opportunity as an artist and constantly thinks about not wanting to waste it and wanting to make a difference.
She said through collaborations, real differences can be done for the community.
“As a group, we can create a dialogue that is more powerful than what we could have ever created by ourselves. When you have the effort of a few that come together, it has a louder and better chance of being noticed and heard. It’s about being a part of something bigger than just you.”
Carolyn said being a part of a community makes her feel like what she is doing matters.
“A community is where people truly connect with other people. When you connect, and something becomes alive in you, that’s true community and something that doesn’t have to be forced,”
She said a community could happen in all kinds of places with all sorts of people, genres, and levels.
“When you connect with people, and they’re feeling that too, that’s life. That’s real living. We have to have that connection with other folks, and we have to do things that cultivate it.”
Thanks for reading Nashville!