For this issue, we spoke with local artist, Samantha Bennett. It was in a hospital room as a child where Samantha began to create art. At nine months old, Bennett survived bacterial meningitis. The physical impact of the disease is apparent as her skin is scarred; she had fingers, toes and half of her right foot amputated. She spent much of her youth enduring reconstructive surgeries. As she continued having surgeries, she also continued studying art. Although she has missing fingers, she pursue an art career by attending the Columbus Collage of Art & Design, where she majored in Fine Arts and studied painting.
By Alyse McBride
GCAC: Tell us about yourself. Growing up did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?
Samantha Bennett: I first remember drawing when I was about three years old. I was bored, in the hospital and I asked the nurses for paper so I could draw. I had bacterial meningitis when I was nine months old. Because of the meningitis, I had severe scarring to my entire body, I had several fingers amputated and half of my right foot was amputated, too. My face was also severely damaged from the meningitis, so most of the surgeries I remember were on my face. I still picture those itchy bandages on my nose and trying to distract myself by doodling.
I don’t think there was ever a time growing up when I decided I was going to be an artist; I think it was just decided for me. Physically, I struggled to keep up with other children, but luckily I always had my artistic side to show off.
GCAC: You studied at Columbus College of Art & Design. What was that experience like for you?
SB: Going to the Columbus College of Art & Design was an amazing opportunity for me. That was the first time I had to tackle my physical issues on my own. It was tough to be an artist with missing fingers at an art school. I had moments when I doubted my ability to even make it to class because of my painful feet. But I was able to overcome those issues thanks to my super supportive teachers and classmates around me. It sounds cheesy, but CCAD gave me the courage I needed to continue to be myself and to become the artist I am today. It’s funny now because a lot of people ask me if I had always known how to draw and paint. I say “half and half!” Though I started drawing when I was very little, CCAD certainly took my abilities to the next level. Lots of classes and lots of homework equals lots of practice! Practice makes perfect! Right? Haha!
GCAC: Where do you find inspiration for your work and how would you describe your artistic style?
SB: My inspiration is usually to create art for healing. Unfortunately, my husband and I lost our first baby at two days old. While I was in the hospital they placed a butterfly on my door to let incoming staff know I had lost a baby. It was another time in my life when I had to use my artistic abilities to overcome a tragedy. So I began to paint butterflies for other mothers and families who had lost a loved one. Today, I paint my butterfly portraits for people all over the country. While it’s terribly sad to paint these portraits, it’s also rewarding because I know that I’m somehow a part of someone else’s healing. I think of it as a colorful way to tell someone’s life story.
GCAC: Reading about your story – how you survived bacterial meningitis, and approached your struggles with such strength is likely an inspiration to many. Even with everything that you have endured, you never let the obstacles stop you from reaching your goals. Have you always had such a positive attitude? Where do you draw your strength from?
SB: Oh gee, I still have to pinch myself when I hear people actually call me an inspiration. It’s like wait– they’re talking to me? Haha. I had meningitis at such a young age that living with my beat up body is all I’ve known. I feel like I’m just being myself with a little more courage and a lot more art fans!
Staying positive is a must for me. I don’t let negativity even become an option. I have to love life and be grateful. Having a negative attitude would do an injustice to all of the amazing people who have cheered for me my whole life.
My strength comes from people everywhere. From my amazing family and from families I’ve never even met who believe in my art. I also find strength in the people I have met from working with the National Meningitis Association. Just a truly inspiring group on people.
GCAC: Do you have a favorite art piece that you have created?
SB: Like everyone, I’m my own worst critic! Haha. There’s probably only two paintings I’ll ever admit to liking from my portfolio. One is theColumbus Skylinepainting and one is a painting of Two Babies. When I moved back to this area after being gone for over 10 years, I painted a Columbus skyline painting. I was excited to be back in Columbus and I think maybe it shows in the painting because everyone seems to love it. Ha! It was like my “I’m back!” painting. I ended up creating and issuing reworked prints of the painting because so many people wanted to buy it. It was actually something I painted for me, but it has ended up being a part of a lot of people’s homes. So that’s super cool.
Then there’s the painting of the two babies. It’s the first portrait painting I did with the butterflies. I painted my niece and my nephew and three butterflies. Our little guy would have been the same age as the babies in the painting. It was my way of celebrating our new family members while also giving us a way to remember our little guy. I learned a lot about my own strength when I painted those works. And wow, it paved the way to a whole new world for me!
GCAC: Any upcoming projects that you would like to share? Where can people check out or buy your artwork?
SB: I am always working on a portrait for someone – people, dogs, you name it! This year I hope to continue to create portraits while also work on a solo show of city scapes. Painting portraits is natural for me, but painting cities and their neighborhoods is where I get to have fun and really let go.
I am a spokesperson for the National Meningitis Association these days. So soon I’ll be braving the teen audience by speaking with kids about the symptoms and prevention from meningococcal disease (bacterial meningitis). I’m a big proponent for vaccinating teens!
Check out my profile in the ColumbusArts.com Artist Directory—and my website iswww.PainterSam.com. You can find me on most social media sites like Facebook,http://www.Facebook.com/PainterSam11 and Instagram,www.Instagram.com/PainterSam. You can learn more about bacterial meningitis by visiting www.NMAus.org. To check out my art in person, I show artwork with Hayley Gallery in New Albany.