If shorter, colder days are eating into your time outdoors, come and experience nature from a different perspective–through the paintings of local artist Brenda Gadow–on display this month in the children’s wing.

Brenda grew up in Northeast PA and graduated from Kutztown University, then spent time in New York and Philadelphia before moving to the Lehigh Valley and going back to her roots as an artist while raising a family.

We asked Brenda to tell us about her path to becoming an artist and what inspires and challenges her…

When did you know you were an artist? Tell us a little about your journey and what drew you to art.

Only in the last two or three years have I started calling myself an “artist.” I started oil painting in second grade when a brave teacher brought in a set of paints and taught us all how to paint a landscape Bob Ross style. My parents encouraged my work and set me up with my own paints.

In high school, I was chosen to attend the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, and I feel that experience set me on the path to an eventual career in art. There were many, many side roads to take before arriving where I am, being able to answer people when they ask, ‘what do you do?’ by responding confidently, “I am an artist.”

What draws me to art is the amazement of being to create something from bits and pieces. You have raw materials in front of you, and are able to conjure an image or expression out of these materials — something that has never existed before you or will ever again, as unique as your fingerprint. And a hope for remembrance; to say, I was here, this was what I made, and who I was. I think often of the cave paintings of handprints on the wall. We have always been trying to make our mark, to be remembered somehow.

When and why did you decide to pursue art as a career? Where did you get your formal training?

My senior year of high school, I was deciding between attending school to pursue a legal degree, or an art degree. My high school teacher, Mr. George Barbolish, recommended to my parents that I should go for the arts. I attended Kutztown University and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting. I interned at the Sherry French Gallery in New York City my senior year and learned about the business side of the art world. However, the timing was not great for my start, as I graduated the summer after 9/11, and the world had all changed. Instead of art, I ended up pursuing a sales career in wireless technology, first on the salesfloor and then eventually leading a team across 10 stores.

A few years after leaving the sales career, and my first marriage ending, I remarried and relocated to the Lehigh Valley and got a brand new start. I had the opportunity to work from home with my children and go back to my roots as an artist. The Lehigh Valley is as amazing as it was when I attended college here, and a great place for an artist to grow and be influenced by the culture and community. I am so happy to raise my family here.

What’s been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

My hardest challenge ever in life was the ending of my first marriage. We have a son together, and it was a difficult time for everyone. I had been laid off from my sales job and then we separated, all within a month or two of each event. I had a lot of support from my family and got back to part time work a few months later. I am sure a lot of parents understand the challenges that come with work and parenting, no matter what the marriage situation is. A lot of prayers later, I had a job offer come from a friend’s referral that got me back into full time sales management. I wouldn’t say that I overcame the challenges of those years…more that I was led forward, step by step, one opportunity at a time.

What successes or achievements are you most proud of?

I used to keep my sales awards from my days in cellular sales, but those are definitely now distant memories compared to watching my children grow up.

I am proud (and humbled) that people have been so kind to purchase my artwork and keep it in their homes. I hope to continue working hard to create things that people can respond to, and that add value to their lives. Homes are sacred places, and I am very honored to have my work in a corner of people’s worlds.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?

I very much understand the lack of time. As a mother of two small children, there are days that there is no time for my work; my days are for the little ones. The days that I have no time to produce my own work, I use moments here and there to absorb art from other artists. I set up my Instagram account specifically to follow artists I admired, both locally and around the world. I can at least use a few spare moments to scroll my feed and be inspired by all the work people are creating. Find a way to bring art into your life, even if it’s not creating your own. Take a few moments to enjoy and be inspired by art.

Also, reach out to art communities. I don’t feel I get to participate in as many organizations as I am a member of, but I appreciate these groups so much. Locally, I am a member of ACE (Arts Community of Easton), Forks Township Arts, and Lehigh Art Alliance. I love following the members on social media (since I don’t get out much!) and seeing all the amazing art people are creating. I am also a member of the Savvy Painter Community hosted by artist and podcast host Antrese Wood, and the group has been so helpful for everything from technical support to motivation to get things done.

As far as the intimidation of a blank canvas, I often will sit in front of mine and ask it, “What do you want to be? What do you want to say?” Sometimes the best thing is to literally fling paint on it to cover the white — don’t even worry about the colors you use or the brush strokes at that point. Often, the colors I first work with are nothing like the painting turns out to be, but that big, scary blankness is gone and I can work with what I have.

Did the pandemic have an impact on your work or how you worked?

As a stay-at-home parent, I already spent a great deal of time ‘isolated,’ so to speak, but the pandemic brought my son home to school virtually for two years now. We share the studio space now. I have a corner for my easel and he has a school space set up. I was, quite frankly, terrified for much of the first year. My son has an underlying health condition and my husband is an essential worker docking ships in New York harbor. Plus, watching the pandemic unfold around the world on television, it all was crushing. My escape was the studio, and I thought my work would reflect the darkness I could feel, but what I created actually tended to be more bright and hopeful. I painted butterflies, flowers–things I had never painted before–big skies and bright sunsets. I think it was my response to the chaos I felt. I craved the opposite of what I saw, so my art became my light.

Any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

I hope to meet and follow more artists and watch their journey unfold. I am so glad there are more in-person openings happening, and that although the pandemic has forced so many of us online, there were beautiful shows and work being created nonetheless. I am celebrating five years of marriage and living in the Lehigh Valley this coming summer, and I am happy for the opportunity to have my work from these past few years on display at the library. These pieces are my journal of my life.

[You can learn more about Brenda Gadow and view more of her work at her website and Instagram.]


ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.

Visit the ART@EPL page to see all the artists who have led workshops and exhibited work at the library as part of ART@EPL.