Podcast: Frances B. Ashforth, artist & conservationist

August 7, 2017

Frances B. Ashforth’s artist statement ends like this:

Perhaps I am simply committing these views to paper in hopes that we will remember to be good stewards of the land.

Both land and water – these are Ashforth’s prime inspirations for nearly all her paintings, drawings and prints.

Recently, she’s added a new element to her canvas: Words.

Water + Words was born earlier this year. The hand-printed portfolio combines the thoughts of eleven individuals on the importance of water with eleven drawings of water.

Ashforth joined Freshwater Talk to give us a look into the mind of a committed conservationist, a great fly fisher and an innovative artist.

A selection of our conversation is below. Listen to all of it above.

Tell the listeners a little about yourself and how you got to this point?

Well I’m a visual artist, which means I do drawing, print-making, painting. I do all sorts of art. I’m also an avid reader, fly fisherman and conservation-oriented person, so this project sort of came together with all of those things. I’m spending a lot of time on the water. I love words. My dad was an editor, so I sort of grew up in a words-oriented environment. And I’ve just always cared about the land and the Earth around us.

You asked everyone the same question, “What does water mean to you?” It’s a profound and difficult question. How did you settle on that question and how did the answers surprise you? Did you ever get some real duds?

No duds! I’m a pretty simple person and I just didn’t want to put some crazy, long-winded question out there. I thought it would be a very wide and broad question, which I know some people wrestled with because it was so broad. But it is a simple question, and I wasn’t really surprised by any of the answers. I was however surprised by the number of people who said they couldn’t write or “I can’t do this,” or “When do you need it?” or “I’ll get back to you in four months.” That was kind of surprising to me, because when I did receive their words back, they were all really beautifully done. We’re always our best judges and critics.

You once said: “I don’t try to make things pretty but I do try to distill things down to an essence. Almost like the flash of a memory.” How did you come up with that kind of construct?

I think part of it is that we spend so much time rushing through our world. You want to grab those moments, but you can’t because you have to get from point A to point B. I think often times people say, “Oh, your work is so photographic.” But for me it’s more about the essence of the whole thing – the feeling of being in that environment. And when you can’t be in that environment, you want to look back on it. It goes back to what I know you do with your kids. You bring them out into the beautiful, natural world because you want to formulate that memory. You want to give them a sense of place or an essence of memory at a young age so that they can then take that into the future wanting to preserve what’s here. Because if we don’t have land and water, we’re not here.

Now that it [Water + Words] is done, does it meet what you had in your mind’s eye or does it exceed it?

Yes. And I would say a huge part of that is because of the contributors and what they wrote. It was very simple, honest, and heartfelt and it was to the point. And it was really important to me that it was a hand-printed work of art. I know that sounds sort of old-fashioned and esoteric in this day and age, but it goes back to that original feeling of needing to take time to do something and doing it with integrity, making a point, and hopefully conveying a message to other people that it’s really important to slow down and take the time to do something that’s meaningful.

I think this is the first time that I actually told my art world about my fishing life. I guess this folio in many ways started to bring those two together, and I don’t know why I didn’t bring them together. Every time I go out there into the field or by a river, it’s part of my work. It’s part of what I see, part of what I remember, and what I have to put down on paper.

#fly fishing