Midwestern Zen: the art of Deborah Foutch


Shore 2

Deborah Foutch loves that afternoon light that makes everything glow.

There's a certain time of day when you understand how the story Rumplestiltskin came about, because the grass really does look like it's been spun into gold.

Foutch's work is a tribute to those glowing afternoons and to the landscape she grew up with. She regularly creates landscapes with horizon lines you feel you could just fall into; she dubs her style "Midwestern Zen."

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It's both simple enough and also complex enough. I use really simple lines, with occasional beautiful details. It's absolutely the landscape I grew up in. It's where I get everything I do, from what I've spent my life looking at.


4 O'Clock Trees

Foutch uses a very particular technique to create her landscapes, rivers and horizon lines. She paints onto canvas her sky, and then uses different pieces of fabric - silk, cotton, tulle, upholstery fabric - to create the land and the water. She stitches in her grass and trees with her Singer sewing machine. She says it's all about how the light hits each of the materials.

I like the raw canvas painted sky because it's a dull surface, so the light gets absorbed - it feels deeper. The sky feels distant, while the land feels close. The land is in sharper focus, more detailed, and catches sunlight more easily. The stitching is livelier; the up-and-down curve of the thread is caught by the light.


River Light

For some pieces, for instance when depicting a field of grass, Foutch will layer acrylic paint, oil pastels and water color pencils before she adds her stitch work, to give a sense of depth. The stitched grass forms the foreground, while the other layers blur into the distance.

In her rivers, Foutch uses the stitches to create disturbances in the surface of the water. And she plays with the paints and the fabric, soaking the cloth and moving it around so that the colors on the canvas undulate the way water undulates.



Before coming to landscapes, Foutch made her living creating dolls. She crafted angels and fairies and goddesses. But after fifteen years, her hands started to ache, and she knew she had to do something different. She realized that many of her dolls were dressed in what was essentially a landscape, and so she took those same ideas and put them on a canvas. A new career was born.

Foutch says she's continually inspired by the beauty of the natural world, and if her art is successful, it's conveying that delight and awe to the viewer.

I want people to say "Look at That!" I want people to feel that sense of wonder when they look at my work, and for them to then connect it with the gorgeous natural world around them.

Deborah Foutch works out of a studio in the Casket Arts Carriage House in Northeast Minneapolis. You can find her work at Grand Hand Gallery in St. Paul and in the upcoming Powderhorn Art Fair.