A piece of Grays Harbor will soon be on its way to the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan in Central Asia.
The State Department’s Office of Art in Embassies has asked Barbara Bennett Parsons, the daughter of late silk screen artist Elton Bennett, to allow four of her father’s works to be installed at the ambassador’s residence at the request of Grays Harbor-born Allan Mustard, the ambassador to Turkmenistan since November 2014.
“I’m just thrilled,” Bennett Parsons said. “My dad would be so pleased.”
Bennett Parsons selected four works she thought would best represent the area to send to the embassy: “The Distant Shore,” “The Mountain,” “Return to the River” and “The Sea Watch.” All four depict scenes familiar to the Pacific Northwest and Grays Harbor, with tall trees, mountains and the ocean all represented.
She has offered to give the pieces to the embassy. In the past, she’s given prints to local schools, libraries and various other places in the county.
Arts in Embassies was established in 1963 and aims to advance cultural understanding around the globe by sending out almost 1,000 works of art each year, maintaining a presence in more than 200 diplomatic missions in 190 countries, more than any other U.S. foundation or arts organization.
Elton Bennett was born in Cosmopolis in 1910 and attended art school in Portland with help from the GI Bill. During his time in Grays Harbor, Bennett worked various manual labor jobs, including in pulp mills, on a dredge and as an engineer for Lamb-Grays Harbor Co., a now-defunct local machinery company.
Bennett Parsons said her father’s working-class upbringing made him wary of the very refined sentiment that sometimes comes with art galleries and their patrons. Because of this, some of the first pieces Bennett put up went into local drug or grocery stores.
“(Bennett) never ever courted recognition from the established art world and I think that because he shunned them, there’s still a sense of that,” Bennett Parsons said. “I tread on touchy ground sometimes when I speak to museum people, because it’s like, ‘Well, he didn’t think he needed us.’”
Bennett died in a commercial plane crash in 1974 while he and his wife, Flora, were on their “first really big adventure,” Bennett Parsons said. The couple had gone to Australia and New Zealand and were scheduled to stop in American Samoa when a tropical storm hit, causing the plane to go down.
Mustard said he wanted to draw similarities between Turkmenistan and the United States with the artwork he chose as part of Arts in Embassies.
“Both countries have large deserts and nomadic populations, so I wanted some artwork from the desert southwest of the United States showing the Native American culture showing herding. In the case of Turkmenistan, it’s sheep, and in the United States it’s both sheep and cattle,” he said.
But Mustard said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have an artist from Grays Harbor showcased.
“Of course, I said, ‘If possible, I’d like to find some Elton Bennetts,’ because he’s a local artist,” Mustard said. “They’ll be shipped out and we’ve already picked out where in the residence they’ll go.”
The exhibition will be installed in the fall at Mustard’s official residence in Ashgabat and will be exhibited in the residence’s public spaces for approximately three years.
Bennett said she hopes having the pieces in the embassy will inspire young artists in that area.
“It is attainable,” Bennett Parsons said. “We’re on the edge of the world here. There’s always been a sense of being removed from the rest of the world. I just think it’s important these kids see what possibilities there are in whatever field.”