By Frances Figart
Rebecca Kahrs is taking a sabbatical. For more than 25 years, she has been a devoted art teacher, helping others learn to express themselves in watercolor. Now, she is taking some well-earned time to focus on family and her own painting.
That’s not to say she isn’t busy. Her parents relocated to Brevard from the Vancouver, WA area a few years ago. To be near enough to offer them some care and support in their later years, Kahrs moved here with her husband, Troy Willis, on the first of January 2016. Together they opened a new art gallery and frame shop in Brevard called Dragonfly.
“Having owned an art gallery and frame shop in Savannah for the past 20 years, we were ready for a change,” she says. “We had been talking for the past five years about wanting to move to a cooler climate and a smaller town, and Brevard fit the bill.”
Dragonfly fits nicely into Brevard’s art scene, as well, offering naturethemed works by local artists, jewelry, scarves and clothing, select pottery, arts and crafts lamps and, of course, custom framing services. Kahrs likens the artsy mountain vibe and forest climate in Brevard to that of the Pacific Northwest, where she spent her young adult years.
She was born in Augusta, GA and grew up in the Aiken, SC area, always drawing and painting even when very young. “As a child I loved going to art galleries and museums,” she says. “I remember seeing Sargent’s watercolors for the first time and they stirred a fire within me for the medium.”
When Kahrs was 16, her father, employed by Eastern Airlines, was transferred to Portland, OR. “There I was introduced to watercolor by my high school art teacher, Joan Fuller,” Kahrs says. “She was a wonderful watercolorist and artist and a great teacher and inspiration.”
In the early ’80s, Kahrs studied interior design and fine art at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In 1984, she graduated from the Art Institute of Portland with a degree in interior design, and worked in that field until the early ’90s.
“I found that I was unable to completely express myself through my design work and I began pursuing my love for painting more after hours,” she says. “It didn’t take me long to realize that painting was my passion, and then teaching just naturally followed.”
In 1991, Kahrs moved to Savannah, where she met and married Willis in 1995. As Kahrs developed her teaching career and Willis worked in his family’s marine transportation business, the couple spent time boating and enjoying the outdoors with their two dogs. Always inclined to create wildlife art, here Kahrs became proficient at painting parrots and exotic tropical foliage.
Whenever they got a chance to get away, they loved coming to the mountains, and Brevard in particular. Willis was drawn here by memories of camping in the Davidson River area. A certified framer, he says although he was born and raised in Savannah, his heart has always been in North Carolina. His mother still lives in the small port town of Morehead City, NC, so he makes regular trips to the coast to provide her with care and support.
Kahrs has fond memories of attending summer church camp in WNC, which provided her initial exposure to the flora and fauna of this region. A perpetual student of wildlife, she says, “I enjoy learning about the animal when I am painting it—how it lives, where it nests. It helps me to have a greater appreciation for that species.”
Kahrs describes painting as intensely creative work. “It’s about transferring the images inside the head to the paper and expressing your soul and feelings within the piece,” she says. “There is, in the making of art, a kind of intense euphoria inexplicable to those who have not experienced it. One is truly alone, locked into the work, deep in that private place into which no one else can enter.”
She characterizes watercolor as a difficult medium, demanding speed and skill. “I love the glazes, the transparencies, the colors coming through that you just can’t get in any other medium. It takes a great deal of practice to be fast and proficient in watercolor. I love the light touch, the transparency and the vulnerability of the medium. I enjoy just floating my images onto the beautiful paper.”
Kahrs is “attracted to the lost edges and the unspoken mystical side of paintings” and considers her creative process something akin to a spiritual practice, “a blissful form of meditation.”
She considers the late Wayne Dyer one of her greatest inspirations and spiritual mentors, and loves his quote: “Everything that’s created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness.”
Abstraction in certain areas of her paintings is something she has been moving towards. “I believe that some elements in painting should be implied but not clarified. It’s like the space between the notes of music. Without that space or quietness, there would just be one long sound of noise.”
When she opened her teaching studio in 1997 in Savannah, Kahrs—who is a signature member of the Georgia Watercolor Society and a member of the Southern Watercolor Society—began sponsoring national artists to come and teach workshops to her students. Over the span of the 20 years, she sponsored more than 50 national artists to visit and teach in the Savannah area.
“When you teach, you’re not necessarily painting what you want to paint, but basing your choices on the needs of the students and their skill levels,” she says. “Now that I have retired from teaching, it has been very exciting to go to the studio in the mornings and know that I can paint what I want to paint, be that wildlife or still life.”
Kahrs has produced three DVDs for those interested in learning how to paint. They are available through her website and at Dragonfly Gallery. For now, her focus is on recharging her batteries and enjoying the challenge of painting the flora and fauna of her new region.
“Although I love being at my gallery and shop talking with people, I tend to find art is something I do better alone,” she says. “This is the situation for most creative individuals: We must work alone. Art requires hours of concentration, not focused on anything else and with no interruptions.”
On the 4th Friday of each month, the gallery walk in Brevard from 5–8 p.m. offers a great opportunity to stop in, meet Kahrs and Willis, view Kahrs’ artwork and peruse the brightly lit gallery’s other regional offerings.
Dragonfly Gallery is located at 72 South Broad Street in Brevard. Learn more by calling 828.966.5099. Learn more about Kahrs’ work at rebeccakahrs.com.