The Bonnet Babes are more than an art collective — it’s an “alternative lifestyle,” the artists say.
Whimsical, with skills in multiple forms of art and a tinge of humor, the Bonnet Babes are a Maxwelton Valley-based artistic duo who sell their homestead -inspired art out of an art stand at Maxwelton Road and Four Sisters Lane, and at Bayview Farmers Market. The duo is composed of Allegra Rose Brown and Julie Kuhfahl, and they walk their talk in terms of the group name and style of art.
The Bonnet Babes live in a log cabin nestled in the woods that lacks running water. Clothes are hanging from clotheslines, water is sourced from a well and the cabin is complete with an old wood stove. The Bonnet Babes live up to their name.
“I would describe my living situation as semi-off-grid,” Brown said. “We don’t have running water but we have some high internet speed, so we’re somewhere in the middle.”
The Bonnet Babes have lined up their first art show at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 in the basement of Bayview Hall. “An Evening with the Bonnet Babes” sums up the duo’s work and quirky approach to things. The show will feature a range of art forms from oil paintings to drawings to crafts inspired by an agrarian lifestyle, but a dash of humor will be thrown in with a watermelon eating contest at 8 p.m. Initially, it may not make sense until you realize part of the Bonnet Babes’ get-up is a live performance aspect.
“The show is a synopsis of our summer together,” Brown said. “We’ll display anecdotal work from our experiences, and we’re even trying to get a monitor in there for some video, since we make videos to go along with the experience of being a Bonnet Babe. Humor will definitely be involved.”
But the Bonnet Babes are more than just Brown and Kuhfahl. Sticking to their stance that it’s a lifestyle, Brown is in touch with others across the country who live similar quasi-off-grid creative lives as she attempts to build a community through the internet. She envisions something along the lines of Etsy.com, where people are able to buy and sell goods they make, albeit with a certain homestead niche. Brown equated her brainchild to a think tank, where artists are able to share ideas. A website is currently in the works, and will be launched at the art show in Bayview Hall.
“It’s all about showcasing unique individuals,” Kuhfahl said. “We’re not trying to prescribe what it means to others, we want it to be something where others who work with different mediums can also be a Bonnet Babe.”
Kuhfahl, originally from the San Antonio area, met Whidbey native Brown at art school before becoming roommates while in school. Kuhfahl’s parents owned 10 acres of property on the outskirts of the city, and the two elected to establish an art kart there and homestead, planting the seed for the Bonnet Babes.
Although trained in fine art, the two blur the lines between fine art and folk art. Kuhfahl said she believes fine art is “kind of elitist” after the two dabbled in it for years, and they decided to go their own route with their work. She says she and Brown have always made their own things, such as knitting art, and that contributed to the shift of style towards more agricultural topics. Their work is also heavily experiential and realist, and the agrarian touch to their work is reflected in the places they’ve previously lived: the farms of South Texas and Maxwelton Valley.
“Stylistically we’re not really folk artists, but lifestyle-wise we’re folk artists,” Brown said. “The semi-off-grid lifestyle is the subject of a lot of my work.”
Marian Myszkowski, Director of Program and Fund Development at Goosefoot and fan of Brown’s work, said Brown’s art very much incorporates the culture, personality and geography of where she lives. Myszkowski said one can consider Brown’s work “outsider art” that falls outside of cultural and social norms. Myszkowski points out Brown’s work is in line with her alternative personality, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“Allegra’s work reminds me of contemporary folk art,” Myszkowski said. “It has a rough, visceral, yet also very whimsical quality to it; painted on wood, shopping bags and other flat surfaces besides canvas, using found objects such as bottle caps or chicken bones for frames.”
While the Bonnet Babes’ multi-genre work may be hard to classify with one word, one thing keeps the two together: their never-ending, back-and-forth sense of humor. It’s clear the two are close friends, as seen by their constant leg pulling and often self-deprecating jokes. What began as a summer of living somewhat off the grid in the woods of South Whidbey grew into an art collective meets social media project with plans for recruiting future Bonnet Babes that fit the alternative and whimsical mold.
“A lot of this is to indulge our perverse sense of humor,” Kuhfahl said. “But we realize Bonnet Babes is also a way to showcase unique individuals.”