The Westport Harvest Festival Painting Collection
Posted on February 27, 2023 by Jenny ONeill
For Women’s History Month, we highlight artist Betsey Douglas Macdonald, the creator of the popular series of posters commemorating the Westport Harvest Festival. The original watercolors from this series form part of the Westport Historical Society’s collection. The limited-edition posters adorn walls of many Westport homes (as well as Lees Market) and are sought-after collectors’ items by many locals.
Drawn into the event by Bob and Carol Russell, Betsey was tasked with creating a commemorative print for the annual event. At the time, Betsey was a Chemistry/Bio teacher at Westport High School. She also ran Jeff’s Animal Shelter located on Main Road, taking in senior dogs to be adopted out to older residents.
There were specific criteria for the posters which had to represent both farming and fishing and the products associated with these industries. Each design contain hidden images, text and dates. Look for pumpkins, lobsters, quahogs, maps, text and dates embedded in the designs. There are 12 posters, one for each year of the harvest festival. Each successive year of the festival is represented by the number of pumpkins.
“Cow Over the Moon”
Inspired by the well-known nursery rhyme, this is the most popular image in the series. Look closely to find the date “93” in the top left corner. Stars form the shapes of three pumpkins. A lobster appears just above the cow’s head. The river, beaches and Gooseberry stretch out below the cow.
“Cows Sitting in the Field”
Note the map of the river on the cow in the foreground. A quahog, a lobster and the shape of a heart appear on the cows in the background. Hidden in the stone wall are pumpkins, lobsters, crabs, and a flounder. The clouds form bunches of grapes and ears of corn. The date of the festival is hidden in the stone wall in the background. According to Betsey: “It rained that year and people actually blamed the poster because the cows were lying down. I didn’t do that again!”
When asked for her thoughts on the enduring popularity of these images, Betsey recalled that back in the 1990s there were still 11 dairy farms operating in Westport. She remembers the many farm stands such as Costas and the hard working students who would be tasked with chores to look after the dairy cows before coming to school.
“The images represent part of what makes Westport such a special and beautiful place. The farming and fishing heritage means a lot to people who live here.”
Following her time in Westport, Betsey and her husband moved to Scituate, Rhode Island, and, at the age of 57, she received her MFA in Studio Art. She noted that not only was she the oldest person among the students, but she was also older than most of her teachers. Betsey is now retired from her high school teaching career, but continues to teach art for several organizations such as the RI Watercolor Society and the Westport Art Group. She also continues to create her own paintings, focusing on animal portraits, landscapes, and water.
She confesses that she still misses Westport! Her portfolio is on view at https://bmacdonald.net/