Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 16

Margie Bowker celebrates 20 years of creating art in Santa Maria


When she was a 9-year-old student in South Africa, Margie Bowker’s teacher pulled her aside one day and told her she was going to be a famous artist someday.

“She had collected little pieces and paintings I had done,” Bowker said. “I didn’t understand, I thought everybody did the same thing. When she said that, it just inspired me.”

Bowker, a successful local artist with international roots, is celebrating 20 years of living and creating art in the U.S. Her latest collection, featuring an array of portraits, landscapes, and still life in a variety of media, is hanging on display at the Santa Maria Country Club through the end of June.

Artist Margie Bowker draws on a vivid collection of memories from her native South Africa as well as the everyday scenery she experiences from her home in Santa Maria.

“I’ve always been the artist,” she said. “At school, at home, everywhere. I went to college and majored in art. It’s always been a part of my life.”

As she sips water in a room overlooking the sprawling greens of the golf course, Bowker climbs through memories, piecing together a sketch of how she managed to wind up in Santa Maria.

Born in Queenstown, South Africa, Bowker lights up when she speaks of her homeland. She fondly recalls its lands and people, nostalgic but somber, and realistic about the political turmoil and changes the nation has undergone in recent decades. She attended college in Grahamstown and later became a schoolteacher.

“I taught history and art,” she said. “I loved teaching. Today I have a group of ladies who I’ve been teaching for two years. They come one afternoon a week, and to see how they’ve escalated in their work is just incredible.”

Bowker got married and continued to teach until her daughter, who had moved to California in the 1990s, called her up and encouraged her to move stateside. So in 1997, Bowker and her husband packed up and moved to Santa Maria, where they’ve remained ever since.

Margie Bowker’s painting Wine Gossip is one of her most successful and most often reprinted. She said she added the oversized hats to the group of women sitting at winery simply because she went through a phase where she liked adding hats to her female portraits.

She managed to ship crates of her paintings to the U.S., and within the second week of arriving, she landed a gallery show.

“I only knew about 40 people in the town then,” she said, “and I invited all of them and they bought all my paintings. So it was a big start.”

Since then she’s had a show every year, sometimes even in her own home, where fans stop by randomly to ask Bowker if she has any new work.

“They come by and ask, ‘Where is the art?” she said, laughing. “It’s truly an incredible thing, you know?”

When she flips through the pages of a book of her prints, she stops to tell a story about the ones that strike her, pointing out small details or describing who her subjects were and how they met. Bowker exudes a soothing old-school charm that is reminiscent of a finishing school mistress, politely smiling and doling out compliments throughout conversation. She is polished and graceful, never lacking in wonder for things she’s newly discovered. Offer an insight into her work or process and she’s likely to beam and congratulate you for being so clever.

Santa Maria artist Margie Bowker rarely sticks to one medium for her work, preferring instead to let each location or subject dictate what she uses. “Follow your passion and believe in yourself,” she offered as advice for aspiring artists.

The route of Bowker’s unique life can be traced in the artwork she creates. Inspired by everything from the colors of nature to the people she interacts with on a daily basis, her paintings tell a story not just of who Bowker is but how she carefully dissects the visual world around her.

Wine Gossip is one of her most successful and reproduced prints. The portrait features three women Bowker spotted at a winery, lounging and talking at a table, but she added her own touches that make the scene unique. One of the ways she did that was by adding striped stockings to her subjects, a touch that she became well known for.

“In those days I was known as ‘the artist who paints the ladies with striped stockings,’” she said. “It’s just three ladies drinking and having fun. I was on the veranda and saw them and knew I had to paint this.”

As she walks by a painting of a small cluster of buildings, she vividly describes the decades-old memory from her time in South Africa. The zebras and elephants that hang next to each other are part of the same collage of remembrance, one she zips through with carefree ease as each painting leads to the next.

Bowker’s work itself is an eclectic assembly of various techniques, materials, and styles, making it almost impossible to pinpoint a specific “Bowker style.” And yet, each one speaks distinctly to who she is and more importantly where she is. Detailed landscapes of South African towns and portraits of villagers give way to vibrant paintings of vineyard workers and sleepy Santa Ynez farms.

The switch-up in style isn’t necessarily intentional—Bowker simply doesn’t adhere to one format or another.

“I work in all mediums,” she said. “I’m always experimenting with different techniques or tools. The subject will dictate to me what it should be painted in, whether it’s oil or watercolor or pastels.”

Check out her style
A collection of Margie Bowker’s work is on display at the Santa Maria Country Club through June 30, located at 505 W. Waller Lane, Santa Maria. More info: 937-2025.

She often paints on silk, which is then adhered to canvas for display. She experiments with how different paints react to different surfaces and lets each medium tell its own story.

“I used to think that flowers should always be in watercolor, because they are so soft,” she said. “But you can be soft in other paints, too. It doesn’t always have to be one way.”

After 20 years, Bowker shows little sign of being ready to slow down. As she fills more and more canvases with her personal creations, she says art is still a new and growing format for her.

“I’m very fortunate,” she said. “Santa Maria is quite an amazing place.”

Arts and Lifestyle writer Rebecca Rose has lounged in many fine cafes wearing a big hat. Contact her at

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