The flair Q&A

Betsy Jacaruso

A creative who crafts a living out of making, teaching and nurturing art must really be a Good Egg. Oh wait, she is! A recipient of the local award that bears that very name, artist Betsy Jacaruso has made a career out of passion, talent and influence - which is all pretty great.

Tell me about your business or specialty.

My business was created as a space to teach and show my art, as well as that of other artists. The Betsy Jacaruso Studio & Gallery began as a way for me to shift from waitressing and working in retail to working in the arts full time. I teach three or four watercolor classes a week including beginner and mixed level classes, as well as offer guest teacher classes in various disciplines. Along with showing my work, the gallery exhibitions include work by area artists both emerging and established, including occasional guest-curated exhibits. We enjoy exhibiting the 30 artists participating in the Hudson Valley Art Studio Tour each year in August, with an opening reception on Labor Day weekend.

How’d you get to where you are now?

I was asked by a few friends to teach a small watercolor class for them, which I did and enjoyed! They encouraged me to teach more. After renting studio space by the session for three-hour classes, I had a waiting list so I added another class and had a waiting list. I was excited and realized I might be able to afford to rent a space of my own if I taught 3 classes a week. My first studio space was in the Chocolate Factory in Red Hook, New York. I was there from 2000 to 2013. I loved teaching and inspiring others in the process of painting landscapes and botanicals in watercolor. The large 1400 square foot space was also perfect for exhibiting my work, guest artists' shows and an annual student show. I have since moved my studio and gallery to The Courtyard in Rhinebeck. I love being a little closer to home in Rhinecliff and enjoy being right in the center of the village.

How has the Covid crisis affected your work or business? Any new ideas or approaches...or lessons learned so far?

Making a living in the arts is challenging enough so when the pandemic hit, it was pretty stressful. We were shut down but still owed full rent. It will take some time to fully catch up. I’m very thankful I received two separate grants from Rhinebeck Responds, a grassroots organization that was created to help the community. I'm so grateful to the committee and our community who worked so hard to create support for some of Rhinebeck's smaller businesses who were impacted. I also received a small EIDL government grant.

I’m fortunate to have Kate Kester as my faithful assistant at the gallery. She is a team player, very responsible, and my right-hand lady working by my side throughout the pandemic. She is also a wonderful artist and understands what being an artist is about. We had talked for years about creating a zoom painting tutorial online. The pandemic was our pivotal moment to make that happen. It was very popular when everyone was sequestered at home. We had artists from San Francisco, Puerto Rico, and other locals around the country. A few people who used to paint with me were able to join us and it was a delight to see everyone's faces again! Kate created a Padlet site online for students who wanted to post their paintings. From there I could see everyone's work and make comments or give feedback. The pandemic shutdown did offer a time out, an opportunity to stop and re-evaluate my business and the lifestyle it generated, an opportunity to slow down and try a few different approaches. Lessons learned...not everyone around you is ready for change and it's more challenging to make those changes when you know it impacts others.

What surprises you in your work, now or in the past?

I think what surprises me in my work sometimes is what comes out of me. Art is a form of communication, of self-expression that becomes self-discovery as well as a connection to others. In the past I have learned about myself through my art, expressing feelings I had avoided or buried. I have discovered that painting is very much a meditation. Being immersed in the process of painting is being in another zone, outside my daily concerns and the stresses of today's world. The challenge of “what do I want to say and how do I want to say it” with paint is hard work but also meditative and rewarding.

What drives you crazy?

Art can be very subjective. Of course, we’re all individuals and have different likes and dislikes which is what makes us unique and that’s a natural and good thing. What drives me crazy is when the viewer is so definitively against a work or style of art. I certainly have my favorites and work that I might not choose to live with, however, I love to be open-minded and appreciate many different kinds of art. I’m always amazed when an artist communicates to the viewer in a way that no one has thought of before.

Who inspires you? (it could be anybody you know or don't know)

Some of the artists who've inspired me from my days at Pratt Institute and my museum visits are Paul Gaugin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Egon Scheele, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Kathe Kollwitz, Twachtman, Wolf Kahn, Diane Arbus.

I am also inspired by and indebted to the late Pete Hamill. Pete was my brother-in-law, who began in the arts at Pratt Institute and went on to a renowned career as a journalist, writing many best-selling novels about New York and Brooklyn and the immigrants who helped make the city of New York what it is today. He was a newspaper columnist and editor for the New York Post and the Daily News. Pete was not only brilliant but always took the time to help others with their careers. Pete loved art. He encouraged me to go back to school to study art at Pratt. He gave me beautiful big art-books every Christmas, along with the drawing table I still paint on today.

Franklin Faust is a wonderful artist who inspired my love of color and passion for still-life and painting the live model. He is 93 and still makes his paints and paints every day. Some of the artists I've painted with over the years who've inspired me are Linda Novick, Keith Gunderson, Christie Scheele, Skip Lawrence. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone! Brian Hamill, my ex-husband, and photographer, and I have always had mutual respect and support for each other's art. Last but not least, my husband, David Foster inspires me daily and has always reminded me, we are both fortunate to do what we love. His medium is molecular biology and cancer research.

You’re a Trailblazer - what are some highlights in your career?

Opening my teaching Studio & Gallery in 2000 was certainly a big shift and a highlight in my career. I find it very fulfilling to facilitate artists in their creative journey. Being there for the ah-ha moments and seeing their confidence build to propel their work forward is very satisfying. I am fortunate to have taught art workshops every other year in Burgundy, Tuscany, and Sardinia and created many paintings from my trips. Creating an exhibit “A Family Affair” that included paintings by my Mom, Dad, and myself (they rarely spoke), was a daring but rewarding event.

Having my artwork published in the New York Times twice was a thrill. Receiving the Rhinebeck Chamber’s Good Egg Award in 2018 was an honor and collaborating on fundraisers for Winnakee Land Preservation, Southlands Foundation, Rhinebeck Rotary, and Wilderstein Preservation have always been highlights for me! The most recent highlight is celebrating 22 years of my Studio & Gallery!

Words of wisdom or thoughts?

Art is for everyone, whether it’s creating it or viewing it. It’s a language of many mediums that helps us see the world in different ways and connect. That is a good thing. Art is also a way to use the creative mind as meditation and feed the soul. Whether you’re a natural talent or just have the desire, anyone can learn to do it.


Betsy Jacaruso received her BFA with honors from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn, NY in 1979. Through the years, she has gained the reputation for being not only a talented painter, but also a gifted instructor who teaches drawing and painting techniques as a way of realizing individual vision. Her students find her mastery of watercolor painting invaluable in the process of learning to handle the complexities of the medium. Her current work explores atmosphere and luminosity in landscape, and has been featured in both regional and international exhibitions, as well as represented in private collections throughout the United States and Europe. Betsy is the owner of an art studio and gallery in the heart of Rhinebeck, New York. She has also gained the reputation of being incessantly active in promoting the arts in her community and is a frequent participant in local shows, auctions, and fundraisers.


"I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for." – Georgia O’Keeffe

Being an introverted young girl, I found that drawing allowed me to express my thoughts and emotions in ways that words never sufficed. As I grew older, my relationship with art grew stronger – I found that drawing and painting allowed me the freedom of self expression and in those moments of being caught up in the creative process, I felt that I was searching deeper within myself, as well as the subject matter. The natural beauty of the mountains and river that comprise the Hudson Valley—where I was raised, has always transfixed me. Some of my largest collections of watercolor paintings depict the majesty of the views from Olana State Historic Site, the tranquility of Vandenburgh Cove in Rhinecliff, and the vintage charm of the towns and estates along the Hudson. My current work explores atmosphere and luminosity. Reflected light on the river, or the contrast of the bright sliver of moon against the dark warmth of evening clouds inspires a connection. I believe that my best artwork goes beyond the composition—I want to evoke a feeling, have an effect that is beyond ‘visual’. In my luminous landscape series I create a spontaneous response, and through the aqueous process of watercolor I distill what I see to its essence.

-- Betsy Jacaruso

(published 2022)