In dialogue with artist MB Hopkins

Artist MB Hopkins in her basement studio in Dayton; photo: Bill Franz

By Bill Franz

I have seen the work of MB Hopkins for years, but I only met her last February.

Hopkins uses her art to support causes that are important to her, and in February she was at a Courthouse Square immigration event. Hopkins had created a beautiful artwork and was giving prints to people in exchange for their contribution to the local Unitarian Fellowship for World Peace. This organization provides no-fee mental health services in several languages to refugees and immigrants.

Hopkins is a longtime Dayton resident who moved to New York a few years ago. While in New York she maintained her Dayton ties. She kept donating to the yearly Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC) auction and returned every year to help with Dayton’s Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Now Hopkins is back in Dayton. She bought a house; filled it with art, books, music, and all kinds of interesting things she’s collected; and put together a basement studio. When I arrived at her home, we sat in her living room.

Together we watched a DVD from a DVAC Artist’s Palate party in 2005, at the home of Peter Chase and Ann Wightman. On that DVD, Hopkins gave a talk about her work. The talk was sandwiched between two musical performances of songs she had made art about. The first was called “Sarajevo Song” by Sandy Bashaw; the second was called “Twisted Ballerina” by Jayne Sachs. Both of those artworks were on display at that event.

Hopkins then showed me some material from her exhibition at the University of Dayton in 2008.  She had done a number of artworks related to Mary, and the university asked her to exhibit those works plus some art related to social justice themes in the Marian Library Gallery.

Ever since that exhibition, Hopkins has collected various items related to Mary. She showed me a Mary pepper mill and a Mary bread stamper. If you push the stamper onto a piece of bread, you can make toast with Mary’s image.

My favorite item in Hopkins’ collection is a Zippo lighter: it has two images that alternately appear as you move the lighter. One image shows Mary and says, “Our Lady of the Highway Pray for Us.” The other image says, “St. Christopher Protect Us.”

Hopkins was also a designer and illustrator for 27 years at the Dayton Daily News, where she received dozens of local and national awards for illustration and design. When we walked downstairs on the way to her studio, Hopkins showed me some items from her newspaper days.

Then I asked Hopkins about her name.

“My name is actually Merry Beth Hopkins,” she says. “But when I was at the paper I found that Merry Beth Hopkins / Dayton Daily News didn’t fit on one column. So I shortened it to MB Hopkins. After MB was used on my byline name, it stuck.”

I told Hopkins that two years ago I photographed 10 of Dayton’s art collectors, each one posed with one of their favorite pieces. Alexis Larsen, external affairs director at the Dayton Art Institute, was photographed with one of Hopkins’ works.

Impressing me greatly with her organization skills, Hopkins went directly to a notebook and turned to sketches she had made as she developed that piece.

I asked Hopkins about a painting of chickens, which seemed unlike most of her work.

“What you’re looking at is only a step towards my finished painting,” she explains. “The final work will be more abstract. Many abstract painters also do realistic sketches as part of their process. I guess it keeps your observation skills honed. Many times, I will start a painting in a realistic way, and gradually it becomes more abstract as I go along—for me, it’s a matter of leaving reality behind at a certain point and letting the painting tell me what it needs to do next. For lack of a better word, it’s as if the painting and I have a dialogue.”

In one of my photos, you can just see Hopkins’ striped socks. She told me that she considers striped socks to be lucky, and that she was following the lead of Tim Burton.

When I returned home, I Googled “Tim Burton and striped socks.” I found an interview where Tim Burton said that he was weirder when he was young, and that when he wore striped socks he felt calmer and more grounded. Hopkins seems grounded to me, so maybe there’s something to this striped socks thing.

I photographed another one of her paintings, which featured Belted Galloway cows. I’ve never seen that breed, but Hopkins had some photos taken near Dayton to prove that they do look like that. I’ll have to stop by again and see if the painting with the cows has changed into something more abstract.

For more information about MB Hopkins and her work, please visit MBHopkins.com/MB_Hopkins/Home.html.

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Bill Franz retired from a business career and became a volunteer photographer doing projects for many local nonprofits.  His photos of people at work have been shown in art exhibitions across Ohio and neighboring states.  Find out more at billfranz17.com/about. 

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