Home-based projects are part of an artful journey

  • Debra Cootware works on a nature scene in her Greenfield home studio. FOR THE RECORDER/GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • Debra and Greg Cootware of Greenfield have turned hobbies into home businesses: she, various forms of art, and he, beekeeping. FOR THE RECORDER/GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • Greg Cootware tends 19 hives behind his Greenfield home. The electric fence is meant to deter bears, who made a mess of things the day before the fence went up. FOR THE RECORDER/GILLIS MACDOUGALL

  • “Brothers,” 11-inch-by-14-inch acrylic portrait of Ethan meeting his new baby brother, Westley. Artwork by Debra Cootware. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • “Pretty Kitty,” 8-inch-by-10-inch acrylic commissioned portrait by Debra Cootware. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • “Dancing Dahlias,” 36 by 24 inches, acrylic painting by Debra Cootware. Painted from a reference photo shot at Canon Beach, Oregon. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

For the Recorder
Published: 11/8/2021 7:31:10 PM

Debra Cootware’s Greenfield home is humble and neat — attributes that Cootware herself emanates. Yet the recent transplant from the West Coast possesses seemingly unending creative skills that belie her calm demeanor.

Cootware pursued many hobbies while raising four children, who are now between the ages of 30 and 39.

“We mostly home-schooled,” she said. “I learned along with the kids, always exploring.”

Cootware, 58, and her husband, Greg, 59, move through life with purposeful artistry, and each has established home businesses reflecting their interests and skills.

They grew up within a half-mile of each other in Bakersfield, Calif., but didn’t become friends until they attended high school.

“We figured out later that we were in the same swim class as little kids,” Debra Cootware said, “but didn’t really know each other at the time. I suspect he was the annoying boy doing cannonballs.”

In high school, Greg was drawn to architecture, and Debra studied mechanical drawing, a precursor to architecture.

“I didn’t enjoy the structural aspects,” she said, “but I’ve always loved design.”

Debra Cootware later took up painting, and turned a hobby into a business.

“We lived in Las Vegas for many years and raised our kids there. I took up decorative home painting, doing murals on interior walls and ceilings. I also did faux painting,” she said. Faux painting describes decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone.

Recalling a Venetian scene she painted on a client’s ceiling, she said, “It took 115 hours to complete, and in the process, I pinched a nerve in my neck that resulted in facial numbness.” She learned to use a neck cushion, “the kind you use while riding in a car,” to prevent that type of injury.

Debra Cootware also paints portraits, which now make up the bulk of her business.

“I did 70 pet portraits during COVID lockdown, working in acrylic paint,” she said. “I also do charcoal portraits, working from photos.”

She got tired of doing faces, though, so she started doing portraits of feet. While this may sound unusual, the images she creates are beautiful and surprisingly moving.

Debra Cootware especially loves to create images of flowers and other aspects of the natural world. “The natural world is a big part of my spiritual home.”

She’s largely self-taught.

“I read about technique, and there’s a lot of good stuff on YouTube,” she explained. “I think being an artist is really 2% instruction, and 98% practice. I just do it every day.”

Her proud husband chimes in: “There’s a lot of talent in there, too.”

Twist, Dab & Throw

Painting and drawing are just two of Debra Cootware’s many talents, a fact that’s reflected in the name of her business: “Twist, Dab & Throw.” She makes jewelry based in wire (hence the “twist”) and works in ceramics, as well (“throw” refers to working with clay on a potter’s wheel).

“I took one ceramics class, and then put a small kiln in the garage. A friend gave me a good deal on a wheel.”

Debra Cootware now has a bigger wheel and kiln.

“I’m a maker,” she said. “Whatever I do, I’m creating something. If I don’t have paintbrushes in my hand, I’m making jewelry. Or gardening. And gardening can lead to painting something I’ve just harvested.”

Creative expression is a way of life she passed on to her kids.

“While homeschooling, we did a lot of baking. Now our son, Andrew, is an executive chef, having studied at Le Cordon Bleu at their Pasadena and Las Vegas schools.”

The Cootwares’ eldest child, Stephanie, has a fine arts degree and currently works as a tattoo artist. Their youngest, Anne, lives in Hawaii and has passions for farming and music.

“All of our kids are musical,” said Greg Cootware. “They get it from Debra.”

Recently, Debra Cootware decided to learn about songwriting, and is working her way through an online instructional book she found through the Berklee College of Music. “I’m learning about writing lyrics with an ear toward meter, poetry and rhyme. Next comes the music part. It’s exciting.”

Clearly a lifelong learner, Debra and her two younger sisters benefited from creative practices they witnessed in their mom, a teacher. Their dad worked in air quality control management. “We’re very proud of my youngest sister. President Biden recently nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.”

Debra Cootware’s sister, Jennifer Thurston, is a chief U.S. magistrate judge whose master’s thesis was “Black Robes, White Judges: The Lack of Diversity on the Magistrate Judge Bench,” published in the journal “Law & Contemporary Problems.”

A love of systems

While his wife is a gentle dervish of innovation and creativity, Greg Cootware isn’t exactly sitting on his hands.

After graduating from high school in 1980, he enrolled at Bakersfield College to study architecture. After marrying Debra Calderwood in 1981, Greg sought to balance studies, family and work. Finding employment with a fire sprinkler contractor, he trained for six months and has been in the business ever since, designing fire sprinkler systems for buildings small, large and even huge.

“Right now, I’m working on a museum, and I’ve done universities and other massive systems,” he added.

The Cootwares have moved 19 times during their 40-year marriage, but remained in the Las Vegas area for 17 of those years.

“The three older kids all worked in my business, and now our son Nick does it professionally, too,” Greg said.

But hard work can take a toll. About 10 years ago, said Debra, “Greg was working constantly. He started having heart issues. We figured it was time for him to choose a hobby. He researched various hobbies and chose saltwater aquariums.”

Greg Cootware explained: “I wanted to do some sort of animal husbandry, and settled on tending live corals and fish. I loved the systems aspects of it. For example, some corals can’t be combined with others, because they’re likely to kill each other. Corals are polyps, tiny animals that filter feed. They build structures around themselves and live in colonies. I found that really appealing.”

For five years, Greg tended a 6-foot-long, 125-gallon saltwater tank. His wife said, “It was almost like a little farm. Greg sold coral fragments — known as frags — to other collectors.”

Greg enjoyed studying the chemistry and maintenance of coral environments, but ultimately gave it up when they moved to the state of Washington. “It was just too cold there for coral tanks.”

Shifting from corals to bees

Five years ago, a swarm of bees moved through the property near the Cootwares’ home in Vancouver, Wash., and landed in an apple tree. The Cootwares’ next-door neighbor, a master beekeeper, asked Greg if he’d like to participate in dealing with the situation. He jumped at the chance, igniting a new passion.

The next-door neighbor taught beekeeping classes and facilitated a club.

“I learned a lot from her,” said Greg, who now tends 19 hives. “I find it peaceful, but it’s also a tremendous amount of work.”

In addition to his fire sprinkler design business, he now specializes in honey and bee sales, honey bee removal and free swarm relocation.

When first introduced to beekeeping, Greg Cootware learned that new hives form when bees decide they’re too congested. He also discovered that bees know when it’s time to make new queens, which appealed to his love of systems.

“The old queen takes half the bees and half the honey. The swarm finds a landing place, putting the queen in the middle, and then scout bees go out and look for cavities to make a new home.” During the process, bees store honey and nectar in what’s called a honey crop, located in the esophagus. “That way, they’ll have food for the new place.”

Moving east

Two years ago, the Cootwares relocated to Greenfield from Washington after Greg completed a job pastoring a 100-member church.

“We got here shortly before the COVID lockdown,” Debra said.

Both Cootwares are ordained ministers in the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, commonly referred to as Assemblies of God, a group of nearly 150 self-governing national groupings of churches that form the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.

Debra Cootware said, “For me, denomination is not the point. I’m on a journey.” She grew up in the Baptist Church, and later attended Presbyterian services and a nondenominational church.

“When I say I’m on a journey, I mean I want to be closer to God. Art is a major part of that journey. Nature is where I experience God most closely, and I feel inspired to paint what I see.” She added, “We can zoom in on a flower in a meadow just as we can zoom in on a person in a crowd. For me, art is a way to communicate joy, peace, love.”

For Greg Cootware, “It’s about the grand design.”

“I’m a designer and builder, which is why I’m fascinated by corals and bees,” he said. “I believe God has a plan and a purpose. That’s my model, and it’s a concept I want to share with others.”

As the couple prepares to celebrate their 40th anniversary on Nov. 19, they quietly go about their respective passions, supporting each other’s endeavors, and enjoying a shared life of creativity, ingenuity and faith.

To contact Greg Cootware and Cootware Apiaries: gcootware@gmail.com. To contact Debra Cootward and Twist, Dab & Throw: twistdabthrow.com.

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and a big fan of honey, art and all things creative. To contact her to share ideas for stories: eveline@amandlachorus.org.


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