Laura & Matthew S. Bennett — The Journey to a New Downtown Gallery
Laura Bennett calls it heckling. Matthew Bennett calls it a heated conversation. The “conversation” under discussion, one that sparked their relationship on the steps of the Willard Building at Penn State, was with the Willard preacher, Gary Cattell. Cattell has been preaching at Penn State since 1982. “He would talk about how we’d all go to hell, but we could all be saved,” explains Laura. “I disagreed with the preacher’s assertions that we were all going to get spanked at the end of our lives,” Matthew interjects.
“Laura belonged to a campus Christian group, and I think she thought that she could save me,” says Matthew. “I saw Matt all the time having something to say and nobody else was saying anything,” Laura explains. “Everybody else just stood around and watched. I was wondering, where was this guy (Matthew) coming from? Why did he seem so sure of himself? I saw him sitting in the student union one day, I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey.’” “You said, ‘Do you want to come with me while I do my laundry?’ and I did,” says Matthew. “We spent that day together. I was struck enough that I actually went back to the Willard preacher to talk to him about it. I was like, ‘Hey, Gary, I met this girl.’ The only thing he said was, ‘Maybe you’ll marry her.’” They married in 1996.
“I followed her around. She was in the navy for twenty years. I was working at a stereo store selling TVs. I was lucky enough to lose my job three days before our daughter, Marissa, was born. Laura’s like, ‘… just stay home for the first couple of weeks, so you can help with the baby.’ Then, ‘… just stay home until I go back to work.’ Then it was, ‘… stay home until she can talk.’ I ended up staying home with her for sixteen years.” This gave Matthew the opportunity to draw and paint – “in between changing diapers,” says Matthew, an award-winning fine representational artist. Laura says of the arrangement, “It worked well for us. We have two wonderful children. Marissa is twenty now, and Gabriel is seventeen.”
The kindred spirits lived in Zushi, Japan, when Laura, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and certified-nurse midwife with a background in healthcare, clinical practice, and education, was stationed at the Yokosuka Naval Base. “Mostly what I got from being there was getting hooked up with a great group of international artists,” says Matthew. “We would draw for three hours together and then we’d go to the bar and argue about art.” Life changed when the magnitude-9 earthquake of March 11, 2011, struck. “We were all separate. I was at home, she was at work and the kids were in different places after school,” recalls Matthew. “We couldn’t contact each other because the phones were out,” Laura adds. “I was responsible for the department at the hospital and making sure that we had an account of all our patients. I couldn’t leave to figure out where my kids were. Ultimately, we joined up. It was terrifying.”
After the nuclear meltdowns, things became unpredictable, so Matthew brought the kids back to Jacksonville, while Laura stayed in Japan to run operations. The next five weeks were one of the few times they have ever been separated. “We moved back with renewed enthusiasm for making ourselves a good family, for Japan, and just life in general. Fifteen thousand people died in the tsunami,” says Matthew.
“It was hard for me to have any balance. I was working so much. I couldn’t participate in things. Matt made sure everything was held together,” says Laura. “The last time we were in Japan she was able to pare down some of her responsibilities,” Matthew recalls. “The last year in Japan together was the best year of my life.”
“[Matthew and I] intersect with family. Everything that we have done has been focused on keeping the family intact. He had to be flexible because I had to do what I had to do as I got more responsibility. I saw my role being to get him to be able to do his work in a satisfying way,” Laura explains. “She’s been extremely supportive of what I’ve done. We helped each other out when we needed to,” says Matthew.
Written by Jim Alabiso • Photos by Matthew S. Bennett & Jeff Enriquez