Tell us about your formative years, and how they’ve influenced your art?
I am from Fairbanks, Alaska originally and that influenced me, as the Alaskan identity is a strong one even if the time there was not so long. My dad grew up there. My grandparent homesteaded. My parents homesteaded and lived in a one room log cabin that they built themselves from trees on their land in their first few years of marriage. I was born there and have my first memories there, some intense ones. I went back up there as a young adult for a gap year in college too.
The light, quiet cold winters and the sense of time and space in Alaska influenced me. Even after we moved to Wisconsin when I was little I had lots of access to alone time in nature and solitude with it. The quiet contemplation that that kind of time and experience provides was extremely formative. My mom was/is a painter and became an art educator. My dad was an architect…kind of a fragile guy. So I was exposed to art and design early on. My grandmother and my mom loved poetry and we read, recited and committed poetry to memory through out my upbringing. We went to museums a lot and did family car trips that always involved traveling to famous architectural sites along the way. I was also raised Christian Scientist, which in itself sets a gal apart from her peers in a big way. It is an interesting religion that is a blend of many different traditions, Eastern and Western, founded by an American woman over 100 years ago. All of those were formative in significant ways.
Who are some of your favorite teachers or mentors and why?
In addition to my mom who had us looking at and making art as soon as we could hold a brush or a drawing tool in our hand, I had a teacher in undergrad named Adolph Rosenblatt who really encouraged me, saw something in me that deserved nurturing and also modeled joyful making and a work ethic/way of life that was both productive that involved art and creativity integrated into life. In graduate school I had another teacher who influenced me stylistically and supported me…Walter Hamady. He is a printmaker and does assemblage boxes/constructions. He was almost fatherly to me in some ways, encouraging, tough, giving good advice about life as much as he talked about art. His work is beautiful, breathtakingly so. Having him encourage my art making really meant a lot to me.
What are your favorite mediums of artistic expression and why?
I love looking at all kinds of art but in my own making I am drawn to processes and materials that are textural and layered. That is why I am drawn to intaglio printing, collage, assemblage in my own art making. There is something about the textural and layered works that elicit a visceral reaction. They touch something down deep.
Any influences outside of the art world that impact you as an artist?
I majored in Art History first before starting studio work. I constantly looked at art (both contemporary and historical). So those influences are all there. Sometimes I feel like my brain has taken it all in and mulled it around and used it like ingredients in a recipe of my own design, one that is not totally separate from the history of recipes but still new. Obviously the surrealist box/poetic object tradition is strong in my work. Often people name Joseph Cornell, but he is just one of many who did that well. The fact that Cornell and I were both raised Christian Scientist, an unusual upbringing that definitely permeates all aspects of your life and sensibility, is something that I only learned recently.
But other non-art influences: my dad was an architect, and I always loved architectural renderings and plans. The mark made with pencil and straight edge or other tools (templates and compass). That sensibility is visible in my work and my brother pointed out that a lot of my work seems to be a memorial to my dad, which is not untrue, though it is much more than that as well.
Poetry and literature have been big influences on my work and in my life over the years. I like the way that imagery can function like poetry…bringing together different/disparate things to make a new meaning or imply a feeling in the space in between.
Music sometimes, mathematics (geometry’s visual forms as well as the proofs and theorems) though I am not good at math at all, I am filled with a sense of wonder at its perfection, its simultaneous abstraction and specificity. I am fascinated by those who are good at it, for whom that sort of logic comes naturally. I remember reading about the Fibonacci numbers and structure and being so excited at the perfection in nature, the patterns that repeated themselves in plants, animals, cell structures, shell forms, and space.
Travel has influenced me, from traveling across the US multiple times by car and in Alaska, to traveling with backpack and art supplies in South and Central America, Mexico, traveling in Italy and Southern Spain. Architecture, light, history, geography, music, food, cultural, language and sensibilities, traditions have all influenced me. Natural beauty and human kind’s beauty and diversity, but also the commonalities between all of us. It makes me wonder how war could ever happen. When I travel, the people I meet become my friends. Perhaps if everyone traveled in a low budget way (not like the typical American tourist staying at American corporate owned resorts) staying instead in the small, locally owned/family owned places, having real conversations with people who lived in those places, as equals. If more people did that we would have a very different world. If everyone really tried to learn other languages, they would feel much more appreciative of those who are here in this country speaking English with a heavy accent or with limited vocabulary. So traveling and learning other languages has influenced my worldview, has made me reflect upon our own language differently. It makes me realize that many people in the US are culturally illiterate, historically illiterate and much more fearful than people in most other countries that I have visited.
Basically, I think that you are probably realizing that I am an impressionable being who takes it all in and processes it all in some ways through art making.
You live and base your art life in the Midwest. Can you speak to a regionality that may or may not show up in your work?
In my early work, which was drawing and painting, there was a strong regionalist sensibility that people commented on. But I also think that here in Milwaukee and in the Midwest in general, with an industrial history, there is a tradition of industrial sensibility, of rustbelt, rummage sales, curbage and saving stuff for reuse and that has influenced me. The daughter of depression era children, we appreciated the patina of things that had been used, the history of the object and material. I gravitate toward that and see that in some ways as my raw material for making, though it is not raw at all.
Tell us about your role(s) as teacher/ mentor to other artists?
I like people and I like sharing good things with them. I also love learning, history, making. I love seeing or discovering the connections between things. And when I discover that kind of exciting new epiphany or connection, I want to tell everyone about it, share it with them. So, in teaching you get the privilege of sharing lots of cool things that you are excited about having learned and in doing so, you help others be excited about it, too. But another perk is that your students also have discoveries that they share with you. So you keep learning and it is a two-way street. Because I run the First Year Program in Art and Design I get to have students from their first semester in college, watch them/help them develop. I get to help mentor them through those four years and beyond.
I have always mentored emerging artists, whether formally through the MARN Mentor program or informally through staying in touch with students after they graduate, helping them figure out what path they might take with their degree and their interests/skills. It is satisfying to help them figure that out and to see them thriving in ways that they never thought they would, doing things that they never realized were options or career paths.
I am also working with the ArtsECO program at UWM, a program to support Art Education in Milwaukee schools. We have goals to develop, support, retain and enrich the lives of art teachers in K12 schools, starting with their time in undergraduate studies. I believe in the importance of strong art education. So getting to help shape this program, co-write the grant to fund it has given me some hope in this otherwise very strange and tumultuous time. Getting to help mentor and support new art teachers in their early professional experience feels great.
Any future plans for your art? Dreams and/or aspirations?
I have been toying with incorporating sound and possibly some video elements into my more tactile and physical work. I am still figuring out what that will mean. Stay tuned.
In my free time I have also been drawing up architectural plans for a tiny house with separate studio (remember my dad was an architect). We are only about 7 years away from retirement, which for me will be very active (travel, studio work, socially engaged practice). My wife Kim, who is also an artist and professor of Art Education, and I are thinking about a truck camper for extended travel and a tiny house/studio (with solar panels and energy efficient/smaller carbon footprint living) as a home base. It is fun to imagine that kind of thing and then work to make it a reality. We will see, with things getting so tumultuous politically here, it feels good to think about downsizing and being more ecologically smart and mobile.