Tuesday, August 7, 2012

[context] TEXTURE - Interview of an Artist

Recently, Jacqueline Klene, with Art St. Louis, interviewed me about my art juried into the [context] TEXTURE show opening Saturday, August 11, 6-8pm at Art St. Louis, as well as my thoughts on being an artist. You can read the edited responses and see the artwork of the four artists interviewed on the August 7th post of the Art St. Louis Blog.

Below is my full response to Jacqueline's questions:

1. How do you feel that your work relates to the theme and exhibit of "[context] Texture"?

My work, Sun Pans and Mica Drags, was constructed with embossed, dyed, pigmented, painted and stitched handmade papers that I made from various plant fibers. Cornwall, UK, the land of my husband’s birth, has a mining history dating back more than 3000 years.  Women, known as Bal Maidens, worked primarily above ground; but during the World Wars, they were often assigned mining duties previously reserved for men. My intent in Sun Pans and Mica Drags was to capture the essence and remnants of the 19th century china clay mines as seen still today from the air, through the earth and across the moors. 

2. What subjects and/or artistic movements influence you the most?

Having been an illustrator, art educator, and an avid gardener for many years, I have always been drawn to aerial views of land, maps, rivers, soil, and organic systems. Experimenting with handmade plant fiber paper is a culmination of that attraction to texture and natural materials. By combining my papers with ephemera collected along the way, my work layers history, meaning, and place into objects that are no longer lost or misplaced, but reconstructed and transformed.

3. Do you find that your work is easy to relate to?

While the history, meaning and place represented by this body of work is significant to me, the viewer who is drawn to the work will bring their own aesthetic preferences and layers of meaning to the work.  Their perceptions, connected to their own memories, are equally valid.

 4. What do you strive for as an artist?

For more than 25 years, I was an illustrator. Every piece of artwork was a literal representation of a person, place or event that had to be easily “read” by the art director, the editor and the intended audience. The medium, colors, subjects, and styles of illustration were selected by the client, not me. Thus, I eventually burnt out. Now, I no longer take commissions. My work is driven by natural materials connected to place, making and meaning with focus on craftsmanship.

5. What is your process?

During the summers, when I am not teaching, my husband and I travel back to Cornwall. His family nurtures us as we wander through working fishing villages and along cliff top paths; down narrow hedgerows onto pebbled beaches and tidal pools; through disused mines and pre-Christian churches; and finally across the moors filled with wild ponies and herds of sheep. Every step is filled with layers of ancient history, place, people, texture, industry, work, survival, beauty and faith.  My process is to read, record, draw, paint, listen, smell, taste, collect memories, and stash bits of ephemera to the point of exhaustion. Back in my garden/studio in Illinois, I distill, clarify and make the handmade paper used in my constructions. The textures and colors are a collection of memories, the essence of Cornwall’s natural beauty and industrial history, non-specific to an exact mine or village. As the constructions are developed, the materials inform and challenge the process of simultaneously layering and abstracting multiple vantage points within the landscapes.

6. When did you decide to become an artist?

As a child, I lived with my father’s parents. They taught the next generations how to make what was used and what was needed. Craftsmanship was important whether we were making a dress on a treadle sewing machine, planting the vegetable garden, or building a cabinet. They didn’t realize they were artists.  They just “made do.” In 1974, I decided to go to St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley to become a commercial artist after my second knee surgery for rheumatoid arthritis in high school squelched my plans to become a physical therapist. My grandma didn’t think commercial art was “real art,” but I could make a living. When I was offered a job by an advertising agency before I finished my degree, grandma thought I should have stayed in school to finish the Associate Degree. Twenty years later, after working as a successful illustrator for publishers all across the country, she still thought I should finish my degree; and that I still wasn’t a real artist.  Funny how things stick in the back of your mind. When I returned to school in 2002 to earn a teaching degree, I thought of her. And now that I have a BA in K-12 Art Education, a BFA in Art & Design, a MSEd in Secondary Education/Art, and a MA in K-12 Education with an Emphasis in Character Education, with artwork in public and private collections in the United States and England, I still hear her voice in my head and wonder if I have done enough, or would ever do enough, to be a “real artist.”

I am an artist, a teacher, a wife, a mother, a friend, and a woman of faith.  Looking back on the past 56 years of life through the knowledge and understanding of an art educator, I realize that I have always been an artist.  I have always been creative. I have always thought of multiple ways of solving problems. I have always asked, why? It just took 36 years in the field, four degrees, and the faith in oneself that comes with hard work … and age … for me to come to accept, and be proud, of who I am – A R T I S T.


  1. Thank you for posting this, Elizabeth; so interesting to follow your story and se this interview; Your Artist voice is so much stronger than that grandma voice in the back of your head; this is so useful to me, who has struggled with some of that and who has an involving creative process and a great interest in texture; wonderful that you return to Cornwall each summer..years and years ago I traveled in Cornwall and can imagine and see how you integrate the parts of your life and art.

  2. Thanks, Ginny. I agree that many of us have a little recording of some long ago adult who, for their own personal reasons, felt they needed to dampen our spirits and/or pass on their negativity. We have a choice to actively seek ways to overcome the insecurities and fear they planted, while doing all we can to support and encourage the next generation.

    The first time I arrived in Cornwall, I felt a deep connection, as if I had somehow returned home.

    Best ~ Elizabeth

  3. Hi Elizabeth,
    I loved reading this interview about you and your life as an artist.
    My husband and I hiked throughout Cornwall for my 50th birthday. It was a wonderful experience for both of us, and I would love to return again. You are so fortunate to be able to spend time there every year - and with family!
    I look forward to seeing more of your work.