How did you first become interested in art?
I grew up in a small town in western South Dakota near the Nebraska border, between the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations. There weren’t many stores or modern things to do, but I could always find things to make, or paint. My dad was a school teacher, but off duty he made shelves and boxes out of recycled materials, I learned from him. My mom sewed clothes, and I learned to sew from her. There were a lot of crafts in our community, like star quilts, bead work, and home-made do-it-yourself weird things.
I don’t recall a moment when I first became interested in art, because playing music, making beautiful weird things, and reading books were just part of how we entertained ourselves. I loved horses, and since I couldn’t have one, I took to drawing them. I drew hundreds, maybe thousands of horses! And I liked drawing cartoons and science fiction stories.
I had my first beading lesson from a friend of my mother’s when I was 9, but I didn’t really start beading until I moved away as a young adult. When I was 14, I discovered this impressionist SD artist named Harvey Dunn, and I was so inspired by his work that I started to paint. For my first painting, I hammered together a frame, stretched an old sheet over it, and raided my dad’s closet of house paint, blending whatever I could find to get all the colors I wanted. My parents hung it on their wall forever! I was lucky that my humble beginnings were in a culture rich with DIY kinds of people.
Who or what inspires you? Why?
My favorite is probably folk art, it’s colorful, resourceful, and made from materials that are close at hand: quilts, brightly painted wooden sculptures, bead work from around the world, origami, fabric prints, colorful clothing decorated with bead work or embroidery made for ceremonial purpose, and paintings that portray history and the story of living. Folk art is sometimes under-appreciated in the fine arts world, and then there is Harvey Dunn and Van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo!
What led you to become an art teacher?
I’m convinced that art and music can transform the world for the better. My parents were teachers, and while I initially just wanted to produce art, after I had children, they kind of took over my priorities. I had to learn to let go of some of my ideas, and encourage them to explore theirs. When they started school, I took the opportunity to volunteer in their schools, doing art and music and other enrichment programs, and I really enjoyed that. Unlike most subjects, art features creativity, and I always like to remind myself that the students are the boss. That is one thing that I really like about being an artist!
What about your background or life experiences have created special or unique connections with students?
Making art makes me happy, probably would make anybody happy. When I was a student studying art in college, I thought I was learning art history and media and techniques, but I was also learning how these things are taught. I love to see a student with a new idea, and help them realize it in a form they can be proud of. It’s empowering to them and to me as well. After graduating college, some of us art students formed an art group and called ourselves the Mothers’ and Others’. We meet monthly and showed together for 20 years, it was a great way for artists to work together. Art is the universal language, connecting us all.
If you could place 3 tiny houses anywhere in the world to live in, where would you put them?
I think I have these tiny houses in the place where I live now. We lost our house in the Waldo Canyon Fire, and when we rebuilt, we made sure it met our needs. We have a music room, a sewing room, a wood shop, an art studio, and a kiln room. And when we’re not making things, there’s no better place than the back yard, sitting in the swing with a cup of coffee, looking at the trees and the birds and hoping they’re safe from the cats. This environment is as big as the whole world! Why would I go anywhere else?
What was the last book you read and loved?
I’m reading a documentary book about where I grew up, “They Treated Us Just Like Indians,”, The Worlds of Bennett County, South Dakota, by Paula L. Wagoner
If you could time travel, when and where would you go?
I’m very glad, being female, that I’m born in this country, during this era. It’s not perfect, but it’s workable. I could time-travel in fantasy to see some of the great painters at work, or to see in the future how some of the current problems turn out. But I like the here and now.
What’s your “dance like nobody’s watching” song?
There’s a Maori song, “The Locust” made public by a New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, that I find compellingly earthy and danceable. Or (can’t pick just one) the Allegro Molto from Faure’s piano quartet Op 45. Or a Swedish folksong “Out in our Meadow”. (Can’t stop) Corcovado – “Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars”, (still can’t quit) Thriller, and Ghostbusters!
What’s on your bucket list?
I’ve always wanted to go see the Great Sequoias in California, and give them a big hug. I’d better hurry! Then there’s a long list of art and music projects I have yet to start/finish, and good books to read. So little time.
If you had to write a life ‘motto’ what would it be?
Live as if this is the only life there is. Embrace it, and spread a lot of love. Be kind to animals and the planet. And remember, there are few occupations in life where you can be the boss, except when you are making art. So make art!