Photo copyright: Douglas Kirkland

Photo copyright: Douglas Kirkland

I love a treasure hunt: the preparation, organization, and research involved in searching for hidden gems, the thrill of finding the unexpected, and the payoff of completing a time-consuming endeavor.

My art works all start with a search for vintage treasures at flea markets, yard sales, and antique shops. Collecting the materials for each themed piece often takes many years and provides me with many “thrill of the hunt” moments. My studio contains several “cabinets of wonder” to keep everything organized. It is a time-consuming endeavor to put all of my finds into the proper place and prepare the items to become art material. When I work on a “bling” piece, I surround myself with piles of jewelry with a combination of infinite possibilities. Searching for pieces with the right shape to convey the right idea is very much like completing a puzzle without a picture to guide me.  I love including “Easter eggs” within the design which are hidden images and messages placed within the object to be discovered for the pleasure of those with expert knowledge. I include references to culture, literature, patriotism, spirituality and social commentary. Each time I find something that will work perfectly, my heart skips a beat. 

I learned about making “things out of things” from my father. While growing up on a farm in a family of Iowa Quakers, money was always tight. Out of necessity, my dad became a farm “MacGyver”, fixing broken farm equipment with whatever he could find in his scrapheap. He also was a folk artist. He would make letters out of old horseshoes, turn old pieces of wood on his lathe to make small pieces of furniture, and make little sculptures with his welder. His garage workshop was where I learned to use found objects and where I developed a sense of responsibility to rescue old things and give them a new life. This desire escalated after a family trip to the Grotto of Redemptionin West Bend, Iowa. The Grotto is the largest religious shrine of its type in the U.S., and is a wonderland of semiprecious stone, sea shells, and mosaics built over many years by one priest and a single helper. I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I think my love of assemblage came from that trip, as I came home inspired to start collecting.  

The inspiration for my artwork is based on stories, themes, family adventures, and word play. I have always made pieces that I would want in my own home. Often, personal items are included in the materials so that the art becomes a scrapbook of my nostalgic memories.

I am a self-taught artist with a great deal of patience. I don’t worry about how long it will take to complete a piece, I just want my vision to be complete. 

Until 5 years ago, I was a full-time teacher of gifted children at a private school. I tried to work on my art at least a half an hour a day to decompress, more on the weekends and during school vacations. It is such a luxury now that I’m retired from my day job, to have the time to create whenever I want. I appreciate it every day. I am always grateful for a gallery or museum show where I can share my work with others, but I also love it when the pieces come back home to Mama.