A Conversation with
Lois Keister is a renowned Montana-based artist who channels the spirit of the West through her evocative kiln glass art. In this exclusive conversation with Cassens Fine Art, Lois Keister shares her profound artistic journey, her deep-seated commitment to creating meaningful, honest, and usable art, and her aspirations to leave a legacy of cherished pieces that resonate with people's lives and stories.
Her exhibit, “A Love Letter to the West,” will be on display at Cassens Fine Art from November 3rd to November 30th, 2023 with an artist reception on November 3rd from 5-7 pm.
What inspired you to create this particular show, and were there any specific themes or concepts that motivated your work?
I think it's all about staying true to my core ideas. I've always been fascinated by the long-lost era of the Wild West. Instead of just throwing together a mishmash of random elements for a show, like you might see at an art or music festival, I wanted to create a cohesive body of work for the gallery. It's a way for me to establish a stronger connection between each piece. I'm really drawn to that turn-of-the-century Western imagery, the tales and legends that emerged from that time. Spending time at the Russell and getting to know his work as an artist has had a significant influence on my own. It's not all about those enigmatic, tough-as-nails cowboys; there's a lot of humor in it, and I absolutely love that. That's the essence of it, for sure.
Could you walk me through the creative process behind each of your featured artworks, from the initial idea to final execution? What were the key stages and key influences and inspirations behind each piece?
Oh goodness. Creativity strikes at all hours, right? So when an idea hits me, whether it's a vivid mental image or more of an abstract feeling, I make sure to capture it on paper or my phone. Sometimes, what you envision in your mind can't be replicated precisely, so it's more about conveying the emotion it evokes. I then gather a plethora of old Western images from various sources like the internet, books, and our local library, which has an extensive collection on Western history, especially the Montana region.
I take these images and sketch them onto paper, making notes about colors and the emotions I want to convey. The artistic process itself involves a two-part technique. I create a transparent upper layer and an opaque or secondary transparent layer for my pieces. I take my sketches, and recreate that sketch on the glass, employing various methods to transfer the image before fusing it.
Let me share an example of the idea-to-reality journey. I recently read "The Worst Hard Time," which delves into the Great Dust Bowl. There was a fascinating tidbit about how people believed hanging dead snakes over fences would bring rain because the grass had burned, and there were too many snakes. This concept blew my mind, and I began with a snapshot of that passage from the book. I pondered how to translate it into glass and possibly create a functional piece. It involves integrating all these moving parts and then firing them in a kiln.
Now, about that snake piece, I'm not entirely certain if it will fit into the show's overall theme, but it's one of my favorites in terms of idea to fruition. Whenever someone asks where I get my ideas, that snake story is my go-to example.
Can you share some insight into the feelings or emotions you intended to convey through your art in this show?
Absolutely, it's like writing a love letter, honestly. A heartfelt tribute to an era, a time, a place, and people who've long faded into history. You see, so much of the West, and I always capitalize that 'W,' has been romanticized by many throughout time. But there's a certain depth to it, even noted by Russell himself when he was around, that it's vanished, it's no longer there. This creates a sense of melancholy, a bittersweet tone in a way. It's somber yet spirited. What I really want to do is show people how I perceive my West.
I grew up riding bareback on a weathered mare with a sagging back. I had dreams of lassoing the moon, galloping across the prairie, and hearing the distant calls of coyotes. When folks look at my work, I want them to feel that same connection. It's a part of me, yes, but it's also meant to be functional. Art pieces are wonderful, and I believe everyone should have access to art. That feeling of the Old West, the way I see it, it's not reserved for just the elite or those who prefer the "look but don't touch" approach. It should be tangible, substantial, and accessible to all.
Is there a personal story or experience that influenced the creation of a specific artwork? I know you mentioned the piece about the snakes, but is there a different one with a personal story behind it or a unique experience? And how did this experience shape your artistic expression?
There is one that stands out. I use the same image of a running horse in many of my pieces, and I even created a stencil for it to use multiple times. The first piece I made with that image was titled "The Dreams of a Young Girl." It featured a bowl with a herd of differently colored running horses, not highly detailed, just fluid outlines. This piece felt deeply personal to me because, as I mentioned earlier, my mom grew up in Africa, surrounded by unfamiliar surroundings. However, she had a horse and shared the same dream as I did—becoming a cowgirl. It's this feeling of seeing her experience through my own eyes.
Ever since I was a child, I've had this image of galloping across the plains under a moonlit sky. You know how as a kid, your horse's name changes a million times in your imagination? It's this horse or that horse. That image, in particular, keeps reappearing in my work. Depending on the colors and glass pieces I use, it takes on a different appearance each time. What's fascinating to me is that people will come up and connect with a piece because it reminds them of their grandma's horse or the one they had as a child. It's almost always women who share these stories, and it's like a nod to our shared journey of growing up as cowgirls.
It's remarkable that they don't need to know the specifics of my idea or that it's not any particular horse—it can be anybody's horse. It's this beautiful connection that forms through a lack of intricate detail. You can place yourself there, and it becomes your horse simply because it's brown. There are countless brown horses, but it doesn't matter.
Can you elaborate on the significance of the colors you use in your pieces and how they contribute to the overall narrative of the show?
Absolutely, color cohesion is a fundamental aspect I've been striving for from the outset. It's incredibly important because, even if you're not an artist, you can sense when something lacks that harmonious color palette. It just doesn't feel right; it's like a jumble of random elements. Now, my work draws heavily from that kitschy 1930s neon Western aesthetic, but here's the kicker – I'm all about those earthy tones, the muted sages, and the subtle dusty roses. So, it became a puzzle of how to blend the two seamlessly.
The way I apply color to my pieces is quite similar to the enamel used in cloisonné jewelry, which was all the rage in the '80s. It's a high-fire enamel that actually fuses into the glass, so it's not like using traditional paint. There are several reasons for this choice, including cost and material properties.
The beauty of it is that I work on each piece individually, one at a time. You can't do more than that. So, when I planned out my color scheme, I decided that if I'm going to use bright colored glass, I'd pair it with muted enamel tones, and vice versa. For instance, if the glass has muted tones, I'd introduce vibrant colors. By oscillating between these color approaches, and most of the enamel colors I use are indeed not vivid primaries but rather somewhat subdued, I hope to create a cohesive flow throughout the show.
One interesting technique I use is what I call "petticoat glass." It's essentially repurposed vanilla glass left over from other projects. When I lay it down and fire it, it gives the appearance of a stack of old petticoats. This will serve as the background for quite a few pieces in the show, lending that unified feel to the entire collection.
Are there any underlying stories or connections that link certain pieces together within the exhibition? I know we discussed the horse theme, but are there other stories or connections that tie multiple pieces together in the show?
Absolutely, there are two stories that stand out the most. First, there's a substantial collection of cowgirl-themed pieces in the show. Most of them are functional, although some are wall-hanging three-dimensional sculptures. These pieces are all inspired by real women, either people I know personally or historical figures.
Let me share an example: the Mannix sisters from Helmville, remarkable gals. Kate, one of the sisters, posted a picture of them working cattle together, and it was a fantastic shot. I reached out to her and asked if I could use it as inspiration, and she agreed. So, in these cowgirl pieces, I don't focus on detailed faces; it's more about their shape and hair color, and each one has their unique identity. They typically reflect the look of cowgirls from the 1930s and 1940s, women who were genuine rodeo heroes, like Fox Hastings, who wasn't just a pretty face but an outstanding bronc rider, steer wrestler, and trick rider. My aim is to portray women I either know personally or have historical records of, so people can connect with their stories.
The second theme centers around Native American inspiration. This has been a significant part of both my regular work and this show. It was vital to approach this aspect with utmost respect, especially as a Caucasian of Irish and German heritage. So, I reached out to individuals from various tribes across the country to ensure I was proceeding correctly. All of these pieces are based on images taken by Edward Curtis, a non-Native photographer from the turn of the century who deeply respected Native culture and spent time in Montana. The majority of the pieces are inspired by Blackfoot, Crow, or Assiniboine tribes. One example is a medicine bundle, not a teepee.
Oh, and it's essential to mention that with all pieces drawing from Native American culture, I donate the majority of my proceeds to MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) because I felt it was a sincere way to extend a hand and show my admiration for their culture in all its facets. It's not about politics; it's about raising awareness for a cause that needs more attention. Additionally, it helps introduce people to aspects they may not have considered before.
Symbolism often plays a crucial role in artistic expression. Are there any recurring symbols or motifs in your artworks that hold a special meaning, and what inspired their inclusion?
Symbolism is a powerful element in my work. We've already touched on the cowgirls, and they're a significant theme for me. Growing up surrounded by books and stories about these strong, no-nonsense women, they were like my princesses – the kind who didn't take any nonsense, if you will. So, that theme runs deep.
As I've grown older, I've come to appreciate the importance of female camaraderie. Wildflowers are another recurring motif that I hold dear, especially one of my favorites, the paintbrush. It's an image you'll find frequently in my work, and I've made it my own. There's a sentimental aspect to it as well. On our very first date, my fiancé brought me a big bouquet of wildflowers. It's a reminder that they wilt faster than roses, so you have to savor their beauty while it lasts. They're not uniform; they're all a bit different, which I find captivating.
These two symbols – cowgirls and wildflowers – are the ones that weave their way through everything I create. They hold special meaning and resonance for me. It's similar to the concept of medicine bundles in Native culture, where stories were shared, knowledge was passed down, and people faced hardships together. In many ways, the symbolism in my work represents connections with people I hold dear. It's a tribute to a time that's gone, yet I can keep its remnants close to my heart.
What specific moments in your life or the world impact the creation of your artworks for this show?
It's the quiet moments that have the most significant impact. Our lives are always so hectic, and we're constantly on the move, rarely taking the time to truly reflect on the things we hold dear. It's during those rare moments of stillness, whether at the end of a busy day or whenever I find a minute to sit quietly, that my brain seems to say, "Hey, what about this idea? You should work on this." I aim to infuse a sense of quietness into many of my pieces. It's about capturing that tranquility amidst the chaos of life.
As for the world, there's something powerful about hearing the way things are pronounced or said, not necessarily spelled correctly but written phonetically. It provides an eye-opening view into the minds of people I already respected. For instance, there's a phonetically written book by Charlie Russell that offers a glimpse into his character. Even though I'm not a proficient painter, it was liberating to realize that I don't have to be exceptionally skilled to love this craft. My love for it shines through, and I feel like this medium allows me to express that love.
As viewers explore the pieces in your show, what kind of journey or narrative arc do you hope that they experience? Are there any specific reactions or thoughts you wish to evoke in your audience as they engage with your art?
I hope that viewers embark on a journey as they move through the show. Initially, I want them to be drawn in by the bright and kitschy Western elements that catch the eye. But as they continue through the exhibition, I want them to feel a sense of passion and authenticity that permeates the pieces.
My ultimate goal is to encourage people to sit with the artwork and reflect on their emotions. I want them to see the images of women with their arms wrapped around each other, donning cowboy hats that many of us can only dream of affording, and evoke a sense of camaraderie. I aim to transport people back to a time when they felt like wide-eyed children, embodying that carefree spirit.
Moreover, with the inclusion of pieces inspired by Native American culture, I hope to instill a sense of respect and curiosity in the viewers. I want them to ask questions, wonder why one teepee looks different from another, and, in doing so, facilitate both enjoyment and education.
Could you describe the materials and methods you employed in each piece and how you believe they enhance the intended message?
First off, glass art is a really hard medium to get people to take seriously. I have to get that out of the way, first and foremost. -It goes craft-fair faster than almost any other art form. I’m doing things a little differently than what you typically might see other glass artists doing, and I’ve accomplished that through a lot of trial and error.
The process that I use incorporates sketching and showing sketching in glass - not just a polished final project. There’s loose lines that still show through the enamel. Additionally, there are many different types of glass, but I use kiln glass. It’s a fusible glass that starts out flat. It’s just sharply cut pieces of glass, and then I lay my enamel on them.
I use a different blend for different projects and different application methods. I stumbled upon what's called “frit,” which is tiny, itty bitty pieces of glass that I can kind of color match a little bit. I add those in and fire it. It gives it this deep, like visually deep look to the pieces. Then I use a lot of hand tools to cold-work things into specific shapes, all in order to try to give it this non-abstract look, but I’m also not going for a realist look either.
It's such a time-consuming process because you have to wait until it dries completely or it lifts. Thank God artists don't get paid by the hour. Creating these pieces is also slightly dangerous.
I’ve never bled more on the job than I have as an artist. I right now I don’t have any band-aids on my fingers, but most of the time you do cut yourself. It's pressure cuts, just from holding the glass.But luckily, having done framing before, I'm much smarter about how I hold my glass. I do use gloves because your fingerprints show up when you fire it, but I guess that’s one way to sign your artwork.
We've touched on the various inspirations behind your show, including Charlie Russell's letters and several literary works. Can you share any other art forms, such as films, music, or other artworks, that played a role in shaping your creative process for this exhibition?
Music has been a significant influence. I've even curated a playlist. It features songs from the 1930s, like those by the Sons of the Pioneers. It might sound a bit kitschy or hokey, but it's a window into a unique time when cowboys would sing to their cattle to calm them down at night. Sure, they might not have been the best singers, but their authenticity shines through. The music and poetry from that era have been a profound artistic influence for me. There's something captivating about these rugged men, surviving on hard tack and black coffee, penning the most beautiful words about their loved ones.
In terms of film, I draw a lot from "Deadwood." It's a gritty, realistic portrayal of the Old West, depicting everything from saloons to bordellos with velvet sofas. It's violent and genuine, which I find inspiring. I'll occasionally revisit episodes for that dose of authenticity.
When it comes to visual art, Edward Borein stands out as one of my all-time favorite artists. His sketchwork, with its loose, expressive style, has had a significant impact on my own work. And, of course, artists like Charlie Russell and Maynard Dixon, especially his incredible cloud formations, have left their mark on my art. These three artists, more than any others, have profoundly influenced my creative process.
I can imagine that with glass art, light and shadow can potentially play a significant role in the pieces. Could you elaborate on how these elements contribute to the mood and storytelling within specific pieces?
Very much. Light and shadow are essential in glass art. It's a challenging medium to create depth and shadow akin to an old master's painting due to its inherent differences. Unlike paint, you can layer enamels, and I'm experimenting more with casting shadows, but primarily for usable pieces. However, there's ample room to incorporate light and shadow within the pieces themselves, not just on their surface.
Some pieces, when placed on a table, allow light to pass through them, casting captivating effects on whatever's beneath. For instance, I recently created a sapphire dish, and when I set it down, I found myself drawn to what lay underneath because of the way light interacted with the transparent glass.
A work in progress, the "Mannix Sisters" piece, is my most ambitious attempt at shading within a piece. I'm eagerly anticipating how it turns out. Glass art presents its own set of challenges and possibilities. It's a less precise medium in some respects, yet it forces you to approach it in a tactile way, which is both the difficulty and the charm. The pieces may not achieve the moody darks of other mediums, but they carry a different kind of emotion and feeling.
I hope viewers of the show can appreciate the amount of effort and the underlying emotions rather than seeking precision. It's about conveying a feeling, a story, rather than delivering a precise message.
Environmental factors can significantly impact an artist's work. Did the physical space or location where you created these artworks affect their themes, colors, or overall atmosphere?
I think it did, and it's strange how I'm realizing this now. When I first started this journey, it's been just a little over a year, which still amazes me. I've never stuck with anything this long in my life; I'm not known for persistence. I'd usually try something, decide I'm terrible at it, and move on. But with glass, I've been at it nearly every day for over a year. It's unbelievable.
I surprise myself sometimes. But to your point about the environment influencing my work, I hadn't really considered it until now. When I began, I was using my boss Kathy Burke's space, and it was set up so well and organized, making the work go smoothly and quickly. Then things started getting bigger; I was producing more, and I needed to find my own space to work in on a regular basis.
We have a hangar, which might sound fancy, but it's far from it. My fiancée cleared a small corner for me, but it's a challenging space. I literally have to sweep mouse poop off my work table every day because there are mice around. I started to feel overwhelmed, like, "How can I create in this terrible environment? This is just awful." But when I think about it now, it ties into that idea of the bygone Western culture.
You have to prove yourself, right? You can't just show up as a well-to-do, well-dressed, fancy cowgirl. I'm working in less-than-ideal conditions. Rather than giving up or calling Michelle and saying, "I know you have backup artists; take over," I put my head down, worked harder, and created. I hope that determination shows in this show—working through the difficulties of a subpar workspace, lacking all the tools I need, but still producing a cohesive series and not giving up.
It's that whole idea of not being instantly great at something, so you decide to quit. Not only am I not inherently good at this because it's relatively new to me, but I'm also flying by the seat of my pants most of the time. I'm the only one responsible for making this happen. So, I don't get to slack off or wallow in self-pity because I don't have a picture-perfect Instagram studio. I'm here to sweep mouse poop off my work table, get my act together, and make it happen. I think that has profoundly influenced my work because, well, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do what I want to do. You've got to love what you're doing, even when it's tough. So, I've scrapped many of my original ideas because I want to focus on what truly excites me.
Can you share some insights into your upbringing and how it might have influenced your journey as an artist?
I'm proud to say that I hail from California, a tiny town smack dab in the middle of nowhere, right in the heart of the desert. We lived somewhat off the grid and always had horses around. I recall vividly going to Country Styles, a small Western wear shop in town, and yearning for those pristine white leather cowgirl boots and fringed shirts. But from a young age, these were the folks I was surrounded by. My mom instilled the ethos of "if you're interested, go for it" in me.
My parents were divorced, but both remained deeply involved in my life, each contributing to my growth in their own way. This upbringing taught me not to fear failure. I always had a support system and knew I could venture into new territories without being told I'd fail. Now, I wouldn't call myself a great painter. I'm decent, maybe. My mom proudly displays a lot of my early work on her walls, so she probably disagrees on my skill level.
Growing up in the '90s, you essentially raised yourself in many ways, especially after school. My fondest memories are of exploring the vast granite boulders in the desert, basking in the warmth of the sun-soaked rocks. We'd lie on them like snakes and explore places we probably shouldn't have. A love for a bygone era was kindled during those times. We had countless mines in the desert, and while we searched for treasure, my brother and I often stumbled upon trash piles left by settlers from the '20s. We'd return home with melted glass, rusty can lids, and old tobacco tins. My life has been about treasuring other people's discarded items.
I recall visiting a museum built around old homestead buildings. They had left these buildings untouched due to budget constraints, and that's where I noticed something peculiar. Amidst the barrenness—no wallpaper, newspapers on the walls, dirt floors—there was a small piece of lace in one of the windows. Someone felt the need to add a touch of beauty to that harsh environment.
Growing up in such an environment made me view the hardships of life differently. It wasn't foreign to me; it was part of my upbringing. We bought bulk size bags of dried beans and rice, and we were vegetarian because meat was a luxury we couldn't always afford. These were my people.
We were wild, feral little children, raised to be self-sufficient. It's a mindset I'd want to pass on to my kids, too. If you want to explore and do things, make sure you're prepared. The same principle applies to my art—be prepared and don't get bitten by a snake.
You've got to have your act together if you want to succeed. And when it comes to modern Western art culture, I've often felt intimidated by what it's become. It often seems like this exclusive club of expensive hats and an opulent slow-paced lifestyle. Not to sound judgmental, but I want people to know that you can appreciate this culture without having to be the quintessential cowboy or cowgirl. You don't need horses or a fancy truck. It's about who you are and the values you hold, not the accessories you wear.
I grew up with this connection to the land, to the vast sky filled with stars, and the haunting sounds of coyotes in the distance. Those are the ties that matter. And it's important to embrace those who share that spirit, regardless of the trappings.
Can you take me back to the very first time you picked up a tool for creating art, whether it was a paintbrush, a camera, or anything else? What was that experience like, and how did it ignite your passion for art?
Honestly, I think probably high school art. I had a teacher who was, well, not the nicest person, but a truly fantastic teacher. She had that rare combination. It's possible to be both. In her class, we worked on a grid drawing technique, where you take a small picture, add lines and squares, and then recreate it on a larger scale. It's almost like a fail-proof method. I remember vividly the first time I tried it. It completely blew my mind. I even recall the specific picture I worked on. It was a moment when I felt like, "Wow, this looks really good."
I'm an introvert, and art became my escape. I couldn't just tell people I wanted some alone time in my room without sounding like an emo kid. However, when I had a purpose, in my case, creating art, it was a way for me to retreat from the world. I spent a lot of time during high school painting the walls of my bedroom, for instance, because why not? That was the period when I realized that I wanted to be an artist. It wasn't just about escaping people; it was about finding solace in quiet creation and crafting something beautiful.
Additionally, like any teenager, I wanted to be accepted and liked by my peers and others. Artists had this unique appeal. We were the eccentric ones making intriguing things, and everyone loves an artist. We all go through that phase in our lives. It's only as I approach my fourties that I'm starting to care less about whether everyone likes me. But there's that period in high school where you ache for acceptance, where you long for someone to like you. Now, as an adult, and especially with my work in glass art, it has taken on a whole new dimension.
Creating art that carries a special meaning, such as memorial art, is incredibly powerful. It's not just about painting something and saying, "I thought you'd like this." It's about consoling people, making them feel cherished. That, I believe, is the greatest gift that art has given me—the ability to touch people's hearts and make them feel special. Art is a remarkable way of forming connections and saying, "I understand you, and I'm here for you."
Can you describe the pivotal moment when you realized that pursuing art was the path you wanted to take? What led to this realization, and how did it shape your artistic journey?
Absolutely, I'd love to. Last year, as I mentioned earlier, I had dabbled in painting and tried a few different creative outlets in the past. Ceramics is probably the only thing I haven't attempted. Usually, I'd quit because I didn't think I was very good at it and just put it aside, never maintaining any consistency. Then, I started working for Kathy as her studio assistant last year, primarily handling her production work, which is essential for learning the ropes.
About a month into the job, Kathy casually said, "If you ever want to experiment, here's some scrap glass, feel free to play around." Instantly, I thought, "This is cool. It's intriguing." Given that I had gone to school to become a welder, I already had a fascination with heat. So, I started messing around with glass. Admittedly, my initial creations weren't stellar, but for some reason, I didn't give up. Perhaps it was because I wasn't paying for the materials, but I kept at it. I had the time and there was space in the kiln.
My fiance, who isn't an artist, saw me dedicating myself to this newfound passion, working on it diligently every day, and genuinely getting excited about it. Then, I had an opportunity to purchase a used kiln from Kathy. While I certainly didn't have the funds for it, he said, "If you're going to do it, do it," and bought the kiln for me.
That's when it hit me. He held me to such a high standard of follow-through that I realized it was time to commit. For the first time in my life, not just my family but multiple people had affirmed, "This is your medium. You've found your calling." They said this even when my skills were far from impressive. That moment, that feeling, was like a switch being flipped, and I knew it was time to blaze a trail. It was time to go all in, make a serious commitment to myself, my art, and to those who believed in me. I didn't want to be the flaky artist anymore.
Having people believe in you, sometimes even more than you believe in yourself, can be a game-changer. It's that little push you need to say, "Wait a second, I've got this. I can do this," and it changes everything.
Who has been a constant source of encouragement and support along your artistic journey, whether they're mentors, family, or friends, and how have they played a significant role in nurturing your creativity and career?
My parents, absolutely, but in quite distinct ways. I hope you don't mind if I get a little emotional here. You see, it all began with the tradition of every kid's art winding up on the fridge, right?
My mom was especially supportive from an artistic standpoint. Even when I was younger and my "art" consisted of rudimentary stick figures, she'd pick out these little details within my creations that I wouldn't even think anyone would notice. She'd latch onto these small aspects and genuinely praise them. It was like she saw something extraordinary in what I did; it wasn't just the standard, "Oh, honey, that's nice." She was genuinely proud of it.
My dad, and this is where I might start tearing up, was never the type to hold back on expressing his pride and love. Even when society says that dads don't get emotional, he was the exception. From my earliest memories, he was head over heels for everything I did. He had this license plate frame that read, "Lois's dad, that's my girl." Can you believe it? I mean, really, Dad?
He's always been this way, and especially as I grew into an adult, despite my rocky early twenties and various challenges, he has been an unwavering supporter. I eventually went to therapy, which is absolutely fantastic and fixed a lot of things for me. During this journey, my dad has softened even more. He's an artist in his own right; he used to be heavily into photography and even built a darkroom when I was a kid.
Now, he randomly sends me texts out of the blue, saying, "Honey, I'm so proud of you." It's like I want to capture that feeling in a bottle and give it to others. Regardless of whether you're an artist or not, having that unwavering support, especially from family, is vital.
I have supportive friends whom I can share my art with, and my fiance, even though he's not an artist, has developed his own way of supporting me. It's been a learning process for him, for sure. Previously, we'd have arguments over minor details like the horse's butt in a painting. You know, "That butt doesn't look right." But he's come a long way.
His support now revolves more around practicalities, like helping set up the studio, planning the workspace, and insulating the trailer we're turning into a studio. It's a completely different type of support, but no less essential. So, family, more than anyone, has been the source of that unwavering support that enables me to pursue my artistic passions.
Now it's like refrigerator art for grown-ups, isn't it? My parents have mastered the art of text support, and I bombard my folks with updates like a five-year-old showing off their latest creation. "Dad, Mom, look, look!" I feel like a kid again, waiting for them to say something nice.
What or who serves as your primary wellspring of inspiration? Is there something specific that consistently drives you to create and explore new artistic horizons?
My main wellspring of inspiration, hands down, is books. It's incredible how often you stumble upon hidden gems, books that may not be published by a big-name publisher but are pure treasures. It's the stories tucked away in those less-known tomes that ignite my creativity. It's like finding an old copy of "Trails Plowed Under" that not many people have read, and it's waiting to be discovered.
Books are the key for me. I can immerse myself in historical accounts, delve into tales of the past, and uncover a rich tapestry of stories. Take, for instance, an incident from last year when I broke down in Tonopah, Nevada, and had to spend three days at the library to keep myself occupied. That library, by the way, was the third library to be built in the state - an absolute gem. They had an entire section dedicated to the history of Nevada, which I adore. I picked up a book called "Woven on the Wind," a collection of women's stories. It resonated so deeply with me that I ended up ordering a dozen copies from thrift books and sent them to friends. These stories, some brilliantly crafted, others heartbreakingly raw, and a few that seem trivial yet profoundly meaningful, they all fuel my creative spirit.
Books serve as my wellspring because they transport me anywhere and everywhere. Unlike music from certain eras that wasn't recorded, books allow me to conjure up vivid visual representations of the past, just as they do in my mind. I can take the imagery they evoke and translate it into my artwork. It's like a seamless bridge between the words on the page and the visual stories I create.
And then there are museums. Oh, my goodness, museums! I'm absolutely enamored with them. Give me a museum any day. What really captures my heart are those off-the-beaten-path museums, the kind that may not even have a proper dossier. You know, the ones where you feel like the exhibits are whispering secrets to you. I adore them. One museum from my childhood still holds a special place in my heart. It's a little rough around the edges, far from the glitzy, polished institutions. Dust coats everything there, and I mean everything.
There's actually a piece in my current show, a pair of old chaps, once owned by Bill Alpers. Those chaps have held my fascination since I was five years old. They're covered in dirt, and nobody bothers to clean them. The museum where they're housed is more of an outdoor, open-air affair, and authenticity seeps from every corner.
So, when someone asks me about that particular pair of chaps, I direct them to Laws Museum in Bishop, California. It's a remarkable place. Museums like that and the stories buried in those dusty, forgotten corners inspire me endlessly.
Books and museums are like my artistic fuel. They open up a world of stories and visual possibilities that I can't resist exploring.
In what setting do you find your creativity flows most naturally?
Oh, Lordy, my creativity tends to surge at the most inconvenient times, like when I'm behind the wheel or worst of all, when I'm snuggled up in bed. But truth be told, I'm an early bird, and now that we don't have horses to tend to, my mornings are quite free. So, I wake up early, grab one of those mugs that I've probably spent way too much on because, well, you've gotta have a good mug, right?
The ideal place for me to create right now is Kathy's studio. It's heated, it's tranquil, and I can set the ambiance with my music or podcasts, and just let the creativity flow. Of course, there are days when it feels like a stubborn river, not willing to budge at all. But I've learned not to throw in the towel right away. I'll prep some materials, maybe cut some glass, even if I don't have a clear direction in mind. It's funny how, within a short span of time, it'll either all come together or it won't.
So, to sum it up, the best environment for my creative juices to flow is in the early morning, in the quiet, after a moment of reflection and prayer, where I ask for guidance and trust that whatever comes out is meant to be. It's a blessing to be able to create, and I know not everyone has that luxury. If the muse isn't in the mood that day, well, I can always tidy up the studio.
Looking across the spectrum of art history, is there an artist, living or deceased, whom you deeply, deeply admire and perhaps even consider a role model? What about their work resonates with you? I know you shared a little bit about who inspires you, but is there one specific artist?
Maynard Dixon. You know, it's funny, Charlie Russell, he's quite the household name, and rightfully so. His work is fantastic. But what truly resonates with me, what inspires me the most, are not his grand oil paintings, but rather his sketches and the letters he wrote to people.
I wish I could say it's someone like Georgia O'Keeffe or another strong female artist (and there are many who do inspire me), but Dixon, more than anyone else, captures something special. Growing up in the desert, you realize that the West isn't confined to one state or one particular place. Often, when I looked at art depicting the West, it felt like an outsider's interpretation—like, "You guys have no idea what it's really like."
But Maynard Dixon, he gets it. His art conveys the essence—the clouds, the tones, the colors. It might not be an exact replica, but it encapsulates the overall feel in a way that keeps inspiring me endlessly.
Dixon wasn't just a Western artist; he delved into political aspects as well, especially during the Great Depression. So there's this depth and emotion in his work that continues to resonate with me.
As for visual artists, he's at the top of my list. And when it comes to writers, Charlie Russell's writings and Edward Abbey, they're my go-to sources. Edward Abbey, despite being a curmudgeon, has this profound love for the desert. He reminds me that I shouldn't worry too much about what others think and focus on the art itself.
What aspirations do you hold for the legacy you'll leave behind? And how do you envision your impact on the art world and the stories people will tell about your contributions?
I kind of look at it the same way I look at my personal belongings. When I die, I don't want there to be so much stuff that people are like, "Oh, my God, what are we supposed to do with all of this stuff?" I would so much rather have it be like, "I recognize this one specific piece,” as like my Leatherman, right? Whoever ends up with that is going to know, "That is her to a T." Or my paint brushes, or my books, you know, like, I want there to not be such a glutton of stuff that people can't see me in my work.
So, I think I'm trying to really go down that path of, yes, you do have to play to the market somewhat if you want to pay your bills and you want to feed yourself. But it is super important to me to not just make fluff. Not everything has to have some deep, amazing meaning. There's a lot of my stuff that's like, "Hell, that was really fun. I like that piece. I think I'll make another one."
But I think that the legacy that I would like to leave and the path that I would like to go with my art is just very honest, enjoyable art that people see and they can feel how much I cared about it and how much I do care about it. You know, making usable pieces. Again, the same as making gifts for people through art is, "Make me a part of your life. I want to know that I'm sitting around the table with you when you're serving pasta out of this big bowl with a horse on it.” You know, that's the kind of stuff I want to leave behind. I don't want, "Oh, her auction record is phenomenal." But, I can't buy that. I would love to have a Maynard Dixon piece. I can't afford that.
I would love to be able to know that I am a part of people's lives, whether I'm there or not, or they may not even remember my name. I don't sign my work right now. I'm still working on how to do that. But that piece, people come in and they're like, "Oh man, I like that. Oh, that horse looks like Aunt Sue's" or, you know, however it comes up. And so that's the legacy, I think, and the path that I want to go down is just good, meaningful, usable pieces that get conversations started, that take people back to memories or stories that they've heard.