Q: Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and moved to Montana 40 years ago. At the University of Kansas I studied urban geography (the only spatially-based social science). All my life I’d made things but being an artist scared me. After a few years in Montana I enrolled in an art class at the university. Over the next 7 years and through a divorce, I earned a second BA, this time in art. Photomontage emerged as my medium. In 2000 I decided I wanted to make “better” art so applied to and was accepted at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a low residency MFA program. Though it was a challenge to get from one obscure location to another twice a year, it was the perfect program for me. I earned my MFA in 2002 and my medium became the vernacular photograph.
Q: How would you describe your work?
When vernacular photographs became my medium at the end of grad school, I made large archival photo prints from scanned snapshots (anonymous family photographs) manipulated in Photoshop.
In 2007, fatigued by hours at the keyboard, I began hand-embroidering quotes into studio portraits. Adding famous persons’ words to vernacular images, I could ventriloquize thoughts my aging, maternal (increasingly opinionated) self wanted to express.
Later I also added illustrative drawings and collaged images to my work.
Stitching by hand is a laborious, time-consuming process that provides me a satisfying, meditative intimacy with these mechanically-captured moments of unknown people’s lives.
Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
I’ve amassed an archive of ±65,000 vernacular photos, mostly snapshots and studio portraits, but some news photos and movie promo shots. I collect quotes from famous and ordinary people. I start with either a photo I’m attracted to or a quotation (or image) that resonates with me, then find its counterpart. I scan the photo then typeset the words or make a drawing in Photoshop. I tape the printed pattern over the photo; then poke holes that I later stitch through.
Q: Do you have a job other than making art?
I have lots of jobs and all are art-related. I also work as an exhibition installer, graphic designer, photographer, instructor, curator and picture framer.
Q: What are your goals for this residency?
WHAT: Since fall 2015 the primary thing I’ve been working on is a combinatorial project, “Remember me: a collective narrative in found words and photographs.” “Remember me” integrates vernacular photographs with statements culled from family/friend-written obituaries.
To date, I’ve completed over #350 separate anecdotal pieces,
a dozen group “motto” pieces,
and an “avid” diptych.
I’m currently working on a new piece to add to my “garment series,” an adult-size bowling shirt of stitched together snapshots that will be embroidered with #300 nicknames.
WHY: Obituaries and vernacular photographs have much in common. Both synopsize universal human experiences — loving, living, making and keeping memories — and were created for personal use. While each is unique, they are generic as virtually everyone has the same life goals, aspirations, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, desires. Hand-embroidering text into photos intimately merges the two. The photos “read” the texts and vice versa, teasing pretension, tragi-comedy and profound truths about the human condition from sentimental artifacts.
This project, ultimately, intimately, illustrates our collective narrative. And in so doing, importantly reminds us, in this acrimonious age, of our commonalities.
GOAL: To continue exploring the possibilities—following the tangents—I keep discovering as I expand this project (which continues to bring me joy everyday).
Q: Who inspires you and why?
I’m continually inspired (and heartened) by the anonymous people I see in the photos I’ve collected and whose anecdotes I’ve found in obituaries.
Q: What type of music do you listen to? How does music affect your artwork?
I don’t listen to music when I work. When I made photomontages, I would distract my conscious mind by listening to TV soap operas (“General Hospital” and “One Life to Live”). These days while I poke holes or stitch, I find serial shows to stream. Having ongoing characters and story lines allows me to follow the “action” by only occasionally looking up at the screen. Also I’m still in the story when my mind wanders. I’m down to the last three episodes of “Prisoner in Cell Block H,” a 692-episode Australian soap opera from the early 1980s that takes place in a women’s prison. It’s wonderful!
Q: What was your experience like at art school?
Grad school changed my art life. The Montana city I live in just recently exceeded 100,000 inhabitants and continues to be the largest city for 500 miles in any direction. For art and culture, it’s an isolating place to be from. VCFA is a low-residency, self-directed program in which both the faculty and the students come from across the US twice a year for an intense week. My horizons expanded, both personally and professionally. I learned to think more critically and, as a result, came out making better art. The ways I was taught to think and learn continue to serve me well. “Remember me” in many ways circles back to the combinatorial collaborative project I did as my senior thesis exhibit, “The Anchor Project.”
Q: Do you collect anything?
My most extensive collection is found photographs. They sit around my studio in ±100 6 qt. plastic storage boxes; ±50 3” looseleaf notebooks; 34 4” x 6” photo albums; and various stacks, piles and boxes. Every day I write anecdotes I find in obits on 3 x 5 inch index cards. I now have some great ones from all 50 US states and most Canadian provinces.
I also collect found pencils, poultry wishbones, Dia de los Muertos artifacts, desiccant packets, run-over bottle caps, pressed souvenir pennies, McDonald’s collectable glass mugs (Batman Forever and Flintstones) and have a growing number of my own artworks in the storage closet.
Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?
My two pairs of eyeglasses (trifocals and computer glasses). But I couldn’t make art without my 27” iMac, photo scanner, laser printer, Scotch Magic tape and homemade hole poker.
Q: What advice would you give to other artists?
The best advice I ever received was midway through grad school when one of my advisors said, “When you know why you choose the images you choose, you can choose more and better.”
Q: What’s next for you?
“Remember me” will be the centerpiece in a solo exhibition of my work with found photos at the University of Michigan–Dearborn in 2018. I’m exploring book possibilities and looking for other exhibition opportunities.