My annual midsummer hiatus now passed, I have returned to my studio with fresh ideas and renewed ambition. So today I offer my first Artistic Journey post, a category wherein I share my creative life and that of other artists I have met along the way, as well as stories I hope you will find inspirational on your own creative journey.
As the eldest son of two artists who met while attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, I am no stranger to art shows. My mother, Helen Liljegren, showed as a fiber artist at a variety of juried art fairs throughout my childhood – Ann Arbor and Birmingham in Michigan; LakeFront in Wisconsin; and Oakbrook in Illinois are the ones that most stick in my memory but there were many others.
When not helping to watch her booth, I was allowed to venture down the rows of bleach white tents, meeting the neighboring artists who would do their best to entertain a young boy who wasn’t very fond of sitting still for any length of time. I loved the whole atmosphere of those shows – the smell of the food (mostly fried), the steady stream of people coming in to admire my mother’s work, and the seemingly endless variety of art I found all around me.
One of the people I was most drawn to was a ceramic artist named Todd Warner, who created comical hand-built animals with buggy eyes, spindly legs and big feet.
Another favorite stop was the booth of Madeline Kaczmarczyk and Jerry Berta who made whimsical pottery and ceramic car-related sculptures respectively.
I also remember a metal artist named Dempsey Calhoun – for his artwork, yes, but also for his habit of hunting flies that made the fatal mistake of entering his booth. Like some miniature big game hunter on safari, he would shoot them with giant rubber bands from across his booth to both applause and odd looks from passersby. I’m not sure whether this helped or hurt his sales but it certainly made an impression.
I remember being very inspired by these early encounters – especially the sculptors. I made a number of clay dinosaurs back then that sadly, like the things they represented, have since been lost to time. My love of three-dimensional art took root during those years and when I sat down to write this post, I was delighted to discover all these artists are still thriving nearly thirty years later.
I share this story because I have come to recognize the importance of recharging my creative batteries by looking outside my own work. I find time spent looking at what others have done – especially (and perhaps ironically) work that is in no way connected to my own – is worth twice the number of hours spent sitting alone attempting to force inspiration out of the void. It is for this reason I devoted an entire weekend to the Ann Arbor Art Fair shortly after my last post in mid-July. A great deal had changed since I was there as a child, and a lot had remained the same.
As a general rule, I deem a show “good” if one out of ten booths earn more than a casual glance and one out of 100 stop me in my tracks and make me want to reach for my wallet. The A2 fair (which actually consists of four shows all connected into one long winding path I would guess to be about two miles in total length) is such a place and I recommend it for its size, variety and quality not to mention its scenic beauty being nestled in and around the beautiful U of M campus.
There are things I found to be lacking or at least underrepresented. There were no fiber artists to speak of – at least not of the decorative, wall-hanging variety like my mother used to make. There were a couple of ceramic artists making hand-built animals and figures (including Alan Paulson who I came to know from my days at the Michigan Renaissance Festival) but there seemed to be room for far more to help break up the monotony of jewelers, potters and painters.
On balance it remains a wonderfully rewarding experience and just what I needed – an artistic environment that recharged my batteries, opening my mind to new techniques and making me hungry for time in my own studio.