Sticks and Stones brings together four local artists, each drawing her inspiration from nature, resulting in four distinct creative voices. For this 5-question series, we included an invitation for each artist to develop a 15-words-or-less description of another’s work. You will notice the mutual respect each has for the others, as well as the overlap of interests in color, abstraction, materials, and the act of creating.
Mary Mulenburg about Mary Jo’s work: Playful, colorful, with a childlike quality and always about the joy of the process itself.
Mary Jo about Shanda’s work: Brilliant, rich, distinctive, intense, serendipitous, often an interconnected web of creative collaboration.
Ellen Starr about Mary Mulenburg’s work: Abstract patterns and reflections of the beauty and mystery of nature.
Shanda Landes about Ellen Starr’s work: Beautiful, cerebral and dreamy, ornate with an intricately skilled appreciation and sense of old-world magic.
When did you first begin working as an artist?
Ellen: As soon as I could color with crayons, I have been creating art. Art was always my favorite thing to do and the subject I loved most in school.
Shanda: As a child, I was making art with whatever materials I found or were available to me—from cardboard, crayons, old socks and fabric, to the backs of printed papers brought home from my mom’s workplace. In contrast, outdoor creations consisted of building forts with sticks, stones, and rope in the wooded ravines near our house. The sand, gravel, stones, and mud near our house were the materials for mud pies and roads for toy trucks. In elementary school, I was encouraged by my teachers in art and writing with individualized challenges/projects. Later, in high school, I entered local poster contests and showed art projects at the state fair. Also in high school, I was commissioned, sold my first paintings, and was hired to do a variety of art/design work. I had the opportunity to teach in an elementary art classroom with my high school art teacher, too. Because I liked all kinds of art and working with people, teaching art seemed to be the most natural fit. In more recent years, collaborative work and public art have been what I have done—working with glass and tile and mosaic. Some of my personal work has been working with clay. The joy of being an art teacher is rooted in being able to dabble in many things to share with my students.
Mary Jo: In 2009, I had the pleasure of taking a community ed. class called the Creative Journey, the instructor was Shanda Landes. It was the first step of a delightful journey of discovery and wonder. Since then, my eyes have been opened to exquisite details of everyday life. This summer, I photo journaled the making of mandalas using flowers and other items of nature. It was a serene way of beginning each day. I have also been busy painting rocks, painting pointillism pictures, collaging, and exhibiting at the county and state fairs.
Mary: I have always loved to draw and paint since I was a young child, and I knew I wanted to take that direction whenever I was asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” My first memory of using a camera was when I was 13 or 14, which is when my love of nature photography began. I got into it seriously in my 20’s when I first picked up an SLR camera and realized its potential. I went on to get a degree in Fine Arts with a focus on photography, which has become my passion.
What tool can you not live without in your studio?
Ellen: Believe it or not, the tool I can’t live without in my studio, no matter what art form I’m working with, is my phone. I am always listening to audio books to keep my conscious mind busy so that my right brain can take over creating, which allows me to stay focused. I’ve used movies or audio books as long as I can remember to help still the “monkey mind,” to go into what I call “Lala land.” Once I get totally immersed in my art, I don’t hear anything or think of anything other than what I’m doing, but I need that distraction to help me get there.
Shanda: I would be lost without the lowly, underappreciated, taken-for-granted, mighty pencil and pen! They start with a point that becomes a line or a word that becomes an idea. That is magic!
Mary Jo: My favorite tool right now is a set of oil-based sharpies. I purchased them to paint rocks and discovered I loved using them on canvas. The repetitive motion of making dots was soothing, and I was delighted to see the emerging colors and images.
Mary: The tool I CANNOT live without is obviously my CAMERA! If I ever leave home without it (which isn’t very often), it never seems to fail that I see something I NEED a picture of. When all I have is my phone camera, I am bummed out for the rest of the day that I missed an opportunity! I guess I have to admit that I have a tinge of obsessive-compulsiveness with my photography.
What do you enjoy doing outside of your studio practice?
Ellen: I’m almost always working on some form of art in my free time. Even when I’m just watching a movie, I’m working a project. Otherwise, I’m reading or listening to audio books, online gaming or gardening.
Shanda: I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I like being outdoors on a lake paddling, hiking or skiing down a trail, or working in the garden. I also look forward to taking road trips, camping, and exploring new places. Listening, playing, and singing music are favorites along with going to music festivals. Journaling, reading, and drawing are part of my daily life, but creative and healthy cooking/eating and trying a variety of ethnic restaurants are fun (food) adventures, too.
Mary: Along with photography, I also love music! I grew up in a home where classical music was playing every night, including my dad playing it on the piano. (I also took lessons for 5 years.) He had our family of 5 kids singing all the time, too—around the campfire with his harmonica on all of our camping trips and whenever we were driving ANYwhere in the car (even if it was just 10 minutes). We could hardly all get settled before he’d be exclaiming, “What do you kids want to sing?” (Often the vote was “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music because we had all the musicals memorized) My sisters and I even sang ourselves to sleep every night for years. I also enjoyed being in my high school’s Swing Choir, then in community choir groups in college, and now with the Crow River Singers in Hutchinson. I appreciate all genres of music, including some loud punk groups as my son is a musician—guitar player and song writer—who plays in a couple of punk bands. I love hearing any live band whenever I get the chance!
Sticks and Stones is on view December 10, 2019 – January 17, 2020.
A public reception for the artists will be held on December 12, 6 – 7:30.