Monday, October 26, 2015

Interview with Ernie Legg

Ernie is taking over the Instagram this week! He will be in Alfred this weekend for MELTDOWN!!!! You don't want to miss this!

Born and raised in Fairport, a suburb just outside of the city of Rochester. Ernie Legg always gravitated to working with his hands. At a young age his grand father imparted the importance of determining what one wanted to study in college.
After walking across the stage with the rest of his high school peers he decided upon studying at Pratt-Munson-Williams-Proctor in Utica, NY. The intent of continuing to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn being the long term decision. After finishing his two years at Pratt Munson-Williams-Proctor his sight shifted, and he ended up continuing his education at Alfred University. They offered an interdisciplinary program that felt less constrictive than the Pratt program. Though, despite this freedom, he ended up working primarily in the foundry.
After graduating from Alfred University he bounced around a good deal working in Aurora, NY staining pottery, doing 3-D design, the machining of waxes, and hand wax work at a jewelry shop in Ithaca, NY, doing hand work at a jewelers bench in Henrietta, NY, and eventually working at a fine art foundry in the Hudson River Valley called Polich Tallix for two and a half years. Polich Tallix offered a great opportunity to both further develop the skills he had studied at Alfred, and to work with artists of varying levels in the art world; local artists to more publically recognized artists such as Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, and Matthew Barney.
Despite all that the Hudson River Valley had offered him, he felt drawn back to Rochester, NY. After returning to Rochester he helped set up and worked at a haunted house and worked for a couple metal artists in the area. Having finally settled into a position at Albert Paley's Studio he is searching for his own spot to set up a studio and continue trying to make some more of his ideas a reality.

It's strange writing an artist statement when, based off of the path your life has led you, you feel less and less like an artist. Though I've been lucky enough to find myself in creative, art related fields of work my primary position has been that of an assistant and craftsman. The drain of pouring myself into the work of other people, all of my moving around, and a lack of proper facilities has slowed my process a good deal, but my intent still remains unwavering.
I have a stubborn love for metal working, one that leaves me less interested in pursuing mediums that are more easily accessible in terms of finding studio space and buying tools and materials. The idea of manipulating a material that seems unmovable is still so powerful to me. The qualities metal takes on when it is liquid, the way a piece of steel writhes and dances from the heat of a torch before you yourself bend it are proof that metals are alive; even before you give them their final form and life. I want to build things that will outlive me, and hopefully move people in some way. Maybe even inspire enough curiosity in other people that they too will get to see metal dance under the torch or in the crucible.

Tell us about some of your experiences working for other artists in the last few years.

My first experiences working for other artists was different than most as I didn't work directly for them; I was an employee at Polich Tallix. Polich Tallix is a Fine Art Foundry that's been around for quite a while and has been working with a number of different artists ranging from local, Hudson River Valley artists, to more well known names such as Jeff Koons, Tom Otterness, Jim Hodges, etc. During my employment there my hands touched the work of a lot of different artists. The interesting thing about working there was the separation from the artist I experienced. For the most part the artists would speak with the supervisors of each department as opposed to the craftspeople. In some cases there was a dialogue between craftsperson and artist, but for the most part there was not. Many of the artists were also more involved with the making of the initial patterns and weren't very hands on in terms of the actual metal working; be it lack of experience with the medium or whatever. One artist, Emil Alzamora, was very involved in the fabrication and finishing of his castings. So he sticks out strongly in my mind as the exception. Though he was at one point an employee at Polich Tallix, so he had the hand skills to do exactly what he wanted. Working directly for an artist in their studio is a bit different. I must say, working for Albert Paley is pretty neat because, despite being in his early 70's, he is SO involved in making his work. But there again, he has the skill set, he started as a jeweler, and then changed his focus to black smithing. As someone hoping to pursue their own art career the positions I've found myself in are a double edged sword in some respects. On the one hand, I see some of my peers from Alfred and from Pratt MWP going full force pursuing their own art, be it grad school or opening up business or whatever, and as proud of them as I am I envy them to a certain extent. I wish that I could put that much time and energy into my own work, it can be draining expending so much creative and physical energy into someone else's art. That piled on top of moving around so much and needing the appropriate space and tools to make my own ideas a reality has slowed my own creative processes a good deal. On the other hand, I've gotten to learn so much and further hone both new skills and the skills I came into these positions already having. So in short, I'm incredibly grateful to have held these positions as they've broadened my skill set a great deal, and having learned all that I have it will only make my abilities within my own studio, once it's finally set up, all the better.

Above: Ernie assisting Albert Paley with a current work in progress.

Working for Albert Paley do you need to find other means to make ends meet?

I do, unfortunately, need to find other means to make ends meet. It was the same deal when I was at Polich Tallix. The most frustrating part about is that I know that people working the same sort of jobs and using the same tools and skills, just in industrial settings as opposed to art, are seeing a much higher profit from their labors.

It's still amazing that you've had the opportunity to work with so many other artists though! What advice would you give current students at Alfred as to getting into this line of work once graduating? Or would you recommend a different path?

I am very grateful to have gotten to work with all of the different people that I've worked with. Despite this, the over arching goal is to get to a point where I'm not working every single day for other people, rather I am working a lot to propel my own artwork, business, and career. But I realize this all takes time. If I could give advice to current undergrads I would say befriend grad students. They can offer incredible insights. Go to the career development center; Kevin knows a lot of people. If there's an artist you want to try to work for put together a resume and send it to them. I think no matter what, if you want to work in the field of art you can do it. You just have to be diligent about searching. You can't give up, even if you're working at some other kind of job to get by keep looking! No one is just going to give an opportunity to you; you have to go out and find it. You might not get it at first either! I interviewed twice at Alberts studio. The first time they hired someone else, but they told me to keep in touch because things change. Sure enough I got frustrated at the job I had started when I wasn't hired at Alberts so I got ahold of them again. They had me come in for a second interview and I've been there ever since. I reccommend whatever path feels right. You have to think not only about what you want to do, but also WHERE you want to do it. And you can't be afraid of failing or asking for help if you need it; to become great at something you have to suck at it first.

Above: The crew that did the majority of the finishing and fab on Jeff Koons's Play Doh piece in his retrospective at Polich Tallix.

What would be your top 3 artists to work with/for if you had the opportunity?

Three artists I'd like to work with are: Ron Mueck, Jeremy Fish, And The Flaming Lips. Ron Mueck because his work is so hauntingly realistic that I would love to learn how he does what he does, where his interest in the figure came from, and who all of these people are to him. Jeremy Fish because I think his work is really fun, and I've seen lately that he's been collaborating with metal casters/metal workers. And finally, The Flaming Lips because I would love to help make some of their surreal stage performances a reality!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Interview with Rosemarie Oakman of Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron Project

Rosemarie is taking over the Instagram this week! We have a great week to look forward to as she will be in Pittsburgh at the South Eastern College Art Conference for part of the week. You really don't want to miss this!

We are looking for more Alumni and current students to take over the Instagram for November! Message us on Facebook, Instagram direct message or tweet at us if you're interested! We'd love to see what you're up to!

Rosemarie Oakman was born and raised in New York’s historic Hudson Valley. In spring, 2014 she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a minor in Gerontology (the study of ageing) from Alfred University. Rosemarie's concentration is metal casting with a focus on cupola cast iron. Her deep love for the elderly merged with her passion for metal casting to form the genesis of the “Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron Project.” She is founder and director of this multifaceted, cross generational community arts project. In Spring, 2014 Alfred University awarded her the "Richard V. Bergren Jr. Student Innovation Award" for this ground-breaking program. Since graduating Rosemarie was awarded a fellowship at Salem Art Works and was selected to be one of the 2015 Hot Metal Artists at Franconia Sculpture Park.

Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron is a cross generational community arts project. Our focus is to use art to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and act compassionately to those touched by it. We facilitate painting and sculpture workshops with the elderly, those paintings are interpreted by glass and metal artists who create art in response or homage. We also host workshops and events that elevate community, art and awareness.

Can you walk us through the process of starting a large project like Alzheimer's Glass and Iron Project after graduating for school?

I founded a club called the Golden Years when I was a freshman at Alfred University, it was a service club that hosted art and culture workshops with elderly community clubs. It was not until my junior year that I started the Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron project as my capstone for the Judson Leadership Center’s ‘Gary Howorwitz Leadership Development program’. Through the Golden Years Club students would facilitate the creation of watercolor paintings by community members living with Dementia. Those watercolor paintings would then be interpreted by art students into the cast iron and glass sculpture.

In 2013, seven of the Golden Years club members were certified in the Alzheimer’s Association’s watercolor painting program called “Memories in the Making”. The next year over 30 Alfred University students were certified in the program, as part of the Drawn to Diversity class. The class took their newly acquired knowledge and put it into action during a watercolor workshop at local Hornell, nursing home. Drawn to Diversity was a program I took as freshman which heavily encouraged my passion for community arts. It was wonderful as a senior in college to work with the inspiring students of Drawn to Diversity, on a community arts project that was so close to my heart.

The Foundry Guild was another campus organization heavily involved in developing the project, both creating the sculptures and helping with Alzheimer’s Iron pours at the National Casting Center Foundry as well as the Community Art Center in Hornell. Through the Alfred Sculpture Glass club we hosted multiple Alzheimer’s Glassblowing demos that were open to the entire community. During the two years the program ran at Alfred University over twenty sculptures were created based off the elderly’s paintings. All of the sculptures have been donated back to the nursing homes or the elderly’s family members.

My senior year I knew I wanted to continue the project after graduating. I fabricated a metal furnace so that we could continue to host Alzheimer’s Iron pours. Over the past two years I have worked with Salem Art Works, (Salem ,NY) Franconia Sculpture Park(Franconia, MN) and HeFeStus Iron Festival (Beacon, NY) to continue creating sculptures and facilitating workshops for the Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron project.

When you're not working with SAW, Franconia and HeFeStus where are you living and how are you supporting yourself?

I recently moved to Beacon, NY and have started working as part of the social services team in the Dementia unit of a local assisted living facility. With my background and interest in individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease it an ideal job for me. In addition I work part time for Salem Art Works, writing grants to support the Sculpture Park and their artist programs. Over the past few years I have spent a great amount of time both living and working at Salem Art Works, it as a dynamic organization offering so many wonderful opportunities for both emerging and established artists. I highly encouraged anyone interested in the arts to check them out, take a workshop or apply to be an artist there. The experience is once in a lifetime.

Sounds pretty perfect! So what's next for Alzheimer's Glass and Iron Project? Do you have a dream goal for the project?

The next event I will be participating in is on Thursday October 22nd, I will be speaking on a panel about Cast Iron Art at the Southeastern College Art Conference and representing the Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron project.

On November 1st I will be installing a show at a library in Albany NY in collaboration with the Hyde Collection and Alzheimer’s Association. Between 2-4pm on Sunday, November 8th at the Clifton Park Library, I will be presenting a slide show on the Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron project. This event is free and open to the public. The show will be on exhibition in the library from November 1st-15th.

Next summer we will host another Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron residency at Salem Art Works. I am currently working on securing funding for the 2016 residency. If current Alfred University students are interested in participating please contact me,

As far as my dream for the Alzheimer’s Glass and Iron project, I would like to continue the project for as long as Alzheimer’s disease goes without a cure. I feel the work we have done so far has been very important to the elderly artists and their loved ones. It is my hope to continue to raise awareness about the disease and bring comfort to individuals through the creation of art.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Interview with Michelle Kwiecien

Michelle Kwiecien will be taking over the Instagram this week!

According to roommate and fellow Alfred alumni Ripley Nichols, Michelle Kwiecien is "living in Philadelphia with four friends and no regrets." Since graduating from Alfred in May, Michelle has been an Intern at Salem Art Works and a Hot Metal Intern Franconia Sculpture Park. Most recently she has been awarded the Keyholder Residency at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center where she is focusing on combining her interest in printmaking and sculpture through a series of cast paper objects. 

Through cast iron, paper and printmaking, Michelle creates collections of objects and images that serve as an archive for memory and the transformation of collected  histories. Her work is represented by material and process as they relate to the body through time, weight and fragility. 

Can you elaborate on your role at Salem Art Works and Franconia Sculpture Park?

As an intern at SAW I worked with a group of seven other interns on a daily basis, completing tasks around the different facilities and sculpture park. It was great to work with their staff and other artists to prepare for events, workshops and get the place running for the season. I was there from the end of May for six weeks so we got to see what they go through at the beginning of every summer to accommodate all of their programming. The first week I was there we set up for Sculpture Park Party which was the inaugural celebration open to the community with live bands, an art auction and different demonstrations. Since SAW is so multi-disciplinary, I got to be a part of things like installing sculptures and landscaping around the grounds to participating in iron pours and reorganizing the welding bay. We worked five days a week and had two days off to make our own work. For the end of our session interns, staff and artists installed work for an event called Music and Pizza. Unfortunately, I had to leave right after installing my work and missed the whole event because I had to get out to Franconia! 
My time at Franconia was a little bit different than SAW because I was specifically a Hot Metal Intern, which is a part of a unique iron casting residency that they host every summer. Interns for the residency showed up a couple of weeks before the other artists, but there were a whole group of park interns and artists already at the park. Our job as Hot Metal Interns was to prepare for an event called the Community Collaboration Pour, where Franconia invites the public to come make scratch blocks during workshops held prior to the pour. The day I showed up at Franconia the three other interns and our intern coordinator were already working on the flasks for the scratch block molds and within five days we had rammed over 350 scratch tiles. Then we spent the next week breaking over 3,000 lbs of iron just for this community pour. By the time the other ten artists arrived at Franconia, we all piled under a shelter and began working on our own molds. Franconia provided about 2,500 lbs of sand to each artist so the molds got big very quickly. All interns' and artists' molds were poured the week after the community pour and everyone's sculptures were installed in the park for the next year!

That sounds amazing! What are your plans now that those internships are over?

I moved to Philadelphia at the beginning of September. I just started working for an artist/lighting designer. I'm also doing a residency at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring, MD so I commute down there few days of the week to use the studios. That'll be over in a few weeks so I'm starting to look for exhibition opportunities and other spaces to continue making work. I moved down here with four friends from Alfred (Julia BerblingDrew SchenckAya Kaufmann and Ripley Nichols) so we're talking about finding a space that's affordable and large enough to share as a studio where we can work together and connect with the greater artist community around Philly! 

It's very valuable to be a part of a community once you leave art school, do you see the five of you as future collaborators or just studio mates? Do you support each others practices in any way?

A little bit of all those things! A big part of moving here together is to she able to work together and support one another. Leaving school and all of Alfred's great facilities is a big enough challenge to overcome so it's great that we can still bounce ideas off of one another. Mostly it makes everything much more affordable but since we've been working around each other for so long already we can help each other in ways that wouldn't be possible on our own. The way I see it is even if we aren't working on a project collaboratively we all benefit from the connections we make individually and the presence we can make will be stronger. Some of us have collaborated directly on pieces and hopefully that will happen more as a result from being invested in each other's work. We also work in pretty different mediums and materials so there's a lot of opportunity for us to explore new ways of making if we're always learning from each other! 

Michelle will be posting on our Instagram all week. We are looking for more Alumni and current students to take over the Instagram all semester. Message us on Facebook, Instagram direct message or tweet at us if you're interested! We'd love to see what you're up to!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Interview With Jessie Simmons

Jessie Simmons will be taking over the Instagram this week!

After completing her BFA from Alfred in 2013, Jessie has been adventuring around the enchanting terrain of the Pacific Northwest. She currently resides in the city with the most acclaimed scene for craft beer: Portland, Oregon. Each evening she returns home with clay splattered precariously upon her clothes after the day’s work at Mudshark Studios. In 2015 she became an alumni of the North American School of Natural Building taught by the Cob Cottage Company in Coquille, OR. It was there that she became gifted with the skills and ability to build a beautiful, practicable, and affordable house from the earth under our feet.  This experience triggered her to heavily question what one should do, make, consume, and think in this industrial consumerist society where we are easily susceptible to overlook the way we chose and utilize all resources.  

About her work she says: For me, art is not a thing or a piece; not about an exhibit or selling stuff to strangers. Rather it is a process of forming a catalyst for relationships, exchange, neighborhood, participation, and learning directly through involvement. Framing a context where art is a practical yet poetic notion whose worth is independent of galleries, market, or speculation is what is important to me. My creative interests lie in the processes of place-making and home-making as a “product" as opposed to the object-hood of sculpture or architecture. A natural material like mud is an ideal medium for these types of interactions with its malleable beauty, impressive durability, and accessibility to all places and people. 

 What drew you to the North American School of Natural Building?

Once I found out about cob (a composite building material of clay, sand, straw, and water that is handworked into monolithic earthen structures), I got serious about including this gentle approach to building into my artistic practice. Two decades ago there were no cob builders in the United States for over 150 years. The director of the school, Ianto Evans, came from Wales where cob is a traditional building technique. He is the one who is responsible for the current revival in the US and is considered to be the most influential cob instructor and builder to this day.  

What turned me onto cob initially is that it’s something that makes sense in our world which can be totally nonsensical. I became a complete believer of the idea that I can learn how to hand-sculpt a house for myself without needing expensive equipment or lengthy training. That I can be able to pay for this house myself without needing to go to work for 40 years to pay some awful bank to borrow the money is tremendous liberation. To source materials locally, to use alternatives to new industrially processed materials, to decrease pollution, deforestation, landfill waste, and energy use: these were all reasons why I kept saying "yes, yes, yes!”  Essentially, what draws me to building with cob is that it grants a person more comfort and control over their life. Not only that, but it’s also something that goes beyond one's short lifetime. These homes last for an impressive amounts of centuries, and upon deterioration they simply slake back into the earth they were built of. 

What natural building projects do you see yourself engaging in in the future?

What is great about the people involved in the natural building movement is that everyone is incredibly eager and open to sharing their knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm. There are building projects of all kinds happening constantly across the world. Anyone with a set of helping hands that is looking to gain experience could easily be welcomed aboard. So there are copious amounts of opportunities to learn, travel and network. I hope to dive into many of these chances starting next spring when building season begins again. What will I build next? Time will tell. I plan to build a home out of cob for myself eventually, but still have some learning to do and a location to pinpoint. I have been commissioned by some friends in Pennsylvania to make an earthen oven in their backyard. Ovens are something I hope to become great at sculpting. I see a lot of potential with them, especially in common spaces within urban settings. I am also looking forward to participating in the Village Building Convergence of 2016 coordinated by the City Repair Project in Portland. Here, people from all over come together for a 10-day annual event and work on 40+ different natural building, permaculture, and public art projects throughout the city. The projects are focused around creating public gathering spaces and include things like benches, community kiosks, gardens, solar-powered tea stations, massive street paintings within intersections, etc. 

Can you talk a little bit about the building process, how many people you need to build a larger structure like a house, the time it takes etc?

Building with cob is much like sculpting with clay. It is the least technical, safest, and most forgiving of any natural building style. Starting with sand, you add in sticky clay soil, some water, and long strong straw. The techniques for mixing these ingredients range from the traditional way by treading with bare feet on a tarp to mortar mixers and backhoes. Once the mixture is homogenous, firm but plastic, you can use it to sculpt the walls in place. There are no molds to use and no reinforcement other than straw. The results allow for organic, curvaceous sculptural forms. 

The speed at which a house is built depends on how skilled you are, how determined and organized you are, how elaborate the design is, and how many people are there to help. During warm and dry months, you can build 2’-2’1/2” ft of height on your walls each day. Once the walls are up, they are complete apart from a finishing coat of plaster. There is no need for sheathing and vapor barriers, drywall, tape, spackling, sanding, or painting. Building with cob is obviously faster, easier, and more gratifying with a group of people, but a focused owner-builder can move into a small but precious house within less than a year. I think it is most practical to start small and build a core space with the absolute necessities like a kitchen and small sleeping and living areas. This way you know you can move in before the winter comes. Then the following spring it would be easy to attach any additional rooms when you have more resources and good working weather. 

Amazing! What about your day job at Mudshark Studios? Does your work there contribute to your artistic career or is it simply a way of paying the bills?

Honestly, it's a combination of both. I started throwing pots over 11 years ago, so I do have a history of working with ceramics. I am lucky in that I have an opportunity to work with a material I love and use knowledge that I have gained over the years and apply it at my job on a daily basis. At Mudshark, I am slip-casting for a variety of different projects ranging from intricate figurative sculptures to interesting lighting fixtures to classy looking growlers, even big ceramic tables. I work with several different types of clay bodies that all have their attributes and flaws, and I am confronted with new kinds of plaster molds all the time. There is always a challenge, always a problem to be solved. So this type of work surfaces a great deal of technical information that isn’t always revealed in a ceramic art school setting. This knowledge is applicable if I became more interested with working in multiples or if ever decided to be more efficient about making a living off of my ceramic ware. 

Jessie will be posting on our Instagram all week. We are looking for more Alumni and current students to take over the Instagram all semester. Message us on Facebook, Instagram direct message or tweet at us if you're interested! We'd love to see what you're up to!