A Beautiful Death: musings on death and creativity  



Death and creativity. How are the two interrelated?

Death is one of the ultimate mysteries of life. Regardless of whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it is generally agreed upon to exist, well, after your life is over. Kaput. The end. No more Taco Bell:(

As subject matter, death is great fodder for the imagination. There are so many questions! Do we go to live in the clouds with dudes in robes and fluffy beards? Will we burn in eternal damnation? Will our energies dissipate slowly, becoming a part of the cosmos? Will we wake up in another dimension, covered in alien lubricants, reborn???

It’s pretty cool, if you think about it, because the unknown gives us space to create.


The Buddhist afterlife isn’t all Zen and roses.

Then there is the idea that our mortality motivates us to live a fuller, more creative life. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, as I’ve never been immortal (or am I?!). However, I do think that awareness of one’s own mortality creates an urgency to live well. To me, that means living creatively, as a way to improve the overall quality of my life.


Death is coming over for dinner. Have you prepared a creative meal for him?


And how about creativity as a way to cope with your own impending demise or that of a loved one? And I don’t just mean through self-expression, thought that’s cool if you’re interested in dwelling on your “feelings” and all that jazz. But what if you don’t want to dwell on your emotions and instead use creative action as a distraction? What better way to redirect your mind than with a creative struggle? What better way to take back your life?

Maybe creativity is essential to every component of life, and death is just a part of that. Maybe it’s all the more necessary during the trials we face, including the ultimate trial…Dun dun dun…DEATH!


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When I look at my life and its secret colours, I feel like bursting into tears.” -Albert Camus, A Happy Death



Vicki Oster interviews Donna McCarty-Estep

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Donna McCarty-Estep is the driving force behind the collective arts group known as Cap City Creatives, a talented painter and photographer and has become a friend over the last couple of years through our many meetings at art shows and my attending some of CCC’s meetings. I was fortunate to feature her on my blog in August 2013 and I’m psyched to write about her once again on the CAW blog so here goes!

Originally from a small town in southern Ohio’s Highland County (New Petersburg), she has always been drawn to creating art. When she entered college, she chose to major in pre-law but quickly changed to Visual Arts before finally setting on Art Education. Donna made her way to the central portion of the state after graduating from Wilmington College in 2001. She and her best friend decided to get the heck out of small town Ohio so allowed a coin toss to direct their future. Heads was Columbus; tails would be Cincinnati. Guess we know how that turned out!

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Although she is professionally trained as an art educator with a BA in Art, she has never actually taught in a school setting. After interviewing for several positions, she got a job working for an art and educational dealer and liked it so much that she chose to follow the retail path. She is now the store manager for United Art and Education at Mill Run. As she states: I love working the other side of the teaching coin. I work with teachers and artists on a daily basis and feel that I have made my impact there, all while being able to do my own art as well. Read more

Herstories and How-to’s

Why hello there!

Welcome to the first installment of Herstories and How-to’s (I also toyed with the title, ‘Corpses and Crafts, but was advised that this was not quite as catchy). Each month I’ll bring you a different woman, no longer living, who rocked in some way, along with practical(ish) how-tos.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in anything other than making truly excellent pancakes and irreverence. Take all snark, sarcasm and advice with big grains of salt.  

To really kick things off, let’s talk about Claude Cahun:

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(via: the red list)

Claude Cahun (born Mathilde Schwob in 1894) was an original boss who pushed boundaries everywhere- Her haunting self portraits andtrippy collages defied gender stereotypes and classification.
There are lots of reasons to love Claude Cahun, but my favorite has got to be the way she and her partner, Suzanne Malherbe (a.k.a. Marcel Moore) sought to undermine the Nazis. Just when the two had settled in an island in France to live, and make and write, Nazis invaded and ruined the party (as they always do). Cahun and Moore fought back by creating collaged poems out of BBC news briefs, describing the atrocities and general ass-holeishness of the Nazis, which they then threw into car windows and slipped into the pockets of strangers at rallies.
This month, let’s follow Claude’s example and use our creativity and our voices to fight injustice and push at boundaries!
3 easy ways to fight The Man (whoever or whatever ‘The Man’ might be to you.)
  • Know your shit. Talk to people, read what you can, question everything- fill your brainy bits with both sides of whatever issue you care most about, so should you happen to meet ‘The Man’ you can talk intelligently and confidently. Knowledge is power! (double plus bonus tip: while  be sure to check your sources as you go, it will save you embarrassment later on)
  • Vote. ‘What? Vote? First you tell me to read and now…voting?I thought this list would be filled with Action! Excitement! Near Anarchy!’ Seriously, though, all of the former are great, but the best way to get your voice heard in a meaningful and impactful way is to get involved and cast a ballot. And I’m not just talking about big, sexy, presidential elections, either. Local and regional advocacy directly impacts your schools, your neighbors, and YOU. (It’s all about taking back power, ladyfriends.)
  • Plant a seed. Words can be forces for good in the world, but actions speak louder, and positive actions speak kinder. Is your version of ‘The Man’ the industrial meat complex? Host a delicious vegetarian dinner for your friends. Feel strongly about disposable fashion? Learn to sew, teach a friend, have ‘mending parties.’ Don’t just decry the actions of others- create opposite responses that make the world less crappy.

And then, after making the world more awesome, be sure to take seriously cool photos of yourself dressed as tap-dancing tinfoil angels and post about it on social media so all of your friends know how bad-ass activism, and you, can be.

(via sfmoma)

Talking about stories of the past at a new studio with CAW member Mary Ann Crago

Mary Ann Crago just relocated her creative quarters to a newly renovated garage studio. From the inspiration wall to the shelves of bits and baubles to the finished works, the space is pure magic! As I listened to her reflect on past work, it seems that the studio has entered her life at the perfect time. After evolving her practice as a mixed media artist, she now has the space to build and expand her body of assemblage work. With an “installation-ish” piece planned for CAW’s Remnants in May and a solo show at Tacocat in September, this year promises to be one of exploration and pushing boundaries.


After studying at CCAD you continued working at the library and attained your Master’s of Library Science. What brought you back to art?

I had been working on art all along, just not a lot. School and my library job had taken precedence over everything else, but I missed it. When I’m not creating, I’m just not as happy. I had a friend who did festivals and I would go see her at this one festival. I was kind of inspired by it. I remember leaving thinking, I should be doing this too. From that point I pursued that specific festival. I reached out to the organizer and expressed interest. I didn’t think it would happen, but she had a spot because someone had dropped away and I was in the very next summer, which is crazy. So that was some motivation to actually start creating and making some work and it was fabulous. That summer was really great.

Your work evolved from more painterly landscapes (first in watercolor and later in acrylics) to mixed media assemblage. What made you gravitate towards this new way of working?

I was in the same place for a long time with my work, especially with a lot of my paintings. At an Ohio Art League art talk I remember an artist pushing me a little bit in a really supportive way. He just kind of threw the idea out there that maybe I should try something else because what I had been doing for a long time was really safe. It stuck with me. I started exploring and looking at books – reading a lot about creativity in other artists. I’ve always been intrigued by fabric and collage artists. A lot of time people use collage as a way to explore creativity in a way that is less structured. This triggered something in me. So I just started thinking, what if? What if I added some cut paper elements to this painting? What if I would try this or try that? I experimented with gold leaf and with adding little bits and pieces. I drilled into panels and added grommets. I started adding painted panels to boxes or drawers that I would find. It has just evolved from there. I have tried to not worry so much about it being what I was taught in school that art needed to be. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like it was freeing. At some point, I gave myself permission to experiment and to try things. When I was painting I felt much more of a struggle than I feel now with the mixed media pieces. I don’t have these preconceived ideas of what it should look like. I have no idea. I just let it be.


In addition to incorporating all sorts of bits as well as sculpted bird heads, you now scavenge old forgotten photographs to use in your work. How do you pick the photographs?

I try to stay away from extra creepy photographs. I think there is energy around objects, but I definitely think there is energy with photos. I am really drawn to pictures of women and kids. I have the occasional man photo too, but they just aren’t as interesting to me. I have refined what I look for. Early on I would collect or gather any old thing, but as I have started working with them I have a better feel for what I like and don’t like. I like actual photographs, not printed postcards. There is a lightness and darkness in the photos that I am drawn to. When I incorporate dots, the white against those lights and darks is amazing to me. There is something really special about their eyes, too. When I see it, I know it. Sometimes in photographs their eyes will connect with the camera as if it’s not even a photograph. It’s like you are sitting there staring at this person and they’re alive. Things that are atypical like groupings of people or family members are really interesting, especially when there is something odd happening in the picture. For instance, if not everyone is looking where they should be. Sometimes there is information about the person, like their name or the year, but often there isn’t. It is like there’s a story there, but you don’t know what it is. There are no real clues other than the image itself.

One of my favorite things about you is your love of books, which is totally fitting since you are Mary Ann the librarian. Words and narrative have entered your work in a very big way. Is this new?

Yeah I think it’s new. It has always been something that I’ve thought about. Sometimes I have hints of ideas that are just a glimmer of something that hasn’t quite solidified and I don’t know how to make it happen. The word thing has intrigued me for a little while, even when I was painting. Some of the earlier mixed media pieces I would incorporate a lot of numbers, which was a way to start playing with text. The photograph pieces are a perfect scenario for using text or words. Like I mentioned before, these people have stories, but I don’t know what they are. It is fun thing to figure out or create the story for them.


You are going a step further and incorporating the public into the story-telling aspect of your work. You did this by crowd-sourcing ideas for Woman as Truthvia Facebook for your tile in the Woman As ___ exhibit. You also did this at the Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival this past summer. Can you describe your booth?

[Along with my art,] I set up a typewriter and put a photo out. I asked people to come up with their own story or what they thought about the women and kid in the picture. It was amazing. It was really cool to see how people interacted with that photo – what they were thinking and what they saw in that picture. I have goose bumps just now thinking about it.

So the photograph and typed text was the impetus for a piece of art. Have you made it?

Not yet, but I will!


Speaking of festivals, congratulations on your recent first place award at Upper Arlington’s Labor Day Arts Festival! You exhibit in both festivals and more traditional gallery spaces. Does the venue inform your work?

I don’t know that it does. I make the kind of work that I make. I personally like showing in all ways, but enjoy the festival setting more. I like interacting with people and observing them as they are interacting with my pieces. I love selling work. Obviously that’s awesome. It is cool to meet and talk to the people who are taking my art home. My work doesn’t really change depending on where it is. I enjoy both settings, but love knowing where my art is going at festivals.

You will be exhibiting in CAW’s upcoming exhibition Remnants at the Urban Arts Space in May 2015. The theme is perfect for your body of work. What do you have planned?

I have a plan and hopefully it will happen as planned. I want to explore the same path as my recent work with photographs and stories. I have thought a lot about the six degrees of separation. So I will have a big collection of pieces with photographs of people or animals and stories and how they are connected in different ways. I am still figuring out logistically what that will look like. I see red string. I see words. It is a little overwhelming to me when I think about it because it could be pretty massive. So I am trying to figure out how to make it manageable. Maybe there is a smaller set of these finished pieces and one bigger overall piece. Maybe kind of installation-ish which I haven’t really done.

Visit www.maryanncrago.com to view more of Mary Ann’s portfolio.

Interview completed by Allison Buenger.

New Year New Blog….

We are excited to announce a new format for the CAW blog!   We’ve gathered some amazing women who will be contributing their views, ideas and knowledge regarding all aspects of the art world.  This isn’t your ordinary blog!!!

If you have suggestions or ideas you’d like to see covered on the CAW blog, send an email to cawcolumbus(at)gmail.com.

Allison Buenger


Allison is an eloquent writer and mixed media artist who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She shares her passion for thoughtful interviews of our members through our blog and CAW Talk newsletter.

Mary Ann Crago


Mary Ann Crago is a mixed media artist who lives in Columbus, Ohio.  She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1995.  When she is not creating, she is a Youth Services Manager for the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Mollie Hannon


Mollie Hannon is a photographer, mother and all around procrastinator extraordinaire. Mollie has been showing with CAW since 2010, and has exhibited locally and nationally. Mollie is excited to be back in the blogging world as she explores the multi-faceted world of the performing arts.

Cat Lynch

self portrait 2012

Cat Lynch is an artist, museum educator, gardener, tree-hugger, cat-person, library addict and drinker of all coffee and teas, currently haunting the west side of Columbus. She has shown in exhibitions throughout the Midwest and around the country, both in galleries and in nontraditional spaces. A multidisciplinary artist, her work often utilizes invented narratives and simple symbols to tell autobiographical, highly personal stories.

Peggy Mintun


Peggy Mintun is an abstract painter and graphic designer from Columbus. She has shown her work in Columbus, as well as nationally and internationally. In addition to painting and designing, she has written for Sublime Rush and Omnibucket’s OLOGY magazine. Her interests lie in mad science and artists from around the globe.

Vicki Oster


Vicki Oster is a art blogger,scrapbook queen, mixed media artist,crafter extraordinaire, speech-language pathologist, animal lover and newbie to CAW! Having interviewed several of the CAW artists (along with other local artists), she is psyched to join the CAW blog and get to know more members. Vicki promotes Ohio artisans and crafters and their events on her blog

Melinda Eliza Sabo

October Melinda with Border

Melinda Eliza Sabo is an Idea Chaser, Fiction Writer, Travel Photographer, Visionary Painter, and Creativity Coach who believes that life should be an artistic journey: truly well-seen and well-lived.

Susie Underwood


Susie is a multimedia and performance artist who has worked in the Learning Department of the Columbus Museum of Art for the last 8 years. Susie explores Living a Creative Life: How are the various pieces of our lives interconnected and how can creativity improve the quality of our lives?

Talking about opposites with CAW member April Sunami

April Sunami’s studio is an attic space full of windows and lots of pieces and parts. Each nook is full of potential tesserae for her mosaicked paintings. Our conversation about her impressive body of work felt like part studio visit and part treasure hunt as she searched to find examples of supplies. With a Master’s in Art History, April weaves together the past and the present in her depictions of women. Their faces are painted in a realistic style surrounded by highly patterned and abstracted veils or hair. Her works are a study in opposites: past and present, rough and smooth, abstraction and figuration, among others.


People familiar with your body of work instantly recognize your style? When did this theme surface in your work?

I’ve been doing this particular body of work for about eight years now. It began with one image of a woman with a stylized face and her hair was all abstracted and going upwards. Something drew me to this theme. When I started it was really this exploration of doing the hair. I was very inspired by Gustav Klimt, and still am. This theme has become a language for me to think about and do other things. Now it is a way to explore materials.

Do the figures represent specific women?

A series of portraits in 2008 were all named after African deities and queens. They weren’t meant to capture anyone’s likeness, but rather the essence of what they protected or stood for. Yemaya was over water. Songi was over wealth. I’ve always been attracted to Greek mythology and with this it was an exercise in capturing the essence of a broad thing such as water, childbirth, wealth. It was also a cultural thing. Everyone knows about Greek goddesses, but no one talks about or knows who the African goddesses are. It was my way of bringing attention and claiming them. I was exhuming those ladies from being buried.

What is the significance of the hair?

The mosaics are representative of hair or body coverings. It is kind of irrelevant if it is a stand in for hair. My preoccupation is combining two disparate elements: the figurative and the abstract. It is mainly hair, but it could be anything. I am attracted to opposites. The formalist elements of exploring pure aesthetics combined with the fact that I use black women as the figures also has some social connotations for me.

You studied Art History at Ohio University. How does your work relate to art history? Why is portraiture important to you?

Art history informs a lot of what I do. I bring that knowledge, but often my work is more intuitive than intellectual. Portraiture is important to me right now. What really speaks to me is the female face. I like doing portraits because it helps tell a story. It is something people can connect to and it’s what I connect to. There is something universal and timeless about the human figure. You see it in all cultures from the beginning of art history. It represents us and we are constantly creating our own image.


When did you start incorporating mixed media elements, like glass, paper and globs of paint paper to your works?

I started experimenting with mixed media in maybe 2008 or 2009. It first started out with incorporating broken automobile glass. I liked the effect of it, so I tried other things. It was about using materials I already had and that were pretty worthless. I figured out ways to make something beautiful out of something broken – junk basically.

Is there a significance in using broken glasses or dishes and making them whole again?

There is a certain element of disappointment when anything gets broken, but repurposing that for something that is aesthetically pleasing feels good.

This ties into your plan for Remnants, the upcoming CAW exhibition at the Urban Arts Space in May 2015. You have a little concept sketch hanging up. Can you describe the project?

This is just in the planning phase, so what may actually happen might be completely different. So far what I have conceptualized are three large paintings using glass and perhaps paper beads made from magazines. I want to incorporate this theme of urban shrines into the work. Urban shrines are something that I see often in my community. Where people have fallen prey to violence, friends and family try to commemorate that person by setting out a display or memorial of bottles. I would like to set up a small installation of bottles it in front of the central piece in this trinity of paintings. In addition [the painted figures] are meant to recall Mary, the Holy Mother. I would like the halo for the central piece to be bullets.

I value how you bridge seemingly disparate themes. You touched on figuration and abstraction, and in your Remnants piece you are bringing together devotion and destruction. What other themes do you see emerging in your new work in 2015?

I have been fascinated recently by sugar skulls. I had the opportunity to work with many Latino artists to construct a traditional cemetery and offer Katrina face paintings to patrons of High Ball last year. I was working with Global Gallery who received a national grant through NEA to incorporate Dia de los Muertos into the event. I was totally inspired by the whole aesthetic of the mash-up between Catholicism and indigenous culture, this cultural fusion of sorts. I hope to get out of the muted palette of last year. All of 2014 my paintings have been sad and blue. I am claiming 2015 as my festive, “go for it” year!


Visit aprilsunami.com to view more of April’s portfolio.


Talking about the magic of clay with CAW member Terri Maloney-Houston

Terri (5)Catching up with Terri Maloney-Houston in the studio involved a lot of keeping up. She was hard at work throwing porcelain in preparation for the upcoming fundraiser Empty Bowls. Trained as a potter, she continues to push the limits of clay; making large-scale installations comprised of a multitude of fragile leaves. After seeing images of her most recent work in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I was compelled to find out more. It was wonderful to hear about the path that led her to Art Prize.

How did you get started with ceramics?
I took classes at community recreation centers and I loved it. I made a clay elephant and I glazed it gray. I pulled the trunk like a handle on a mug. It was fun. I had some ceramics classes in high school as well.

When you were studying ceramics at Ohio State University you were mostly making functional work. Why?

At the time it was just popular. It was a challenge and it took time. I started down that path and I wanted to master it, so I didn’t diverge too much. No one in my family is an artist and I probably got some feedback that I should do something practical. So I thought at the time, at least if I am making functional work, I could probably sell it. That was probably a big part of it.

When did you make the switch from functional to sculptural?

About six years ago, a friend of mine was creating an exhibition called All The Pretty Trees. At the time, I had been doing some texture work with clay. I had been pressing leaves into clay and then cutting them out. It was satisfying and enjoyable and I could arrange them in different ways. So I thought I could make a piece for her show out of these leaves and it could be sculptural. It was a response to a call for entries that made me think outside of my comfort zone.

What kind of leaves do you use to imprint the clay? 

My cousin who is closest in age to me is the director of the arboretum at OSU. She was very concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer and the effect that [the beetle] has had on the Ash tree population in the United States. Hearing that concern from her brought about the whole idea of using the ash leaves to imprint the clay. Originally, I started out with hydrangea leaves, but I thought the leaf that I chose should have some particular meaning. I started hearing about the killing of the ash trees by this bug and I also started looking into folklore and mythology around trees. Looking at those things made me choose the ash leaf for the last few years.

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What is ArtPrize? How did you get involved? 

It is a radically different kind of exhibition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It self-curated. The artists who want to participate post images of their work and the venues post images of their space. Then you try to make a match. The other thing that makes it different is the quantity of work. There are close to 1,500 pieces on view in Grand Rapids right now. There is art throughout the whole city inside and outside: in museums, in bars, in parks. The event attracts about 400,000 visitors. There are two components for judging the work. The public votes on their favorites. They also have a prestigious jury that selects a short list and awards prizes. It all happens in three weeks each fall. I became interested in submitting a piece to challenge myself to work on a larger scale and to show outside of Columbus.

Describe the piece that you submitted for ArtPrize.

I fabricated approximately 8,000 porcelain leaf shapes that were made by impressing the leaves of an ash tree onto clay and then cutting out each one. After drying them, smoothing the edges, and firing, I added them to additional leaves from a prior project. I had over 10,000 pieces that I used to build three, six-foot circles of leaves on a grassy area behind the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It was a beautiful manicured lawn with three circles of pure white, porcelain leaves. I don’t want to fail to mention that I received a materials grant from GCAC for the project, which was a huge help! It helped cover some of the material expenses.

What was the significance of the circle configuration of your work?

I started with the idea of having at least three circles, and three circles used up all of my leaves. The leaves were piled four or five inches high, one leaf on top of the other. I was thinking about earthworks and mound builders, as well as rock piles that hikers make that show direction. The circle is also symbolic of death and rebirth. All of these ash trees are dying and we are sad about that and it is terrible, but something else will grow there. It is a memorial on the one hand and on the other it is a calming and peaceful image.

You began working with clay as a child in a recreation center and have spent many years teaching for Columbus Parks and Recreation art program. Talk about a full circle! What have you learned from teaching ceramics?

Clay is magic stuff. People love it! They love to touch it and make little things. They love that whatever they make and fire is going to last. I don’t have to do a whole lot of teaching when I put out the clay. I have to show a few technical things and maybe throw out some ideas, but people take it and go with it. The material itself is very engaging. People like to make things. It makes them happy.

The above photographs were taken of Terri’s most recent installation, Leaf Rings, in conjunction with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Talking personas, performance and playwriting with CAW member Heidi Madsen

I recently sat down to a delicious plate of pasta with Heidi Madsen in her delightful home to learn more about her artistic path. Her passion falls at the intersection of art and performance, and this is completely evident in the way she has decorated her living space. She has wonderful collection of clown art, including a portrait of herself done by Joey Monsoon. According to her, clowning is serious business, and it is clear that she is working towards a much larger goal than simply a chuckle. She approaches each new challenge with gusto! Her performance personas span from clown to drag king to Sasquatch. I hope you have as much fun learning about the person behind the performer as I did.

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What changes when you put on a red nose?

The clown nose is the smallest mask in the world. It does not hide you, it reveals you! It doesn’t change [me], it is like an on switch. It is like an on switch for lighting up the authentic self.

Clown school was a bit of a legend to me, but you’ve actually been! What was it like?

I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had the same image that other people have of clowns. It was a five-week program about clowning through mask. It was in Toronto so it was based on Richard Pochinko’s clowning who is a famous Canadian clown. Everything was based around making six masks. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it was like doing improv on steroids. I had never spoken out loud on stage, ever, and I had to do that. Basically, I had to turn myself inside out on the stage and doing that consciously is a scary thing. The teacher was a tough love teacher!  She was really good and knew you could do better. It was all about being authentic.

I went to clown school because I wanted to take my performance to the next level. I really wanted to learn new things about performance since I don’t have any training background at all, except for just doing. This was a chance to get some training and the idea of being a clown intrigued me. Going to clown school was my fortieth birthday gift to myself!

Before you were a clown, you were a drag king. What was your first performance experience? 

I had never been on stage before and I didn’t even know there was a stage person in me. Today the core of who I am is a performance artist and I know that at 43 years old, but I did not know that in 1995. A friend of mine had a birthday party and 3 of our friends decided to do some performance at a bar and dressed up like men. We didn’t even know what a drag king was, nobody did. It was so much fun the bar owners invited them back, so I offered to help backstage. My girlfriend at the time told me I should get up there. She said, “C’mon, go up there and do Risky Business or something.” I thought that it looked fun and I could probably slide across the stage in my underwear. Once I was up there, there was some magic that happened. There were no words for what I felt. There was something in me that knew how to do this. I was surprised that it was part of me.

Heidi is staring down a sculpture by Sharon Dorsey.
Heidi is staring down a sculpture by Sharon Dorsey.
Cat meets clowns!
Cat meets clowns!
The portrait of Heidi was painted by Joey Monsoon.
The portrait of Heidi was painted by Joey Monsoon.
Heidi (3)

You described drag as a political statement. What do you mean by that?

I am on stage to reveal the absurdity that real men are 100% masculine and are only attracted to real women. And that real women are 100% feminine and are only attracted to real men. I didn’t know this immediately. In the beginning it was fun and was just getting used to my sea legs. During those first years of performing, a bunch of drag kings were in the Women’s Studies program at OSU getting their master’s degrees. They started to talk to all of us about what performing drag really meant. After a couple of years of learning more about what it meant to perform gender, my tendency to want to make the world a better place came out.  If I am good at grabbing people’s attention, then I have a responsibility to say something important. That is how it became political.

Some CAW fans might recognize you as a giant, lovable Sasquatch. What was the significance of that performance?

Over the last three or four years bullying has become a big topic. Obviously it has been going on since the beginning of time, but when you have [the audience’s] attention you can get somewhere new with them. Heidi Kambitsch and I decided to make a performance with clowning and her body puppets. With those two things we created an interactive, anti-bullying performance for kids called Bully Eraser, Love Replacer. The Sasquatch character was about my sister’s story growing up being bullied. She had to change high schools because she was bullied so much. I was a year ahead of her and I didn’t understand why she was having such a hard time. In high school it is all about you and saving face in your grade. A lot of the bullying was emotional trauma, so I didn’t see the bruised feelings at the time. I’ve carried that around with me for years. This was an opportunity to go back and interview her, and then write a story for her. My sister was tall for her age and she hadn’t grown into her paws yet. This one asshole called her Sasquatch so the character is supposed to be my sister. It was my way to say that I am sorry.

Family stories are important inspiration in your artistic practice. Can you talk a little bit about the story of your uncle and the BIG project that you’ve been working on for several years?

Aunt Christine was a Catholic nun for 30 years. In the late eighties she left the nunnery to become a radical feminist lesbian. In the late nineties she decided to transition into Uncle Chris. So the name of the play is called From Sister to Mister. Uncle Chris is a real person who lives in Cleveland. He is a professional nurse and is 71 years old now. He is really important in my life because he is someone who made some really hard life choices. When she left the convent, it was the same time that I was a freshman in college so I felt like we were both leaving home. When she came out to the family at that time, I was also coming out in my mind, so we kind of came out together. When I found that she was transitioning, I had been a drag king for 5 or 6 years and realized that drag could be very serious performance. I really wanted to bring Chris’s story to the stage. In terms of the people in my life who I am really proud to know and can learn from, he is in the top three. I wanted to write a play about his life and I have spent eight years working on two versions of the play.

Heidi (2)

There is a performance related to From Sister to Mister that is coming up in October. What is it?

I have taken a three-year break from the play and have been focusing on my performances with Heidi Kambitsch. I certainly want to write the final version [of the play]. This is a life project for me because my uncle is so important to me and I know this story needs to be out there. And I know I am the one to put it out there.

I needed to see the play through a different lens because I was too close to it. Two friends, one who is the manager at the Garden Theater and another who runs a dance company here in town, came up with a project to choreograph dance pieces to local plays. So I sent them my play for consideration. Long story short, they picked it! There are three choreographers, producing three dance pieces, to three plays in late October. I get to be part of the artistic process with the dancers between now and the performance. That will help me figure out what piece is missing in the play. By the way, Uncle Chris’ story isn’t done yet! He just got married last August to a woman in a Catholic church.

What advice would you give a performer just starting out?

It is really important to find your authentic voice. Not only through your voice, but also through your movement, how you look, and especially what your subject matter is. Make sure it is something you really, really care about. Because if you care about it, you will become a mirror for your audience and they will find the things in that mirror that they care about. I have no desire to do any type of performance that does not bring the performers and the audience together to see something new.

Talking about the politics of pink and the power of play with CAW cofounder Stephanie Rond

It is nearly impossible to sum up all the elements comprise Stephanie Rond’s tour de force, Dangerous Impermanence. I caught up with her at her studio where she had just finished framing a huge collection of her mixed media paintings. These pieces now fill the expansive Shot Tower Gallery at Fort Hayes. She gleefully showed me her car trunk that was stocked with stenciled pink girls. These figures were destined to be wheat pasted to buildings around town as the street art component to her artistic practice. She lit up when talking about the private screening of the film project, Tiny Out Loud. All of these elements (and more!) coalesce on September 5th for the exhibition opening and movie screening at the Shot Tower Gallery. See you there!

What was the piece that inspired your newest body of work for Dangerous Impermanence?

Two and half years ago I exhibited a painting of my niece Sophia sitting in a chair with her back to the audience. I liked that you didn’t know what the story was. You didn’t know if she was being punished, planning something, or if she was part of an audience to something the viewer couldn’t see. The piece resonated with people. I realized that because the viewer couldn’t see her face, they could identify as being “in her shoes.” Every figure in my new series, both in the gallery and on the streets, is facing away from the viewer.  
It is hard not to notice that all the girls in the street art are pink, and all the canvases have blue girls. Why?
I’ve always been a feminist artist. There can be a lot of discussion about gender issues using something as simple as a color.  The street pieces, “Pink Girl Rising” are that color because the streets are traditionally male-dominated spaces. Women have very different public safety concerns so they are intentionally pink in the streets to represent that issue. “Ghost Girl” is blue in the gallery because it is an indoor space, traditionally considered female-dominated space.  The blue in the paintings has a dual meaning as they are the ghosts of the real pieces in the streets.
Is the experience of installing the street art a fun process?

Oh yes, I love it! I love installing pieces during the day because it gives me an opportunity to interact with the public, which is something I find very rewarding most of the time. One of my favorite interactions recently was seeing a little girl jumping up and down, pointing and saying “Oh Mommy, look, look!”  I felt that I was doing my job by giving her an image that she could relate to. Later that day, a teenage girl came up and we talked more in depth about why I am doing this – to combat the objectification of women in advertisements and media. 


Street art is so important to you and may seem quite different than your work with S.Dot Gallery. (S.Dot is a pint-sized art gallery set in a dollhouse that Stephanie curates. It has a full exhibition calendar and a wide Internet following.) How do you think about these two ventures?

They may seem different on the surface, but they are both discussing the same broader concepts of feminism and the accessibility of art. I believe feminism is a discussion for all of us. Gender stereotypes are something that can bog all of us down, including men. S.Dot is the reverse exploration of the gender discussion I’m having in my street art. The home is traditionally a female dominated space. S.Dot gallery gives men an opportunity to play and make environments in intimate, enclosed spaces.

Like street art, S.Dot gallery is also a highly accessible venue for art. You can view it from the comfort of your own Internet device, or stumble upon it in your social network feed. The content in both my street art and the approach I take with S.Dot gallery is designed to be accessible for a broad audience. Initially, it feels playful, comfortable and non-assaulting. My goal is for the audience to feel comfortable with the work, then begin asking questions about the meaning and hopefully engage in a dialogue about the issues being addressed.

The connection between street art and miniature galleries is the theme of the film, Tiny Out Loud. When Andrew Ina, Dan Gerdeman and I initially created the Kickstarter mini film, the focus was on the miniature galleries. When we exceeded our Kickstarter funding goal and received additional funding from the GCAC, we realized we were going to be able to create a short film that captures the concepts in both the miniature galleries and the street art and what ties them together. The film culminates with the gallery actually becoming street art.

The idea of space or environment has completely changed with the Internet. This clearly relates to your work, and is very visible with the motif of the communication towers. How would you describe this in your work?

This is why S. Dot exists in the way that it does. Each show [at S. Dot] is a collaboration. There is a story that is told to the viewer to help demystify what we do as artists. The public gets to see the artists installing. By putting the artist and their exhibit on the Internet I create a safe space for the viewer to experience art and even interact with the artist if they want to. It is a full circle community event.

I frequently use images in my work of things that fly, they represent freedom and provide a sense of movement. The communication towers have this similar representation, but provide a deeper meaning of connection and community. They represent the connection between the self and others.


How do you think that play factors into your work?

Play is where my inspiration comes from. It creates an amazing feeling of freedom and confidence because you are allowed to make mistakes. Play equates to discovery and growth.


You describe art not as a product, but as experience. What do you mean by that?

Art is not supposed to be something that just looks nice above your couch that you don’t pay any attention to. Artists are viable citizens in our community and their role is to make you stop and think about things, whether that is human rights, the aesthetic of beauty or whatever that may be. Art is not something that you can own, rather something that you should experience.


The two “pink” images are street pieces for “Pink Girl Rising.” The two “blue” images are “Ghost Girl” works intended for the gallery. The first blue painting is entitled We the People, Yearning to Breathe Free, and the second is Carney Girl.

Visit stephanierond.com to view more of Stephanie’s portfolio.

Talking color, cloth and culture with CAW member Paula Nees

Paula Nees’ two fluffy dogs keep her company in the studio, along with the ethereal figures that inhabit her large-scale paintings. Not one for labels, she works in the traditional medium of oil painting without all the rules and restrictions. It was a delight to see her creative space and hear about her artistic process.


What did you have to unlearn about painting after leaving school?

I think the time period I came out of you were either a realist or an abstractionist. Really elements of both feed into each other. Neither tag identifies me. That dogmatic approach doesn’t work for me. I see those influences [figuration and abstraction] merging in my work. Also, professors always said start with white. I often use drawing loosely with cattle marker paint sticks as a jumping off point.

You describe yourself as a “materials person.” What do you mean by that?

Paint is just another thing. I am interested in using materials and not necessarily that I am always painting. For example when I dye a work, I am still working with color and pattern.  I can do that without using a stick with hairs on the end of it. I am trained as an oil painter. I love the smell of it and you can fuss around with it, but I find that pastels have similar properties.

You paint on cloth, typically linen, as well as depicting cloth in your paintings. What is the conceptual importance of cloth to you?

When I was first interested in not covering up the linen was linked to my first trip to India where cloth is so prevalent and you see it everywhere. They do an extraordinary amount of design and dyeing. That is where I became intrigued by the idea of dyeing the linen with indigo and using that cloth itself as part of the subject rather than painting it. The dye looks different.

What is the biggest difference between your work 10 years ago and today?

Maybe the intention and not wanting to stop at a certain point… I love the idea that if it’s not working, I just cover it up again instead of throwing it away. So there are some paintings that have a pretty good thickness of paint on them! Where I guess 10 years ago if [a painting] wasn’t working I would rip it off the stretchers and pitch it and start over again. There is something interesting about resurrecting or not giving up on something.  Maybe letting a little bit of whatever is underneath show the history of the work.

What role does color play in your current body of work?

The color is less about nature and more about temperature. Going back to the influence of India, I think that the color there is more intense. Seeing the color of bright curries and fabrics. I was very struck by how beautiful, bright fabrics were dyed in such dingy environments. That contrast surfaces in my current work.

Mystery Sister, Honorable Mention
Mystery Sister, Honorable Mention
Paula Nees
Jumping through Hoops, Ohio Arts Council Award
Thelma, CAW Professional Award
Thelma, CAW Professional Award
These paintings are currently on display at the Fine Arts Exhibition at the Ohio State Fair. All three took home awards! Congratulations, Paula!

Thelma, CAW Professional Award
Jumping through Hoops, Ohio Arts Council Award
Mystery Sister, Honorable Mention

Visit www.paulanees.com to view more of Paula’s portfolio.