What didn’t fit : Josephine A. Geiger // Brenda Brousseau // Tracie Thompson

I’m going back to my roots! This weekend I’m showing my mixed-media shadowboxes and State Icons at J.A. Geiger Studio, where I showed for the first several years of participating in the Saint Paul Art Crawl. Read on to learn about the fabulous artists I’ll be showing with: Josephine A. Geiger, Brenda Brousseau, and Tracie Thompson.

From left: Tracie Thompson, Josephine A. Geiger, Brenda Brousseau

From left: Tracie Thompson, Josephine A. Geiger, Brenda Brousseau

Hey Josephine, Brenda, and Tracie! Tell us about you.
JG: I mostly grew up in Wisconsin, where I took art classes at the nearby college and loved every creative minute. There was no dragging me out of bed for Saturday morning art class! But I have always had a large practical streak, too. So I decided I wanted to actually be paid to make a living—not be a starving artist—and switched to architecture when I was 12 years old.

While I will always love architecture, housing in particular, creating my glass artwork is truly a passion, and I’m very happy that I’m not starving!

BB: I was born in Waterloo, Iowa. My grandmother introduced me to beadwork: When I was about 10, she took me to an exhibition at the local science museum that featured beadwork by Native Americans. As we were leaving, we stopped in the museum’s shop and my grandmother bought me a small beading loom. I can trace all this back to that one moment. I still have the first piece I made on that loom.

I moved to the Twin Cities in 1979. I now live in St Paul with my faithful companion.

TT: I grew up in a pretty rural part of South Florida, from a long line of naturalists, pioneers, and storytellers. It was a blue-collar background all the way, but my dad was a photographer and I inherited that trait of paying attention, really looking at the details of the world. Art was always what I did best. I got a fine art degree at USF in Tampa, then developed a career as a muralist because, in the Fort Myers area where I lived, that was the only way for me to make a living with a paint brush. I moved to the Twin Cities in 2008 because I saw it as a place that could offer me a real future as an artist.

Tell us about your art.
JG: I love landscapes, and, unlike the traditional symbols of stained glass design, I look for something more elemental, more solid. What excites me is the underlying architecture of the scene: the lines, details, and movement; the things that draw me to it in the first place. Those foundations don’t break down or get weary with time.

Because these mosaic landscapes are made almost wholly of rectangles and squares, it might seem that I have a calculated, mathematical approach to creating them. But that’s not so. The “art” part of the fusion is this: I have no patterns for my work. I have images—usually snapshots I’ve taken—and ideas and instincts, and a lot of experience with glass. So I simply start, interacting with the materials and the image, as if in a live conversation. New ideas emerge as I work, and those provide the boldness and the spirit I want. The constraints of my rectangular, architectural forms simply give those ideas the support they need.

BB: As an adult, I used the inspiration from my trip to the museum with my grandmother and began to create wearable beaded jewelry. Although I enjoyed seeing people wear my pieces, I knew my passion was truly in beaded sculpture.

My headdress beadwork is unique because it brings art and history together into one creation. Originally inspired by the Native American tribal headdress, I’ve pushed this idea to include peoples of all geography, backgrounds, and traditions. I try to walk the line between myth and legend to find truth in the ancient art of beadwork. Researching each headdress theme is critical. I’m trying to capture the history and tell the story within that piece.

The discipline of beading is forever evolving for me. I’m often surprised by the unexpected relationship between fiber, beading, and other creative disciplines. I spend a good part of each day beading to further my craft and to open myself to new ideas and creations. Beadwork is a sort of meditation for me; the time I spend beading both grounds and centers my being.

TT: It ranges pretty widely, from drawings in mixed media to oil paintings, and a series of three-dimensional pieces I build out of bits of junk I pick up off the ground. By “junk” I mean scraps of wood and metal, mostly; I put them together and paint on them, to create the feeling of a story hidden in each one.

My paintings and drawings often use animals for subjects. That’s something I’ve always done, since I was a kid drawing birds and horses all the time. I have a good intuition for an animal’s character, even from a few photos, and so I create a lot of custom animal portraits.

What kinds of work are you showing at the spring Saint Paul Art Crawl?
JG: This spring, I’m focused on creating a new series of work featuring water scenes, such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, and waves. The inspiration comes from a series of abstract artwork. Most of these new pieces are going to be on the smaller side and really highlight the glass.

BB: The new jewelry pieces that I’m working on for the Art Crawl incorporate driftwood and other found objects from Lake Superior. This new work is beaded with a freeform peyote stitch that undulates with movement around the driftwood.

TT: I have fun at Art Crawl by doing on-the-spot animal sketches. People bring me photos of their animal, and I take about 20 to 30 minutes, with pencils and some washes of watercolor, and make a quick drawing. If they like it, they can take it home for $20. That’s how I occupy myself and entertain our visitors. On the walls I have oil paintings and several of my salvaged-materials pieces.

About how many years have you been showing in the Crawls?
JG: Participating in the Crawls began as a complete accident. When I first bought my house in 1995 I had an open house party that became a yearly event: the annual October party. So when I started selling my artwork, it seemed natural to have the open studio then as well. In 2005, during the October open studio, I got a lot of phone calls asking why my information wasn’t listed on the Crawl website. This was the first I had heard about the Art Crawl, so my official participation began the spring of 2006. Now the studio has anywhere from three to four guest artists, and we even have a mapped location in the catalog, though you have to venture into the East Side of St. Paul to find us.

How has your style or process changed over the years?
JG: The first few windows I made were traditional art glass, complete with patterns. Though even then I was shying away from patterns, even as I was being attracted to the linear geometrics of Frank Lloyd Wright. By the time I started my third window, I [ditched the idea of a] pattern.

After that, late one night looking through some old art books, I came across a black and white image of Monet’s “Poplars on the Epte,” and I starting thinking about creating a window in the way that my grandmother used to piece together Crazy Quilts. This was the first time I completely stepped out of the traditional stained glass box. My piece, “Poplars,” was inspired by a black and white image, used no pattern, and featured cut-outs of copper mesh. This style—I call them landscape mosaics—has become my signature.

BB: My projects are getting bigger. I started with jewelry, then went on to headdresses. My next project will take years.

I just finished writing a grant proposal to help me start on that project. It will be a beaded cave. This cave will be a 10′ x 10′ enclosure complete with stalactites and stalagmites, and other assorted geological wonders.

TT: I’m always learning, always picking up new materials and techniques and improving the range of my abilities, so my art shows that. My themes tend to be pretty constant—growth, renewal, movement and flight, and that feeling that there’s a story behind each piece.

Why do you do what you do?
JG: Truly, I’m still working on this. Beyond the obvious answer of I love what I do and how cool can it be to create artwork for a living, I love the challenge. Stained glass incorporates all that I love about architecture with a creative process that is messy and very “hands on.” I like getting dirty.

BB: I’ve always been intrigued with beads—there must be a bit of magpie in me. The tactile nature of beadwork, as well as the sparkle and shine, makes me smile. As my beading progressed, I realized it has a Zen-like appeal. I can only add a few beads at a time; there is no way to speed up the process. That spiritual quality feeds my soul.

I have to create. This art will mark my passage here on earth. Creating with beads ties me to the past, grounds me in the now, and builds a future.

TT: Well, I love everything, but in art school I had to narrow my focus. I chose painting because I wouldn’t need a lot of space or special facilities to keep doing it once I left school, the way I would if I did printmaking or sculpture. I could keep painting no matter what.

As for the salvaged and reclaimed work, that grew out of my love of walking and exploring the landscape. I began picking things up and playing around, and the next thing I knew I was making art. That began in Tampa in 1998 and I’ve been doing it ever since.

From a practical standpoint, I’m not sure what else I could do and stay sane. From an emotional standpoint, what drives me is a need to make connections, to help people remember what’s most real and most right about themselves.

Do you have other jobs besides being an artist?
JG: I love volleyball! I don’t play much anymore, so I keep my nose in the game by officiating a few leagues.

BB: Last year I bought a software company. I’d worked at this company for the previous five years in tech support. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of these two different worlds in my life.

[One day] I received a call for art for an exhibition entitled WWW. This juried show was about how the internet had changed your life as an artist. All I could think of was how I was ready to pull my hair out due to my computer, or lack thereof. Hence my piece, “It’s Not Nice To Fool Your Motherboard,” which tied for first place at that exhibit.

What inspires you?
JG: Landscapes, water, mountains, prairies, fall on the North Shore, and birch trees. Mother Nature, rain, hurricanes, tornadoes and sunbeams. The Impressionists: Monet, Seurat, and Vincent van Gogh. And the classics: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

TT: The natural world, people, stories. That’s a hard question because it could be anything. Diesel freight trains or wild phlox or the abandoned building by the tracks.

What’s your favorite part of your creative process?
JG: It changes. Some days I really like just surfing the internet looking for cool images and inspiration. Most of the time, though, my favorite part is actually laying out the glass on the table and imagining (hoping) that the final piece will look like my vision. I then hurry through the leading and soldering in order to get to the point where I can actually lift up the panel and see it for the first time. Stained glass is not like most other art forms. You don’t really know what the finished piece will look like until it is virtually complete.

BB: Taking the vision I have in my head and making it physical. There are always challenges. I have to stretch myself as an artist to figure out how to get the beads to cooperate, and do things that perhaps they were not meant to do.

TT: The part when I’ve just finished something new and I’ve surprised myself somehow.

What’s the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
JG: I’m a total geek. I actually like record keeping and even doing my own taxes. The single most challenging aspect of being an artist, and making a living from it, is learning how to sell your artwork. This includes marketing and just talking to people and letting them see your passion without feeling exposed. I am, by nature, an introvert. I can spend days without feeling the need to talk to anyone, so learning how to communicate my thoughts and inspirations to collectors was the hardest part of being an artist. And I am still learning.

BB: There is a business aspect of being an artist. Its my least favorite part. I just want to make beautiful things. Marketing and selling seems so mundane compared to creating.

What do you think has been the secret to your success?
JG: Continuity and branding. A business needs to be something, a defined brand, and artists seem to have the hardest time breaking out of the “starving artist” myth. And make no mistake, I love creating my artwork, but to make a living I also need to treat everything I do as a business. Now that I’ve been in business creating glass artwork for almost 10 years, the early work I did establishing a brand, and the solid business practices I set up, are evident. Of course, it helps that people like my artwork.

How do your fans find your work?
JG: I began by getting my name out and showing my artwork at a number of arts and crafts shows. Now I do a few shows each year, like the American Craft Council Show, the Saint Paul Art Crawls, and Art at St. Kate’s and Art at Ramsey. As much as the introvert in me would like to not do these shows, my practical business persona knows they’re essential to maintaining connections with collectors.

BB: Art shows, gallery shows, and through my website.

TT: Largely on the internet, but also through galleries, friends, the classes I teach, and the Saint Paul Art Crawl.

Where do you show your work?
JG: I have my work primarily in The Grand Hand Gallery and online at the Artful Home, and in the fall you can find smaller items, like my fused-glass trees and snowflakes, at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and Bloomington Art Center. And of course I have a website.

BB: At the Saint Paul Art Crawls, Art-A-Whirl, and on my website.

TT: My website, and I link that to places like Pinterest, Facebook, and my blog. I show at the Saint Paul Art Crawl, participate in shows at various local galleries such as The FrameWorks in St. Paul, and I work with an art consultant at NKS Artsource, who got my work into the Dream Home on the Parade of Homes last fall.

What makes your work stand out from others who are doing similar things?
JG: While the technical craftsmanship is the same as any other leaded glass panel, my artwork is unique in the linear, geometric, abstract-yet-representational portrayal of the landscape. There is a watercolor artist in Colorado named David Castle who has a series of paintings that’s eerie in its style similarity. Needless to say, I love his work!

BB: I don’t see a lot of beadwork like mine. This type of beadwork is very time intensive. You have to be a little crazy to take on projects that you know will take at least dozens of hours to finish.

TT: For the animal portraits, I have an unusual ability to catch their energy and character. For my own paintings and 3-dimensional pieces, I’d say it’s a sense of place, of the art being grounded somewhere in particular, either in the world we all know or in one slightly different—this other landscape I’ve always had in my head.

What kind of recognition have you received during your career?
JG: I’ve a won a few media awards for the Art Crawl over the years, including this spring, along with Brenda Brousseau. This is actually the second time we both won media awards in the same Crawl competition.

BB: My biggest moments were the two art grants that I was awarded; one from the Jerome Foundation and one from the Minnesota State Arts Board. These really helped me develop both my discipline and my vision.

TT: In college I won a few scholarships, including one for study in Paris. More recently, I took Best of Show at an exhibit of art from recycled materials at Maple Grove Art Center. Peninsula School of Art in Door County, WI, invited me to come teach a workshop in mixed media techniques this summer, and that’s a big honor.

What else would you like to add?
BB: My art is very spiritual to me. The more time I spend on a piece, the more it is layered with meaning. That importance is then transferred to the buyer/wearer. I feel that each piece I make is meant for someone special. I just have to wait for the person to be ready to accept that power.

JG: It will be a fantastic Art Crawl with the awesome group of artists in the studio this spring. Stained glasswork, fused glass, beadwork jewelry, mixed-media collage and illustrations, paintings, pet portraits, and found-object sculptures…. Not only do we all have wonderful artwork, our personalities will not allow this to be anything but fun!


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