Deep inside every piece of art is a story waiting to be discovered. In the sweeps of the brush strokes, the blending of a thousand different colors, the caress of calloused hands molding a piece of clay into a work of pottery, the story is always there — lurking just below the surface for those who will gaze upon it long enough to let the story unfold before them.
The language of artistic work is sometimes intimidating for those who aren’t comfortable with their own creative abilities — or lack thereof! We even hesitate before the steps of the local Art Center, wondering if we would fit in, or fearing we would be confronted by works that we simply “don’t get.”
Fear not. The language of art is always open to interpretation. And the close-knit group of area artists most closely identified with the Clear Lake Arts Center believes that it speaks to each of us.
“All of us here feel like everyone has some type of creativity in them,” says Amy Palmer, co-director of the Clear Lake Arts Center.
But creativity — much like religion — is perhaps ‘better caught, than taught.’ And one of the best ways to catch a little creative flair may be to visit it in its native habitat. That’s the mission of the upcoming studio tour, inviting area residents to “Explore Artistic Spaces” as a host of artists open up their private studios to the public on Saturday, Oct. 13.
The Second Annual Studio Tour sponsored by the Clear Lake Arts Center includes 10 stops across Clear Lake and North Iowa. Many of the artists will be offering demonstrations of their craft, and several will even have works for sale, but most importantly it will give tour-goers a chance to really explore how an artist works.
“A lot of people have no idea how a lot of this stuff is actually done, or how a lot of the artists got started,” says Sally Rasmussen, one of several artists on the tour and a supporter of the Clear Lake Arts Center.
A sneak peak by Clear Lake Living into just a few of the studio spaces on this year’s tour reveals cavernous rooms large enough to hold work tables filled with tools of the trade and art pieces in various stages of composition. Windows that stretch from one wall to the next flood the studios with light, while shade trees dapple the afternoon sun with unpredictable shadows as they sway in a light breeze.
“Oh, if I only had a place like this,” was the frequent refrain heard from visitors on the inaugural Studio Tour in 2011.
But it’s not just about seeing the spaces, it’s really about meeting the artists, hearing their stories, and perhaps being inspired to find one’s own creative niche.
“Artists love to talk,” Rasmussen says. “They like to tell their stories.”
Rasmussen is a retired art teacher who went back to college at age 50 to earn her master’s degree. She always dreamed of being a full-time artist, and has now made that dream come true. When she and her husband, Alan, built their home in Clear Lake six years ago, they designed it with a huge studio in the front of the house. It’s a one-of-a-kind design, and one that fits perfectly with the couple’s lifestyle.
Encouraged by a college professor to concentrate on one aspect of her art, Rasmussen focuses now on hand-painted silk pieces. Her front room studio allows Rasmussen to spread out and work for hours on large silk pieces, while still being in the heart of the couple’s spacious home. It is entirely light and bright, and feels very much a part of the couple’s daily living space.
On the other side of the lake, another artist works in an equally beautiful, yet completely different style of studio. Rather than working in the heart of the home, artist Jaclyn Garlock creates her painted works of art in a loft-style studio a short walk from the home she shares with her husband.
The Garlock studio, while still bright inside, has a more rustic feel. There’s a weathered grace to it. The first floor serves as a workshop for the couple, while Garlock’s painting studio reigns on the second floor. Set among a small timber area, the studio even has a walk-out terrace that creates a sophisticated tree house feel to it. One can only imagine sitting there on an autumn day, wrapped in a comforter, sipping hot chocolate and watching the birds fly south.
But make no mistake; Garlock didn’t always work in such a relaxed setting.
“I spent most of my years doing silk screen in our basement,” she recalls.
It was a tight space where the fumes of silk screening could be overwhelming, but it was the price she paid for making a living from a craft she loved.
These days, Garlock does little silk screening and spends most of her creative time painting on canvas with acrylics that are far more gentle on the body. She’s at a point in her life where she can do the art she loves most, worrying less about what might sell most quickly.
“I spent a lot of years doing work to sell and when I decided to start painting I knew I was going to shoot myself in the foot, and I was going to paint things that people wouldn’t be able to put in their living room — and I don’t care,” Garlock says.
While many artists favor landscapes over figurative painting, Garlock thrives on the challenge of putting a character on canvas. She is currently working on a series she calls “Working Girls.” Tour-goers will “meet” her first work in the series, “I Can Bring Home The Bacon” features a saucy woman sipping a martini, puffing on a cig, and lifting a shiny teapot from a vintage stove.
One of Garlock’s friends served as the model for the woman in this lively work, but the painting really creates a character of its own. The embroidered towel around the woman’s waist and the stove are the only true-to-life features of the work; the rest is drawn from the artist’s musings.
Future pieces in the “Working Girls” may feature a woman ironing, vacuuming, or baking a pie, ordinary activities that take on a unique personality through the artist’s interpretation.
Some of Garlock’s favorite challenges in painting are shiny or reflective objects. Her mastery of painting images in reflection is seen in the teapot in the “Working Girls” painting and in the chrome and windows of a classic American automobile in one of her most popular silk screens, “See the USA.”
If “Working Girls” emits an uptown, hip feel, then “See the USA,” with its picnic scene set on a car that could be a ’57 Chevy, creates an all-American setting sure to delight any audience.
As different as they are, “Working Girls” and “See the USA” are works of the same artist, albeit at different stages of her life. And that’s one of the most fun things about the tour; it allows visitors to travel through time a bit and learn how each artist became the artist he or she is today.
Long-time North Iowa artist Rosemary Alsbury understands well the transitions in life that every artist faces. She and her husband, both graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute, worked as commercial artists and had a Mason City television station as a major client back in the early days of TV. Long before “Green Screens” and Photoshop, TV stations used art that was, well, art.
“When the local television station went on the air, our art studio was about 10 minutes from the station. I would do the running and Robert (her husband) would do the quick lettering for things that went on TV,” she says.
It was hand-done, pretty much all in black and white, and Alsbury laughs when she recalls that she had her track shoes on to get pieces to the station under deadline.
The Alsburys were early supporters of the Clear Lake Arts Center. She, too, sees the community as an enclave of artists that inspires creativity, and where artists can learn from each other.
“Clear Lake is special. It’s a very creative place. There are a lot of art people here, artists that are active, and a lot of ordinary people who are very supportive,” Alsbury says.
Having the Clear Lake Arts Center is a boon to artists and non-artists alike.
“It’s wonderful,” says Rasmussen. “Everything that the Arts Center offers, for a small town, is really amazing.”
People wishing to go on the Studio Tour, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, are encouraged to stop at the Arts Center on South Fourth Street first. There they can pick up a map of the studio stops before heading out for the day. The full tour will include 15 artists and 10 studios. While most of the stops are in Clear Lake, there are also artists included in Mason City and Charles City.
A map and brochure will provide a full listing of participating artists, but a few of the others included this year will be John Larsen with his stained glass and Craig Kienast photography.
Palmer is also hoping that folks will look around the Arts Center and realize all that it has to offer.
“Some people feel that the Arts Center is not for them if they’re not an artist,” Palmer says. “But even if you don’t feel you’ve found your creative outlet — yet — we can all appreciate it at different levels. And you can own a piece of art that doesn’t have to be really expensive.”
Palmer estimates that there are more than 100 local and area artists represented at the Center. Their work might be a large impressionist painting, or a small piece of pottery, jewelry or greeting cards, or even a book by an Iowa author who expresses her creativity with words.
Combined with the Studio Tours, a visit to the Clear Lake Arts Center allows people to own a piece of art created here in Iowa and to learn the story of the art and artists behind it.