What does home mean? Is it where you were raised? Where you are now? Even if you’ve never left, there is that special gut feeling that just tells you… you are here. You are home. The sanctity of that word blankets many attachments to the notion. That creaky second stair on your family’s porch, the soft nape of your mother’s neck, the warm smell of the wood burning tool you were given as a child. Anything can be home, if it is home to you. Laura Jewell recognizes the importance of knowing your home, and understanding your roots.
Laura is the kind of person that makes you want to close your eyes and smile. She has a captivating, almost magical quality to her that is effortlessly translated into her artwork. Her most recent series, Rural Superstitions and Astrology, focuses on different lessons she has taken from Old Farmer’s Almanacs. In approaching these lessons, Jewell has had the opportunity to reconnect to her roots as a country girl from rural Kansas, and find re-purpose in the activities of her youth. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to hear her words, and am happy to share them with you. Please read on, and reflect on the lessons that you’ve learned, and the home that you hold dear. -Amy
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
I’ve been interested in art since I can remember. I grew up in the country, in Kansas, and my first art set was a wood burning tool, which I thought was the coolest. I did 4H and did the arts and crafts, did that in high school. Then when I went to college I tried some different things, like Agriculture Business. I just wasn’t into the math part of things, so I started taking art classes and went from there. I moved up here and finished school at USD, and just kept going I guess.
Were you attending school in Kansas before USD? What was your major?
Yes, I have a BFA in printmaking.
Did you have mentors, or anyone that helped you through the schooling process?
I had a lot of really fantastic professors. I took a couple of classes from Diana Behl, and she’s probably the one that really got me interested in printmaking. Liz Heeren has been a great mentor and friend, and Johntimothy Pizzuto was my printmaking professor at USD and he was pretty fantastic too. But there are so many artists that it’s tough to name all of the people who’ve encouraged and pushed me towards it.
You started with wood burning; what has been the evolution to working on masonite?
That’s tough. Wood burning was just cool. I was so young. I’m really glad I went to school for printmaking, because it’s something that I think is pretty tough to self-teach. When I got out of school, access to a press was not that easy. I had taken two painting classes, one from Liz and one from professor Freeman at USD, and I decided since I don’t have a press I’m going to start painting and try to teach myself some of these things. Remember some of the things I was taught… painting happened because I didn’t have money for a press at first. People really liked it, so now I keep painting.
How long have you had this studio space?
A year and a half, maybe.
With learning new processes, do you find that you teach yourself a lot, or do you seek out people to help you?
Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, it’s kind of stupid, but it’s like a pride thing. I’ll feel like I should know something, so I won’t ask. I’ll just have to figure it out. It is what it is I guess. I just got a Utrecht order of all sorts of varnishes, and I’m going to see which one I like the most and go from there. Something like that is so personal preference that you can’t really ask someone what’s your varnish? It may not be right for my paintings. I probably should ask people sometimes, but I’m more I’m buying a book and I’m going to do it myself. Really pave my own way.
Do you want to talk more about your Rural Superstitions and Astrology series?
That came about after school and during school, especially during school. It was tough for me to find what was me, what I was going to be making. It was so influenced by what does everyone else think I should be doing? What does everyone else think is fine art? When I finally got done with school, I needed to step away from it. It was interesting when I was trying to figure out what other people thought I should do; I was stunted. Things were more forced and didn’t flow very quickly. It kind of happened weird. I got my great grandpa’s Old Farmer’s Almanac, and his water witching sticks. I remember doing that as a kid, and growing up on the farm, all of these things that I had learned and forgot. I moved to the city and I was cool. Who cares about the farm. But my dad giving me these things reminded me of the country, farming, rural background that I have. They have all these great lessons, and some of them are really dated, and I love it. Some of them I can see how it definitely still should be followed. Maybe some people still do, maybe some don’t. A lot of planting and harvesting and plowing is all done by the phase of the moon. So, the farmer’s almanac lays it out. Don’t touch your potatoes until the first moon and the vines are dead. Don’t ween calves until it’s whatever moon phase… I really enjoy that. Now that I’m reading these lessons and talking to other people, they’re telling me their family stories. If the first day the fog is all the way to the ground, 90 days from that you’ll have precipitation. Something like that, like snow. I keep hearing these little things that other families have passed down, and these paintings are flowing now. Right now I have three in progress, one is a commission. The parts of the series, they are just coming to me a lot easier and faster. I feel good, I feel like I’m going true to myself. I’m a country girl. I grew up on the farm, part of me. It’s cool to be proud of it again.
Do your paintings each correspond with a lesson?
Pretty much. There’s a few that have been in more landscape. Like when I’m driving home to Kansas, it’s probably really dangerous and stupid, but I’ll have my camera while I’m driving and I’m taking photos. (Laughing) It’s so gorgeous over there! Click click click. There’s a few landscape paintings, but most of them are a lesson. I love all the lessons. Some of them are not quite right, like one of them is something about farmer’s advice to keep your son on the farm, like you have to have interesting things in the house in the winter, or he’ll go to town and get liquored up. Put plants in the house so no one goes stir crazy–I just love it. But I probably won’t paint that, you know? I have Farmer’s Almanacs as far back as 1871 right now that I’m reading. The further back, the more interesting they are.
When you’re looking through the almanacs, how do you seek out the lessons?
I go through and read, because each month has a different thing. Like, in April when it’s stormy you can’t take the day off, you need to work on your machinery and get it ready for the planting in May. I read all these little things, because they’ll have quips that are just a sentence long, and they’re perfect and immediately give me an idea. I go through and I read and I make notes. Some of them I immediately sketch out what I would be painting. When I’m here I go to my notebook and I look at all my ideas and I start a painting from that.
What is your creative process? How long are you usually working on something?
It totally varies. Some pieces come together way faster than others, and some things don’t happen that quickly for me. It’s also really strange, because I can’t tell since I’m working on so many at once. I’ll do lots and lots of layers, and I have to step away from it to let it dry, and sometimes I just have to let the next thing come to me. So I’ll start another one. Earlier this month, I think I had seven pieces all over the floor and propped up everywhere. I’m in a scramble to get the show ready for Northern.
How long have you been working on this series?
I’d say it really started around last year. There’s just so many lessons in it, and I really think it’s cool to bring it back. I’m working in my garden, according to these lessons. You can’t harvest cucumbers any later in the day then while the dew is still on it. Tim [Laura’s husband] harvested the other day, and I was just like, oh man. You harvested at five in the afternoon! That’s not okay, but I don’t know why, exactly. (Laughing) Farmer’s Almanac said. So yeah, I think I’ll continue it for a while.
What are some struggles that you encounter with your creating?
You’ve probably heard it before. Doubt. Self-doubt is a son-of-a-bitch, really. I struggle through that a lot, and it’s one of those things where I’m like will other people think this is worthwhile? And then I get done with a piece and I remember that I don’t care if other people think it’s worthwhile, because I like it. That’s probably my biggest thing, is that struggle. That brain messing with me.
How often are you working in the studio?
It varies. This past month, I was in here 14-15 hours a week. In the morning, after work, just whenever I can make time. That’s the biggest thing. Sometimes I’ll be at home and I just want to sit on the computer and not do anything. But then I make myself go, because maybe I’m not feeling inspired right now, but I have to go and work through some stuff. Hopefully when I get done with the show I won’t go down to two hours a week. Ten hours a week would be a good goal.
You’ll have your show in Aberdeen. Are there any other shows coming up?
No, not really. I’m not sure exactly right now. I’ve got big goals for the next year. I’m going to try to apply to some art fairs. That’s where my sights are set right now. Getting into some art fairs. I don’t know how, because nothing will fit in my car, but I’ll figure that out later. I’ll get into a show and then deal with it.
How do you approach which shows you apply to?
I have looked up to Chris Vance in a way for those things. He had told me when I was still in school, in 2010 I think, he was telling me “to sell one piece, you have to make ninety.” Some crazy number like that. But I understand what he’s saying, and where he’s coming from. To appeal to that one person, you can’t just put out one painting. That’s not going to work. Chris goes everywhere for art fairs, like every weekend he’s at a different show, so I’ve kind of looked at where he’s going and they’re on my list of holy grail entries. My holy grail is the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver. They get like 300,000 people in a weekend. Hopefully out of that many people someone will like one piece. I’ve heard lots of stuff about how it’s really hard to get into, because everyone wants to get into that show. We’ll see.
What’s your favorite show you’ve been to this year?
That’s tough. Well, I’m really excited for some of the shows that we have coming up at Rug and Relic. There’s this guy Mike Paul who just moved here from Bismark, and he does encaustic. It’s really interesting to me, because not a ton of people do that anymore. His work is just insanely detailed. He uses the tiniest palette knife I’ve ever seen. I’m excited to see that.
Sioux Falls artists to keep an eye out for?
I love Liz Heeren’s work, she’s obviously a major artist here. I’m lucky because I get to see Steve’s work while he’s getting ready for his show at the Pavilion. I’m super excited to see that. I feel like it will be a show that no one has ever seen before. Going into this installation of fish…crazy sushi. I’m exited for that. Steve is one of my favorite artists. The most playful and lighthearted, which I like in an artist. Not too serious. I get to see a lot of people submitting work too, seeing people wanting to get a show. Jeff Ballard? Dang. His stuff is amazing. I think we’re in this changing time in Sioux Falls, where stuff is just going to get crazy. More opportunities to allow for artists to come out of the woodwork, which I think would be really cool.
Anything specific that you would like to happen for the art scene?
It’s tough, because galleries have a hard time making it in this town, but I would love to see a few more galleries that are dedicated to showing artists. Yeah, have your artists in residence, but keep bringing in new people, even if it’s just a month like we do with our shows. We have such limited wall space that that’s all we can really give sometimes. We give it a shot and get them exposure, but I hope that more galleries open up. It would be great for everyone, I think.
Do you have advice for anyone trying to get more involved in their artistic career?
You have to think about pieces. The pieces you make aren’t quite your best work, and you have to realize that and not fall back on I painted this three months ago, this is what I have. You have to keep working, and actually look at it as work sometimes. It’s not always just when the inspiration hits; sometimes you have to hit through that not happening. Work, and knowing your work. If you know something isn’t right, then don’t put that out there yet. If I know that I can submit five images, I don’t really. If I don’t have one that’s up to par then just don’t use it. Submit four images. Maybe that’s just me, but I feel like that probably helps with people going through portfolios for shows. Show your strongest side.
It’s kind of like having the ability to remove yourself, from yourself.
Exactly. Maybe it’s the best you can do right now, but give it some time. Maybe in a year you’ll need to paint over it. Sometimes that hurts, but it’s also liberating. You have to keep working and allow yourself to grow. Don’t hold stuff too sacred.
Do you come back to older work a lot?
Yeah. I had done a big triptych, which was nine feet long in total, and it didn’t sell, which is fine. But, even just having finished it a year ago I look at it and there’s some things on there that I know I could do better now, or I’m unhappy with how I did something in the first place at all. I’m painting over it right now. It’s not going to be a triptych anymore, because it’s not going to go together anymore. I don’t do that willy nilly, I really think about it, and know that piece didn’t sell and it’s had plenty of opportunities. Since I know that it’s not quite right, yeah, I’m going to paint over it.
Do you have anything that you’d just like to say? What does the future hold for you?
I’m trying to remind myself right now that where I’m at with my paintings will continue to change. Allowing that to happen is kind of where I’m at right now. In my recent work, there is a shift happening, and I need to just let that happen. This is what’s happening now and it’s great. I’m letting it do what it’s going to do.