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MEMBER PROFILES

Get to know some of our Carriage Barn members with Membership Manager Jessica Ruhlin.  Please reach out if you’re interested in being featured: [email protected]

February 2024

An Interview with Member, Hooey Wilks
*To see the images of antiques toy skiers in the mountains as well as other photo based contemporary mixed media work by Hooey Wilks, visit her website at hooeymountain.com

Tell me about your background, and what led you to pursuing photography professionally?

This goes way back.  From middle school through college, I had a very successful national craft business. I used my first big paycheck from that to buy an SLR camera. (I still have it.) In high school and college, I took many photography classes, but ultimately landed in the corporate world.  While this may not have seemed like an important part of my creative journey, it taught me so much that has been vital to running my art business such as the importance of a business plan, budgeting skills, file management, web design etc.

As I approached my empty nesting years, I was determined to run my own business doing something creative. I also really wanted to somehow link it to my love of skiing.  I enrolled in classes at FIT as I considered something in textiles.  I was looking into surface design and was shooting images possibly to paint for that purpose. All the while I had been collecting antique toy skiers for years and started photographing them in CT.  I quickly realized they needed a much bigger stage to really bring the photography concept to life. So, I packed them up and brought them with me out west skiing. Shortly after that I stopped shooting for surface design and focused entirely on the photography.

I love photography, spending time in the mountains and the joy of skiing. The world can always use more joy and happiness, so I am happy to be delivering that.

Your photography series of antique toy skiers on Mountain resorts plays with scale between the vast landscapes and small stature of the human figures. Tell me about the inspiration behind this choice. Where did the figures come from, and do you have names for them?

With these small figurines, the use of perspective, depth of field and framing, creates movement where none exists. It draws you in and makes you question what you are seeing. It is at that moment there is an unfolding of the art as you experience it that I think makes the skiers come alive. I never photoshop the toys into backgrounds. I am constantly exploring the landscape, examining the environment and the details that mimic what I am feeling, but often on a smaller scale. I can be seen laying in the snow usually just off a ski slope, hands freezing, placing the skiers in just the right place to get the shot.

My first two antique toy skiers came from an antique shop in New Canaan about 15-20 years ago as a gift for my husband. We were smitten and kept adding every year. We now have about 150 of them. They do not have names, but one of them I think of as my avatar. The red skier appears quite a bit in my images and on my Instagram account @hooeymountain. Sometimes I think of the Series as a diary of my best days. For each image, I remember exactly where I was, what the weather was like and who I was skiing with that day.

You’ve participated in a range of programs and exhibitions at the Carriage Barn — can you share what you value most about being a member?

I’m really enjoying the guided tours of art exhibits the most.  I personally try to see new art at least twice a month and these organized trips help me make that happen.  Having a small group guide really helps me understand the artists’ paths, techniques, and inspirations. I’ve also learned about so many more places to see art in this region than I realized existed!

What advice or encouragement would you give to others who are thinking about pursuing their creative interests? 

Just start! If you can’t find the time to take a class, just get some materials and try it. YouTube videos are great for some basic knowledge in whatever medium you want to pursue. If you enjoy it you can prioritize the education piece later. We are so lucky to be near so many great places for art education. Don’t be intimidated by what others are doing.  It can be just for you. There is no right way.  Finally, at some point you need to decide if it is a hobby or a business. Again, there is no right answer, but slightly different approaches.

Who or what inspires you most as an artist and/or personally?

I’m inspired by people with creative talents and really inspired by those who run their own businesses (I love the “How I built this” podcast).  I sell a lot of my work through decorators.  These (typically) woman owned businesses are just oozing with talent.  They work incredibly hard to bring functional solutions and beauty to spaces and I’ve been seeing that up close now since I started Hooey Mountain. 

How do you feel having an arts center like the Carriage Barn and/or arts access is important for a community?

The first time you go public with your art is intimidating.  Regional arts organizations like the Carriage Barn are a great welcoming space for all skill levels.  Dipping your toe in the water that first time can be difficult for someone new to exhibiting, but it is great for immediate feedback.  It’s also a great space to meet and interact with other artists and share ideas and resources.

Also, we live in a town that really values its athletes and I think it is great to also show the youth in this town that artists are valued too.

An Interview with Member, Lauren Van Roden
*To see more of Lauren’s paintings, visit her website at Lauren van Roden Designs

You have several creative pursuits from your artwork to your butter business. Anything else we don’t know about? Tell me about the most significant experience or influence that shaped these interests?

I have always identified as being a creative person and had a strong interest in the arts. My maternal grandmother, Hildegarde van Roijen was an artist in Washington DC and has always been my most significant inspiration looking back. She was a wild and out there artist who consistently thought outside the box and was very social. She entertained often and was always the most interesting person at the dinner party. 🙂 I remember her taking me into her studio on several occasions and teaching me to draw with charcoal and pencil and she ignited a love for art in me at a very early age. She would take me to museums and teach me about various artists. Today, I have several pieces of her artwork in my home, sketches, prints, sculpture and paintings. They are incredibly inspirational to me. Over the last few years I have had some very difficult life events, in particular losing my father, who I was very close to. Art and creativity served as an incredible outlet to me in this difficult time. I would sit in my office at night and paint and lose myself in the colors and shapes and it was very cathartic. It was almost mediative; I could quiet my mind and my hands would do the work. As a mom of two little girls and a teacher during the day it can be hard to find time for yourself and painting and Butter than Ever became my personal outlets and filled my bucket so to speak.   I thrive off of the joy that my art and my butter bring to others, and it has been incredibly fulfilling to me.

As a family member of the Carriage Barn, your young children have also participated in classes and activities here. What have they enjoyed most and why is this important to you as a family?

I see creativity in both of my daughters, Lucy 8 and Caroline 5.  They love to draw, sculpt, act, sing and perform. The Carriage Barn has been an incredible resource for us by giving them the opportunity to attend performances, visit the exhibitions and attend the After School Adventures program. The girls have learned so much about various artists and have had an opportunity to create multi-sensory art projects with other kids their age. They look forward to Art Adventures each week and I can’t think of a better way to continue to foster their creativity.

When times get busy, what keeps you motivated as a creative? Do you have a favorite artist who inspires you?

When times get busy, I have a tendency to get stressed and overwhelmed. Carving out time to be creative has always served as a way to decompress and hit pause. I walk through my house and see my grandmother’s art and its a good reminder of the creativity that exists within me. It can be hard but I try to commit to doing something creative each week, drawing, painting, listening to music, singing with my kids and my husband in the car or working on my needlepoint.  When it comes to holidays, I always try to push myself to create at least one creative gift. A few years ago it was my mother’s birthday, and I couldn’t figure out what to get for her and I knew I wanted to do something creative for her. I was out shopping and came across a ceramic hippo. My mother’s favorite animal is a hippo. I looked at it and said to myself, I can do something with that. My mother is lovingly referred to as “Buttons” a nickname she was given when she was a little girl. I immediately went to Michaels and purchased some colorful buttons and got out the hot glue gun and started gluing various sizes of colorful buttons onto the hippo. The result was a fabulous ceramic hippo covered in buttons on its back and under its feet like it was floating on buttons. It is one of the silliest pieces I have ever done but it came straight from my brain and manifested in a fabulous end result. I still laugh when I go to my mother’s house and see it on the counter.

What advice or encouragement would you offer to others who are thinking about exploring or pursuing their creative interests?

My words of advice are this… creativity allows your brain to exercise in a different way, a way that can be very rewarding to not only you but to those around you. Take risks, experiment, don’t be afraid to try something bold. Half the battle is getting up the courage to try and once you pick up that paintbrush or pen you may surprise yourself. Creativity is in you, it just needs a vehicle to come out.

 

What kind of impact does an arts center like the Carriage Barn and/or arts access have on a community? How has this been impactful in your own life?

We are so lucky to have the Carriage Barn right here in our backyards. I am always telling people I meet about how much it has to offer for adults and kids. The events help to bring people in our community together and highlight the magnitude of talent we have in this town. I am constantly so impressed with the caliber of artists that display their artwork within the cozy barn walls. No need to go to New York! We have plenty of culture right here in our own backyard!  I feel so lucky to be amongst such amazingly creative and talented artists and to be able to give my children the opportunity to be exposed to incredible masterpieces. As a teacher I know how important multisensory learning is and there is no better way to tap into the senses than through art and creativity.  I encourage all families of young kids to come by the Carriage barn and walk through the exhibits or attend one of the events or classes. There is just so much you can gain from stepping through the doors of the Carriage Barn. It is a warm and welcoming place and an incredible resource to have in our special little town.

March Profiles

An Interview with Member, Jim Fenzel
*To see more of Jim’s paintings, visit his website at Jim Fenzel Art

What drew you to paint as your medium of expression?

I have always loved to draw, and painting was a way to go bigger than a sheet of paper. My graduate degree is in architecture, and I enjoy bringing architectural pencil drawings to painted canvas. Years ago, I picked acrylic over oil; at the time, I was more intimidated by oil and did not know if my “painting phase” would last. Since then, I have stuck primarily with acrylic, though I use oil sticks on top of the acrylic paint in some pieces.

 

Describe your ideal workspace (both the physical and mental essentials):

My current workspace (the basement of our West Hartford home) is functional, but I’d love to elevate it literally and figuratively. A vast open space would be ideal, so despite the cliche, I’d choose an urban loft with high ceilings and large windows. I’d want to look down on the street but still feel intimacy with it, so something between the third and 5th floors in a walkable neighborhood featuring a mix of architecture. As in A Few Good Men, where Tom Cruise’s character “thinks better with his bat”, perhaps my most unique essential would be a spot where I could retrieve the passion of my childhood and throw a lacrosse ball against a brick wall. The repetition of that lifelong skill helps order my thoughts. Of course, very little work would get done without coffee. The espresso machine would sit in a nook (safe from flying lacrosse balls) with a bookshelf and comfortable leather chair.

 

I tend to get my best ideas and breakthroughs by … 

Exercise and music are essential to my creative process. We lived in Manhattan for a decade and experienced it as the quintessential walking city. My wife and I moved there with no kids and left when our fourth was two. In that decade, we put countless miles on the strollers, and as I walked, I found infinite scenes I wished to paint. I paint a lot of architecture and like seeing the same buildings in different seasons and times of day. The exercise itself–walking, biking, throwing a lacrosse ball–leads to ideas coming together.

I have no musical talent, which may make applying what I hear to a different medium easier. For instance, I have a piece for an upcoming show in Boston that addresses redlining and other de jure segregation practices. It is a weighty subject, but the painting is vibrant and seemingly lighthearted at first glance. As I walked and planned the painting, I was drawn to songs whose lyrics were sad, destructive, or tragic but whose tune was not. Some that come to mind are “Destroyer” by Dead Man Winter, “1-4’5” by You Won’t, and Cory Branan’s entire 2022 album When I Go I Ghost. These songs’ catchy tunes and upbeat energy belied haunting, heavy lyrics. Branan said, “I didn’t want to make a record that pondered itself; I wanted it to have motion, so I gave this record an overarching rule: The sadder the song, the more it had to move and groove.” The hope is to draw people in through composition and color; the painting does not “ponder itself,” but if the viewer is drawn to it, perhaps that leads to them asking: “What exactly am I looking at?”

 

What is the most rewarding and the hardest part of what you do?

The most rewarding part is in the studio when I’m in a groove, a zone. The hardest part is marketing and selling the paintings I’ve finished. Often, I’m full of ideas about how to discuss the work I’m currently doing, but once done, my mind shifts to the next project, and it’s difficult sometimes to recapture the passion that was present in the process.

Can you describe a meaningful experience or relationship you’ve formed through your membership at the Carriage Barn?

I live quite a distance from Carriage Barn (in West Hartford), and I have four kids (ages 6 to 15) whose sports and activities keep me driving around on evenings and weekends. Therefore, I have not taken advantage of as many Carriage Barn offerings as I wish. I loved attending the New Britain Museum of American Art outing organized by Kristin Edwards. I’ve connected with other artists via social media; hopefully, I can increase my involvement.  It’s a special place with a great setting and dedicated people.

An Interview with Member, Heather J. Jones
*To see more of Jim’s paintings, visit his website at http://www.heatherjjones.com

What personal attribute of your character has been the most essential in your work as an artist?

I’m a planner–in life and my creative process. Mapping out a plan for each painting is essential because realism is not about how much detail you choose to put in a piece, but what you choose to leave out–and that is where the challenge begins. When I go to sleep at night, the thing I like to think about is what my next “move” will be on the piece I’m currently working on. That said, watercolor is always full of surprises, which is one of the things that makes it most enjoyable. So, while I always have a plan for each piece, I’m not opposed to changing it along the way.

What are you working on now and what do you hope to work on next?

I’m working on a series of vintage motorcycles. These images are a time machine: they represent the exceptional design of a long-lost era while transporting one to a solitary place where there is nothing but open road–and that feeling that comes from hitting the gas. In addition, I’m in the planning stages of a series of square works of iconic mid-century cars in various settings, which will be painted in monochromatic palettes.

What’s a metaphor to describe your creative process?

It sounds strange, but I relate my materials and methods to cooking. My process, which is very unconventional for watercolor, involves layering graphite and straight-from-the-tube watercolor pigment–much like layers of a cake. The final stage of my process involves selectively applying thinned gouache to sharpen edges and saturate colors, which just makes everything pop . . . Like the sprinkles on top. When thinning my pigments with water, my desired consistencies are a range of dairy–from skim milk up to heavy cream, but never whipped cream!

What is something you have discovered this year that has been a game-changer?

I’ve long loathed using liquid mask. It is a necessity, however, to achieve realism given the abundance of tiny details in my work. Recently I’ve started leaving the mask on the paper until I’ve nearly finished working on an area–as opposed to removing it in the early stages. This new found “patience” of mine has really made using mask more efficient–and likeable.

If you were to recommend a favorite event or class at the Carriage Barn to a friend, what would you suggest?

I take so many classes at Carriage Barn–from yoga to monotype, but the one class I always recruit friends for is the wine tasting and floral arranging evening with Emily of Vine Floral. I learn a ton about both flowers and wine at these events. The barn buzzes with creativity while everyone works intensely on their arrangements, which makes for a fantastic night out.

About the Carriage Barn

The mission of the New Canaan Society for the Arts, Inc. is to promote the visual and performing arts, and to enrich the community through exhibitions, education, and cultural experiences, and to operate the Carriage Barn Arts Center.

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Keep in Touch

Carriage Barn Arts Center
Waveny Park
681 South Avenue
New Canaan, CT 06840

(203) 594-3638

[email protected]