Posts Categorized: Artist Features

Interview with Artist Ashley Dull

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Ashley Dull Lindeman’s enthusiasm is infectious. She bustles through the door of a downtown Decorah coffee shop with arms full of paintings, at least one still mildly wet. We hug – I’ve known Ashley since she was seven and her sister and I were best friends in the fourth grade – and we both speak at once.

“I haven’t seen you since that time we talked about changing the world,” I say.

She laughs, “I’m still trying to change the world…somehow.”

This earnest mission is at the root of what inspires Ashley in her art. She’s not jaded. And, no, there isn’t supposed to be a “yet” on the end of that sentence. Maybe she’s naïve. But who cares? She’s definitely not cocky, especially for a 26-year-old who is actually making a living at art in the Twin Cities, a place loaded with talented artists and creative folk. No, Ashley is willing to admit she’s got a lot to learn

“I’m still trying to figure out this world – I don’t know enough about anything, really,” she says humbly.

She does know a thing or two around a canvas. If it weren’t for the amazing texture created by the carefully molded piles of still-wet paint, her nature-inspired pieces could be photos. Really dimensional photos, almost like you could walk right in.

“I want people to say, ‘I wanna touch that. I wanna be there,’” she says. “I will be out walking in the woods, touching everything, enjoying the peace that nature brings – I want to put that in my paintings. I want to make people feel good.”

Ashley’s upbringing on a small farm in between Postville and Decorah was full of the big skies, beautiful trees, and picturesque landscapes of the Driftless Region. A walk in the woods could inspire as many as three-dozen future paintings. Perhaps this is where the passion she’s had for art “since forever” began.

Nurtured by teachers with good foresight – Postville High School’s Rose Schutte and Luther College’s Doug Eckheart being two major mentors – Ashley took the encouragement they gave her, “You really have something here,” and ran with it. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 with a double major in health and art. And like many recent graduates, she wasn’t sure what was next.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’” she says. “But I did feel that it was possible to really do it, to be an artist.”

It certainly wasn’t a straight shot to galleries and commissions from there though. She moved to the Twin Cities to work as a personal trainer, painting in her free time. In 2007 she finally applied for her first art fair in Edina. And got in. During that show Ashley met her now “art agent” Jack McCauley. McCauley helped her put together her first gallery show in Roseville and it was a huge success. This was the affirmation Ashley needed to paint more, train less. McCauley continues to represent her work today.

Her pieces have since been shown in seven galleries – along with four shows in the next two months alone – and she landed a lengthy internship with nationally known Twin Cities artist Pamela Sukhum. Now, just two short years since Ashley’s first show, she’s armed with a wealth of new skills and information for her life both as an artist and as a self-employed business owner.

“It is still a business, and I need to make money,” Ashley says. “If art takes me there, then okay.”

She has learned it’s a lot of paperwork. And marketing. And networking. And while it’s fun to envision a future of grandeur, she’s not expecting it – perhaps doesn’t even want it.

“You know, I think it crossed my mind what I was younger, ‘Maybe I want to be this famous artist,’ but now – I could care less about fame. I want to bring peace and beauty to people’s lives,” she says, earnest once again.

She also wants to bring hope to people’s lives, and attempts this through a “giving back promise.” Ashley donates a small percentage of sales at her shows to an organization she’d like to support. The exhibits in the Twin Cities have been tied with non-profit organizations mainly dedicated to helping at-risk youth. For her Decorah show, running from October 1 through 31at The Perfect Edge on Washington Street, Ashley has, we’re humbled to say, chosen Inspire(d) Media as the organization she’d like to support.

“I believe in what you’re doing and want to help if I can,” Ashley writes in an email after informing us of her choice. She’s also really excited to have her paintings in the town of her alma mater.

“I always hoped – and sort of knew – I’d do a Decorah show,” she says. “So many of my paintings are Decorah landscapes.”

In addition to the giving back promise, Ashley has a few other traditions tied to her work: She always picks a theme – the current show is entitled “From Darkness to Light,” inspired by the prayer of St. Francis ­– and she always hides a bible verse somewhere in each painting. Don’t get worked up – she isn’t really a beater of said bible – she just relates many of the verses to her experiences in nature: feelings of calm, peace, love, joy, beauty, change, and new life. It’s by translating these experiences to her paintings that she plans to change the world.

“If I can help someone feel a connection to the world around us and a sense of purpose in this life,” she writes, “then I know I have done right by my talent.”

Aryn Henning Nichols truly believes you can change the world with passion (the good kind) and positive actions. When she was 21, she said this to someone and they told her she’d just wasn’t jaded yet. It’s been a happy seven years in the so-called land of bunnies and unicorns. She’s not planning on leaving any time soon.

For more information and to check out some of Ashley’s art, visit artbyashleydull.com

 

Butter-to-Art: An Interview with Butter Sculptress Sarah Pratt

By Benji Nichols 

With roots dating as far back as the 1400s, butter has been used in various ways to create art – Monks even made deities out of yak butter! Here in Iowa we’ve been making butter art since the early 1900s with the Iowa State Fair “Butter Cow.” The list of the artists who have worked in this medium at the State Fair is surprisingly short, but Inspire(d) was lucky enough to catch up with the latest heir to the title “Butter Sculptor.”

It is worth noting that the construction of a butter figure is even more complex than you would already suspect. More than 600 pounds of low-moisture, pure-cream Iowa butter are used to cover a frame constructed of wood, metal, wire, and steel mesh. Inside a 40-degree cooler, Sarah Pratt applies layer upon layer of butter until an almost full size figure comes to life. It’s also worth noting that the butter is not wasted – in fact, it is often used to create sculptures for up to ten years – so no sneaking a taste! The Midwest Dairy Association has sponsored the attraction since 1960, and we are delighted to have had the chance to ask Pratt a few questions.


Name: Sarah Pratt

Age: 32 (in 2009)

Profession: Teacher at Phoenix Elementary Early Childhood Center in West Des Moines

I: Where did you grow up?

SP: Toledo, Iowa

I: How did you get involved with Norma ‘Duffy’ Lyon (Butter Sculptor for decades prior) helping to create the butter sculptures? 

SP:I grew up knowing Duffy and went to school with her grandkids. But it was actually a trip to the State Fair to help a friend of mine, Kari Lyon, who also happens to be the great-niece of Norma. She was showing dairy cattle and I went along to experience life in the Dairy Barn. While Kari was in the show ring I was put to work in the butter cooler, cleaning buckets and softening butter. The next year Norma called me and invited me to help again. I continued to help and Duffy trained me over the next 15 or so years.

I: What’s your favorite butter sculpture or cow that you have created? 

SP: I enjoyed sculpting Harry Potter. There were so many fun things to incorporate from the stories. But the sculpture that I was and am the most passionate about is the piece I sculpted last year honoring Norman Borlaug. So many are unaware of his accomplishments and the difference he has made in the world! It was a privilege to share Mr. Borlaug’s story with Fairgoers.

I: What else will you be carving besides the cow for the 2009 Fair? 

SP: I will be sculpting a scene from the Apollo 11 mission.  “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.”

I: How long does it take you to create the sculptures? 

SP: I work for about three weeks before the Fair begins.

I: Any comments about working with butter as a medium? Tricks of the trade?

SP: At the right temperature butter is very much like clay. The trick is to get the butter to that point and keep it there.

I: Anyone you’d like to acknowledge or thank?

SP: I want to thank Norma for all of her support! Without her confidence in my ability I would have never believed I could do it. And of course I need to thank my husband, Andy. He is a great sounding board for ideas and has spent many hours helping me plan and build the armatures.

The Iowa State Fair runs every summer in mid-August in Des Moines. And you can get in on the butter sculpting action! Submit your name for a chance to test your skills in the Butter Sculpting Competition at the fair. See you at the Fair!

Interview with artist Doug Eckheart

By Aryn Henning Nichols

In the middle of a gallery, with walls covered in bright memories of places and events he’s experienced over the past four decades, Decorah artist Doug Eckheart begins a sentence just as he’s probably begun many before: “Like I tell my students…” he pauses briefly, “surround yourself with what you love.”

Surrounding Doug at this moment is the bright aqua of the Venice canal, an exceptionally pink spring in Paris, the wide span of a Norwegian horizon, the geometry of Belgian houses. But more than the locations, it’s the feelings he had there that inspired Doug to paint the 20 pieces in his current show, “My Journey: Images of the Artist’s World Travels.” The vibrant watercolors aren’t entirely factual – colors are altered, scenery adjusted, lighting tweaked – but each is a personal experience of that specific locale, a record of a moment in time for Doug. These records, locked in memories, photos, and sketchbooks for quite some time, finally began to manifest on canvas late last year.

“The idea of this show has been in my head a long time. About 35 years,” he says. “These things need to percolate.”

While the travel took decades, the painting process took less than half a year. And each piece comes with a story.

“I intended for the paintings to inform and educate people about the place, event, cultural and historical significance,” he says. “I wanted it to be like a tour for people.”

Like this show, Doug’s career as a Luther College art professor spanned 40 years.

He retired in May 2009 with more than 60 one-person and 40 group shows under his belt in cities such as New York City, Chicago, Des Moines, Malta and Norway. He has held the title of artist-in-residence, keynote speaker, juror, department head, gallery director, and curator. He has been featured in print and on television, and has served internationally as a visiting artist. Not bad for a guy who never thought this was going to be his thing.

“I didn’t start out to do art,” he says. “I was always outside building forts and bow and arrows. But my friends and I would get together to draw. We were always listening to the radio and drawing.”

In Moorhead, Minnesota, a young Doug Eckheart also began to watch a TV show, “Come, Draw With Me,” with his friends. It featured artist Jon Gnagy, who was, essentially, Doug’s very first art teacher. From this time on, Doug always had a sketchbook handy. Art become his first love. His second was basketball. The third and most life changing: Georgiann, his high school sweetheart and now wife. The two went on to get married, begin a family, and start a life together. He earned his bachelor’s on a full scholarship for basketball at Concordia College in Moorhead, his master’s at Bowling Green University in Ohio, and then had a brief, albeit incredibly busy, stint teaching at Waldorf College before finding himself in Decorah, Iowa. Famed Decorah artist Orville Running, one of the “Brothers Running” who had helped Doug at various points in his life, asked Doug if he’d like to come teach at Luther College.

“I knew when I drove down the hill on Highway 9 that this was the place for me,” he says. “The interview consisted of a three-hour tour of Decorah – everything he showed me had to do with landscapes, all places he knew I’d want to paint.”

Decorah had him at Dunning’s Spring. And it was this lush landscape that Doug first set out to paint in his brand new home.

“Really, I found the perfect place – no. It found me,” Doug says of Decorah. “Life led me right where I was supposed to be.”

Faith, he says, has directed him in virtually every aspect of life. Now, looking back on more than four decades of teaching, a 48-year marriage to his childhood sweetheart, four grown children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, life has definitely taken him on a sweet ride. Turning his sights on retirement, Doug sees painting, teaching workshops, and finding patience for golf just as he’s found patience for watercolors. Looking over his art, too, Doug can definitely see the years passed.

“My early work has a different energy,” he says. “I like it. It has a spontaneity you lose with age. Of course I’ve improved in some ways too. I like my age. I like where I’m at and what I’m doing.”

And this, Doug says, is paramount.

“Like I tell my students: find out what it is you like. Then do it.”

Aryn Henning Nichols likes to read, which led to writing, which led to journalism, which led to travel, which led to this magazine, which led to design. She likes all of these things. Which is nice.

 Learn more about Doug’s workshops – drawing, watercolor, ink – and Eckheart Gallery (107 W. Water Street) at www.eckheart.com