Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.

Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.
CLICK ON THE RABBIT ( yes, those are cabinets) TO SEE MY PORTFOLIO, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SERVICES...theartofthehome.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inspiration: Maureen Carlson

If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I have added a regular "Inspiration:  somebody" post every week.  Although I'm only just now getting to her feature, Maureen is the person who inspired this.   Back in December, when my dog McKinley died, I sent an email to a few close friends, then wrote his story as a blog post.  Maureen Carlson was one of those friends, and she replied that she hoped I would write something as nice for her when she dies.  I think I would rather tell you all how great she is while she's alive, so you are inspired to meet her.  Being counted among her friends is one of my biggest blessings, and one I would wish upon all of you.
Maureen visits with Kadence at open studio one cold winter night.

If you've never heard of Maureen Carlson, you probably aren't a polymer clay artist (and you can't have been reading my blog very long or very carefully).  Maureen was one of the first "rock stars" of the world of polymer clay-commonly known by some of it's brand names, Fimo and Sculpey, among many others.  She teaches classes at her own place, "Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts" in Jordan, Minnesota, and at workshops and events across the country.  She hosts other well-known instructors at her center, as well.  Maureen has also appeared on popular craft shows on television, and written numerous books on polymer clay sculpting, which is how I first "met" her.
A peek at the retail space at Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts.  Many of Maureen's original pieces are displayed beneath a hand lettered border, painted by your favorite ex-sign painter.  Click photo to enlarge, click again for details.

About fifteen years ago, when I lived in Alaska, I decided to make a whimsical angel tree-topper for a friend's mother, and off I went, to the local craft store.  Polymer clay was gaining popularity, so there were several books available, and as is the case for all trendy crafts, there were dozens of specialty tools one needed, not to mention a rainbow of colors of clay. One of Maureen's books caught my eye, both for the whimsical style of her characters, and the page that showed you how to make your own sculpting tools from common household items.  Frugal artist that I am, I didn't want to invest a ton of money in something I had never tried before, and wasn't sure I would even like doing, so this was perfect.

That little tiny book was packed full of information and inspiration.  Not only were her directions clear on how to begin, but the encouragement to think about the shape of your own features as you smoothed each piece into place made sure that the results would be your own creation, not a copy of hers.  Maureen is great that way, whether she's helping you bring out your best in your art work, or in your self. 

My very first polymer clay attempt.  Don't blame Maureen's instructions if my whimsical angel turned out to be an elfish version of my dad.  I did as she said, and imagined my own features, but intentionally exaggerated them.  Guess I look more like my father than I realized!

See, she doesn't just teach art.  She's passionate about healing art ( I prefer to call it growing art), the kind of process where you make something interesting, while you make some interesting discoveries about yourself.  You know the quote about the statue David, where Michelangelo says he was always in the stone, he just let him out?  Well, that's how Maureen is.  She sees something in each person who comes to her, and she helps them reveal it.
All the sculpting that I do today started with what I learned from Maureen's book.  More of my ornamental plaster work can be seen on my website, theartofthehome.com

Maureen is kind and wise and talented and funny, and she can give you the gentlest head-tilted-to-one-side, one-eyebrow-raised, "reeeeaaallly?" smile that immediately tells you to cut the crap and get real with yourself.  You don't have to tell her your truth, but you may as well tell yourself, cause she's gonna keep quietly looking at you that way until you do.  Now, some people completely miss the look, and she's fine with that.  I've never seen her act or speak judgementally about anyone (okay, except upon hearing about someone who hurt my feelings, but that was her protective-friend hackles raised, and she had my permission to call a booger a booger in our conversation, while I tried to be open minded and figure out the other guy's perspective).  So, she's kind and wise and talented and funny and loyal and feisty.

Now, back to that book I was telling you about.  There was something else to that book.  There was the brief story of Maureen, this artist who was making a living writing these little how-to books, and selling her whimsical creations at a Renaissance festival.  I knew it was possible!  I knew there had to be a way to have an art career that was a heck of a lot more fun than commercial sign painting, despite what everyone kept telling me about being practical.  I knew it, and this woman was proof!  I had never met her, but I put her in my imaginary "wise council", and held her as my vision of what was possible, if I had the courage to make changes.

Years later, or more precisely, a whole lot of courage, four homes  one state, and a new business later, I was driving from Belle Plaine to Minneapolis, and saw signs for an art festival in the neighboring town of Jordan, and made a side-trip.  As I strolled along the sidewalk, familiar characters in a shop window caught my eye.  I knew these Wee Folk!  I knew this artist!  I don't actually remember if I got to visit with Maureen that day, or just with some of her friends, students and employees who were helping out, but I began stopping in occasionally for supplies, advice, and Friday open studios, and eventually saved up to take a class.

This is Summer Joy, the piece I made in that first class I got to take from Maureen. 
I love watching Maureen teach.  I love watching her students bask in her genuine care and appreciation for their unique way of being, and believe me, some of them be pretty unique!  But know this, if Maureen ever thinks anyone is less than wonderful, I don't think I've ever heard her say it, or seen her face show it.  You are 100% safe letting your guard down in her classes, which is the only way to really get the best she has to offer.  Like I said, you aren't just learning about sculpting clay, here.  Whether a fumbling beginner or a capable pro, each student is challenged just enough, encouraged just enough, guided just enough, and if the breaking point of frustration is hit, Maureen glides in at just the right moment to lend a hand, and make it fun again. She's kind and wise and talented and funny and loyal and feisty and compassionate.

Here's one of Maureen's "Dolls on the Wall" sculptures. 

Maureen explores the theme of masks in many of her works.  Click to enlarge, so you can see the details, or better yet, look for this on her website, which has professional quality photos!
When you hang out at Maureen's you come to appreciate what a skilled listener she is.  Maureen is a seeker of knowledge, truth, light.  Her art and classes have progressed from whimsical fairy-like beings known as Pipsywoggins, to pieces and classes that explore and express soul and spirit, sometimes in light and humorous ways, sometimes in more sober styles.  Her teaching has evolved, both through experience, and through a pretty serious course of study, to better meet the responsibility of handling students with deep caring.  She's the best listener I know, and yet she still takes classes in listening! (I do try very hard to learn this skill from her, really I do).

So, she's wise and kind and talented and funny and loyal and feisty and compassionate and patient and beautiful...and one of my very favorite people in the whole world.  Let me introduce you...

(click here)

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