This is the twenty-fourth in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; remaining semifinalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Amanda Burnham
Age: 34
Website: www.amandaburnham.com
Current Location: Hampden
Hometown: Toledo, OH
School:  undergrad/BA – Harvard ’01 grad/MFA – Yale ’07

30 BurnhamCurrent favorite artists or artwork: Anyone who draws. I’ve always really enjoyed Barry McGee’s work. Dieter Roth is another huge favorite. Locally I think there is a lot of great stuff being made, but I especially like Nora Sturges’ work (she is a colleague at Towson) and Gary Kachadourian’s work.

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Art+Design, Art History, and Art Education at Towson. It’s a full time position, so, during the school year, I tend to work in fits and spurts – in the evenings and on weekends. Summers, however, are expansive and wonderful for studio time. I try to get as much done as possible! Throughout the year, I travel several times to do installation projects at various spaces, and the large scale and quick turnaround on these works keeps me going when my studio time is otherwise sparse.

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How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? Maximalist. I like packing lots of tiny little novelistic details into all the drawings I do. Lately (over the past several years) most of my work has had to do with describing cities, which is a theme that attracts me, I think, because cities contain so much. I also work best between extremes – very small, dense, and tight sometimes –  big, explosive, and rough other times.

What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I love seeing something that had me nervous for weeks finally snap together. Of course, the uncertainty that precedes that immense feeling of relief and surprise never ceases to be uncomfortable…

What research do you do for your art practice? One of the most important research activities I engage in these days is running. Running is an incredibly direct way to encounter the city and see things I’d miss from a car. The speed of running is a great balance between covering a lot of ground without compromising an awareness of detail. I get compositional ideas from seeing elements of my surroundings converge and separate as I approach and ultimately move past them. It’s a terrific way to get a sense of a new place – I make a point to go for a long run (or several, if possible) anywhere I travel. It also reliably puts me in a headspace that is more energized and inventive. Walking, sitting, and watching are also terrific, but I usually use my runs to generate ideas about *where* to return and subsequently linger.

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What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? I’ve recently discovered Mary Roach and am tearing through all of her books – “Packing for Mars” is great, and I’m eager to get going on “Gulp”, which is a tour of the human digestive system. I read “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer lately, and thought it was a lovely memoir. The currently airing remake of “Cosmos” with Neil DeGrasse Tyson is gorgeous, occasionally very pleasingly biting – a wonderful homage to the original.

 Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them?
Sure – but I’ve come to regard “dry spells” as a necessary and inevitable part of the overall process. I find that at times that I have a hard time making, I’m often soaking in a lot of stuff that will come out in later work.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? I analyze past work, and I try to keep apprised of my conceptual peers (both past and present). I ask myself whether I’ve made something too conventional, or whether I’m repeating myself too much. I always try to do something new and untested (by me) in everything I do – whether that’s an idea or a process, there has to be some element of the unknown and potentially worrisome for work to stand a chance of being interesting.

What is your dream project? I’d like to construct an installation work in a large, dedicated, and very public venue, inviting participation by passersby, for a very long period of time. I imagine a huge living drawing that goes through many permutations and has no real endpoint- much like cities themselves.

This is the twenty-third in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Elizabeth Crisman
Age: 39
Website: elizabethcrisman.com
Current Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: Vienna, VA
School: BFA Virginia Commonwealth University, MFA Maryland Institute College of Art

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Current favorite artists or artwork: Uta Barth, Kiki Smith, Big Man by Ron Mueck and too many more to list…..

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? Currently adjunct professor and run a gallery at a community college. It can be hard, especially mid-semester when everything is happening at once.  I try to incorporate moments here and there, such as stopping somewhere on my way to work and taking a few photographs or work on the mold making in between other priorities.

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How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? It has many layers. It’s hopefully thought provoking and poetic. Slow and steady with pausing moments to think about what I’m doing.

What part of artmaking do you like or enjoy the most? The least? I like the playing and experimenting that goes on in the studio.  I sometimes don’t like to finalize a piece cause it has so many possibilities and directions it can go.

What research do you do for your art practice? Depends, I’ve researched techniques and used them in my work. Sometimes it is more reading and experiencing new places. These days, I’m interested in archaeology and the sociology of man kind where I’ve done a bit of reading on evolution and how man lived through Paleolithic and Neolithic time periods. I’ve also volunteered on archaeology excavations in Israel as well as local areas in Anne Arundel County.

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What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? In the Woods by Tana French, Radical Face – The Family Tree: The Roots

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them?Definitely! Play with materials and ideas until something peaks my interest.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? Try to incorporate new concepts and techniques over time.

What is your dream project? Would like to travel more in the US and overseas and create a series of images/artifacts. Maybe even create a series specific to historical sites from these travels.

This is the twenty-second in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists will be announced in mid-April, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Ally Silberkleit
Age: 23
Website: http://www.allysilberkleit.com
Current Location: Baltimore,MD
Hometown: New York, NY
School: Middlebury College

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Current favorite artists or artwork: Paul Mccarthy, Urs Fischer, Ragnar Kjartansson, Sally Mann, David Altmejd, Folkert De Jong, Penpón Osorio, Gregory Crewdson, Do-ho Suh, Suntek Chung, Carsten Höller, Charles LeDray

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? I graduated from college this winter, so right now I am trying to take some time and just look at my art making as my day job. However, I do still have to work on the side just to help pay for everything. My time ends up being split pretty evenly between the two, which can be hard since there is not much time for anything else, but coming up with a solid schedule to stick to definitely helps.

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How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? My work tends to be big and somehow create or transform a space. A great deal of my work addresses the way we experience memory and tries to recreate that experience in a more tangible form. I often start of by taking my own memories and recreating them in dioramas or rebuilding that particular space. Because of this, a lot of my work ends up in box-like rooms that contain each memory. My studio practice usually involves building or designating a space to fill with a memory and then fabricating the objects to fill it from there. I often start from the outside working in, starting with the bigger objects and finishing with the smaller ones. Photography tends to play a big role in my work so digging through and working with old photographs is an important part of my practice as well.

What part of artmaking do you like or enjoy the most? The least? Seeing the piece come together and having things begin to make more and more sense as I go along is the best part for me. Hearing feedback or getting to watch others experience the work is another great part and a big rush as well. I also just love working with my hands so any part that is really detailed oriented or more hands on than just drilling or making cuts is always great and really therapeutic. The least enjoyable part is taking apart or transporting a piece, as my work often needs to be partially or totally destroyed for it to be moved.

What research do you do for your art practice? Even though my work isn’t really about technology, somehow Facebook ends up being a very important part of my research process. So much of our lives and memories are stored and nicely curated there that I often find myself going through tons of old albums to find images or events that interest me. For example, the piece I am working on now came from realizing that a bedroom of a friend’s was a central location for a large portion of images saved from high school. This generated a great deal of memories, which I am now working with, that took place in that room.

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What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? It might be cliché to say “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, but honestly, it is beautifully written and just so great and inspiring to get a first hand account of the lives and careers of two incredibly influential artists. Other than that, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan, and Wild, by Cheryl Strayed are all really captivating books. For Movies, The Act of Killing is an incredibly interesting take on documentaries, where the individuals being interviewed (those responsible for real-life mass murder in Indonesia) are actually asked to recreate and reenact their killings like a movie. I’m not going to lie; in terms of music Beyoncé has really been helping me get through my work and has been blasting on repeat in my studio (#iwokeuplikethis). Other than that, I’ve also been on a big Frank Ocean, Milky Chance, Shaky Graves, and The National, kick.

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? I tend to have the opposite problem where instead of not knowing what to make, I have a hard time deciding how to actually make it or just getting started. The best way I’ve found to get over this though is to always keep a book that has at least 3 ideas for small side projects that I can just easily start working on without having to think too much about it. This usually helps get things going and is a good way to keep up my momentum if I ever get stuck with the larger project I’m working on.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? I’ve been trying to push myself to be much more intentional with my work. I find that it is easy to get really excited about a project and start coming up with all these ideas that might not necessarily make sense with the original idea or all need to be part of the same piece. Sometimes these ideas would actually be best as two or even three totally separate installations. Being more strict about everything from the size of the piece, to the material can be quite challenging but in the end makes for clearer work and helps me identify what I am really trying to get at.

What is your dream project? I have always wanted to have a show that mimics a museum of natural history. It would be filled with different diorama style installation but all of the dioramas would be of dreams and different memories. Instead of taking naturalistic scenes of animals or historical events and presenting them as facts, I would be taking surreal events that never fully happened or aren’t fully remembered and present them in the same way. Many of these installations would also be interactive where the viewer could enter the diorama and go behind the glass or have some performance aspect to it where people were already behind the glass involved in the installation.

This is the twenty-first in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Nora Howell
Age: 27
Website: norahowell.com
Current Location: Sandtown, Baltimore
Hometown: Cincinnati
School: Wheaton College (undergrad), MICA Master of Fine Arts in Community Arts

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Current favorite artists or artwork: national/international: Nick Cave; Baltimore/DC:FORCE, Upsetting Rape Culture

What is your day job? Program Director of Jubilee Arts. Jubilee Arts is a community art program that’s mission is to provide arts opportunities to youth and adults as a tool of empowerment and social change in our community. We organize community beautification projects as well as offering 18 art and dance classes a week for ages 6 and up.

How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? It’s all about the deadlines. If there is no deadline, it does not get done.

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How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? I describe my work as performance based sculpture with a community context. I try to walk a fine line between a community based and studio based practice. The two are often in conflict with each other and the challenge is bringing the two practices and ideologies into harmony.

What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I love the initial ideal, the burst of ideas and a vision of the work in the very beginning, and the moment the piece is completed. Everything in between can be rather torturous, full of internal conflict, failure and problem solving.

What research do you do for your art practice? I participate in an ongoing racial justice organization in Baltimore as part of my on going education and research and read critical race scholars. In addition to the book research my work always involves first person research. Whether that be through formal community based interviews or workshops in a community context or an ongoing record of conversations and personal experiences with the content of my work.

What books have you read lately you would recommend? Anything here: http://bmoreantiracist.org/resources-2/booksvideos-websites/

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Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? A lot of my work involve sewing and making impractical or unwearable garments. When I’m in a rut, I make functional clothes for myself. While involves a lot of the same materials and tools, the functionality of the product gives me a sort of mental break which is usually what I need in a dry spell. I’ll make clothes for myself until I’m tired of it then I’ll go back to art making.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? The challenge for me is always finding the perfect fusion and balance between community based work, with visually compelling products that are conceptually complex but are easily accessible to the general public who are unfamiliar with critical race theory nor have a thorough understanding of racial injustice and or racial privilege.

What is your dream project? The project that does all of the above! Still dreaming!

This is the twentieth in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Benjamin Kelley
Age: 30
Website: www.BenjaminKelleyStudios.com
Current Location: Baltimore City
Hometown: Flushing, MI
School: MFA, Rinehart School of Sculpture, MICA
BFA, Central Michigan University

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Current favorite artists or artwork: Kurt Schwitters, Mike Nelson, Rasheed Johnson

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? Adjunct Faculty, and Fabrication Studios Manager at MICA.

How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? Sometimes it’s a salty, big-bodied 1970’s four-door sedan and the smell of oak, sometimes its sassy heels on glass, sometimes it’s ancient mud.

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What research do you do for your art practice? Field research is imperative. The objects and materials procured and used within my work lead me to very specific arenas. Recently, I have been corresponding with a scientist (ocean ecologist and biochemist), who is floating in the middle of the sea on an old oil-drilling rig that has been converted to pull deep earth core samples from the beneath the ocean floor. I am excited by the field work of these scientists as they are mediums with the ability to reach back millions of years into the earth’s history.

This past summer I spent a lot of time in the archives of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, I was after a few specific items, human skulls that were used by Washington Matthews and J.S. Billings in their significant work (1880’s) of developing new methods of measuring and recording size, capacity, and variations of human cranial forms. I was able to hold these specimens, smell them, photograph them and study the surface textures.

I also have a guy who is my “marine salvage guy.” I have been on site with him a few times now while he is in the midst of a project. When a boat sinks, he is called to dive, lift, and haul the vessel to shore. He then disposes of the boat by dismantling it piece by piece. He does this work mostly alone. It’s an incredible process, like a necropsy of the vehicle or vessel. This is also why I spend a lot of time in junkyards. It’s one of the best resources for my work, a field of autopsied cars in various stages of dissection.

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What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? The movie I think everyone should see, Alone in the Wilderness (Story of Dick Proenneke)

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? I try to fight it but eventually take it as a sign to get out of the studio and practice archery or go antiquing.

What is your dream project? Build the world’s largest trebuchet.

This is the nineteenth in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Fred Scharmen
Age: 36
Website: http://www.sevensixfive.net
Current Location: Brick Hill in Baltimore City
Hometown: Lusby, Maryland
School: University of Maryland, College Park for undergrad, Yale University for grad school; studied architecture at both places.

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Current favorite artists or artwork: too many Baltimore artists to mention, but I get so much out of the way that this city works. There are many times where I’ve met someone and enjoyed hanging out with them, and then I later find out they happen to be making some of my favorite stuff. I love that people here are so accessible and open about talking about what they do. As someone who is coming towards art from a background in design, I appreciate that willingness to just dialogue, and I have learned a lot from that.

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? I teach architectural design in the graduate program at Morgan State’s School of Architecture and Planning, where I am lucky to learn from my students and my colleagues every day. Right now, I find myself in this weird place where suddenly I have three desks: one at Morgan where I can do research and teaching, one at my home where I can do more architectural design and writing, and one at my studio where I do drawing and small sculpture. It’s not always that clear cut where one ends and the others begin, but this is new to me, as up until December I had done art, design, research, and writing all at the same home studio. I’m still figuring it out, but it works so far.

How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? In my work I’ve become interested in setting up systems, and then working within them. When I was in grad school I took a course on Processing, which is a computer language invented by some people at MIT that bridges the gap between abstract art and software code. What I liked about it was the way you could build the rules of a little pocket world, and then see what it could do, and then pop back out and tweak the rules some more. Somehow, even though it’s totally deterministic, you can still be surprised by effects you haven’t expected, and then use those effects in decisive ways. It’s similar to the way architects work, setting up constraints, and then working with those constraints to see what’s possible. I didn’t have the patience to work this way in front of a keyboard, though. When I started drawing again, I wanted to use that same kind of thinking at the drafting table: start with a set of clear rules, and run the drawing like an experiment, then change some of the rules, and run the drawing again, with different purpose and intention. For some reason, I’d rather spend the hours hunched over a drawing board, rather than in a desk chair at a monitor. It’s not an aversion to technology, maybe it’s more of a posture thing …

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What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I love getting absorbed in the process, spending the actual real time with it, thinking with it and interacting with it. The part I’m bad at is remembering that at the end, it’s not just process, the artifact itself is the thing, and that it should be treated in a way that’s careful and precious. It’s probably another hangover from thinking like an architect, where you make drawings, but the drawings aren’t the thing, they’re the means to an end, which is the thing. Me and my partner, Marian Glebes, talk about this a lot, she has a deep background in the fine arts, and I’m learning a lot about other ways of thinking from her. I’m fascinated by the differences between art and design. Among other things, I’m a terrible art handler.

What research do you do for your art practice? I like to find material on geometry, ornamentation, systems thinking, networks and diagramming, cartography … it’s about staying on the hunt for new methods and new formal systems, and those can really come from anywhere, at any scale, in the arts, or the sciences. As a designer I’m also interested in space science, it’s such a weird intersection of technical organization and projective aesthetics.

What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? This is a topic dear to my heart, and one that I could go on and on about, but I’ll spare you. Some of my favorite books are science fiction, I’ve been reading one or two sci-fi books a week, lately. I’ll only mention a fantastic novella I can’t get out of my head, written by two Russian brothers in the 1970s, called ‘Roadside Picnic’. It’s a bizarre story about postindustrial landscape and the disruptive potential of strange unknowable technology. For movies, I absolutely love this old Miyazaki anime from the mid 80s called Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which, now that I think of it, has similar themes to ‘Roadside Picnic’. On TV I’ve been watching a lot of nature documentaries, I’m loving this new David Attenborough series on mammals. Music is another one I could go on about, some of my favorite stuff is from Baltimore. I play mostly records in the studio, so it’s awesome that so many Baltimore musicians are releasing on vinyl. On heavy rotation is Ponytail, WZT Hearts, Moss of Aura, and Future Islands.

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Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? I’m lucky to have opportunities to switch channels – if drawing isn’t working out for a bit, I refocus on writing and research, if architectural design hits a block, I can find new inspiration with my students. It goes around and comes back again.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? With drawing, the challenge is there every day. Blank paper is scary, and there are some times where I’ll avoid it for months! I’m trying to practice closure right now, executing a series and then ending it. It’s forcing me to keep going forwards, instead of dwelling on old work and old methods.

What is your dream project? I’d like to get more chances to get out of the studio and do some more drawing in the real world, to work more with water, lasers, magnets, and dirt. Drawing has this history that goes back to scratching in the ground with a stick, I think getting back up to full scale, and branching out to other technical means is the future of drawing.

This is the eighteenth in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Sebastian Vincent Martorana
Age: 33
Website: www.sebastianworks.com
Current Location: Baltimore, Station North/Barclay
Hometown: Manassas,VA
School: Syracuse University, BFA, Illustration.   MICA, MFA, Rinehart School of Sculpture.

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Current favorite artists or artwork?  Beth Cavner, Fabio Viale, Ron Mueck, Phil Hale

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life?  How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? After I graduated from Rinehart in 2008 I founded Atlantic Custom Carving, LLC, which is basically the trade name for my freelance and subcontracting work. I do carving, design, restoration, fabrication, consulting, etc. I work primarily in stone, but I also carve wood and do fine art restoration of sculpture in various media. Additionally, do a bit of freelance illustration and teach a couple of courses a semester in the Illustration Department at MICA.

About the same time I finished grad school and founded ACC, I began working with Hilgartner Natural Stone Company. They are the oldest stone company in the US and are located here in downtown Baltimore. I am basically their resident stone carver and I am able to hire them for the kind of things that I need assistance with. I’m lucky to stay pretty busy with commissioned work that comes to me directly and also through Hilgartner. I try to get as much of my own work done as I can in between jobs. However, my wife and I had our first child about a year and a half ago, so finding that time has become ever more difficult. I’m very fortunate that there is a lot of crossover between my “work-work” and my “art- work.” So my day job keeps me mostly in the studio, even if I’m not always working on my own concepts.

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What part of art making to you like or enjoy the most? Hammer hitting chisel, hitting stone. The least?  Paperwork.

What research do you do for your art practice? The usual stuff, I guess. I do a lot of looking at things very hard and thinking about them. Because making a single large scale piece out of marble is a pretty big commitment, in terms of time and money, I really want to make sure that I am devoted to the concept. I need to be into it on a practical and conceptual level. I may do a lot of background reading if the art piece relates to other real word phenomena. Depending on the complexity and required precision, I might do sketches, drawings, technical and otherwise and full or scale models. I usually do lots of photography for visual reference.

What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music?  I’d recommend Not in My Neighborhood by Antero Pietila to anyone that lives in Baltimore. Very enlightening. As far as music–actually fast, up tempo rock/punk. I think that people get the impression that stone sculptors listen to classical musical all the time, probably because of the soundtracks of ridiculous TV/movies montages, wherein the romantic artist knocks out a life size marble figure in a few delicately placed strikes. But that’s movie magic. Rocks are hard, so: hard rock just makes sense.

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Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? Honestly, no. Not because I’m so creative. But like most artists, I only have a limited time to work on my own sculptural ideas, and since every piece takes me so long to produce, I never catch up with the backlog of ideas that I would like to work on. I wish that someday I could get to the point where I got to do everything I thought of, but I suspect that if I did, I’d be disappointed.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? I try to do things that I’m excited about. I get really into trying to do something that I haven’t seen before. Often this involves material that is, in part, salvaged, or combining materials. Since I can’t buy this stuff at an art store, it doesn’t come with instructions, so the challenge is not only in doing something that is difficult well, but in figuring out how to do it at all. It can even be just a new and unique texture. That part is like being an impressionist painter. I’m not creating a replica of a thing, but an interpretation of a thing. It all starts with experimentation.

What is your dream project? I have been working on a series of pieces about and made from salvaged row home steps that came from razed neighborhoods. I have made some of these look like comfortable cushions based on the furniture in my own home. I would like to have the time and money to take salvaged stones from my own neighborhood and re-make a full stoop (2 or 3 treads and a landing set together) that was carved to look like an entire piece of soft, upholstered furniture. I would install it in a public place in the neighborhood that now has new construction, which lacks the historical marble steps. It would act as a proud and positive reminder of the buildings and people that used to exist here and call this place home. It could be a place where people could still sit and hangout on marble stair steps, even if their homes didn’t have them anymore, and take part in that aspect of Baltimore’s cultural history.