Cape Ann ARTwaves: Episode 2 with Stephanie Cole
Host: Jackie Ganim-DeFalco
Cape Ann is an arts and culture mecca. It’s part of the fabric of our region and contributes to the creative economy. Cape Ann ARTwaves, produced by 1623 Studios, provides local coverage of the impact the novel coronavirus pandemic is having on artists and arts and culture organizations. The show is hosted by Jacquline Ganim-DeFalco and Kristine Fisher.
This transcript was edited for clarity and length.
Jackie Ganim-DeFalco: Welcome to Cape Ann ARTwaves. The purpose of this program is to showcase individual artists and arts organizations to show what’s happening behind the scenes. I’m proud to co-host with Kristine Fisher, who will be the host of the next episode. We’re here to find out how artists are inspired and to learn about the activities they are doing given the time that we’re in today, and what’s next looking into the future. My guest is Stephanie Cole, who works in a very unique artistic genre called memory sculpture.
Stephanie Cole: Thanks for having me, Jackie. For years I was a painter. I painted until that just didn’t do it for me anymore. I started to take inspiration from what I was doing in my life at that point. We were rehabbing an old house, and I learned to shingle and lay mortar and do all sorts of things, and it felt good. It felt good to build things. My house is an antique house. It’s fantastic because the house is dated to about the time of the American Revolution. I relate to old things. I’m an old thing myself. So, some of the art materials I use in my memory sculpture I actually dug up in the yard. I like materials that have a patina.
I was born an artist. I will always be an artist. My father was an artist. I went to the California College of Arts and Crafts for three years. When I married and we came back East, where we were from, it made me feel at home again. I managed to finish my education with a degree from the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford. I majored in painting and kept enough credits in teaching that I was able to teach in the Rockport Public Schools for a while. That was wonderful.
Jackie: You talked about materials, Stephanie, and I think materials are a huge part of what you do. So, could be really specific with us about the materials you use and describe the kind of sculpture that you do because it falls in between a lot of different things.
Stephanie: I feel that everything I do is painting because it’s all about color, light and dark, the influence of one thing to another, the arrangement. I’m painting with stuff. As to my genre, that was always the big question, because early on when I would approach a gallery or someone I thought might help me show my work, they wanted to put a tag on it. There was no tag. So I finally just said, “I’m out of here. I’m out of consulting with anybody. I’m just going to do my thing.” I’d worked hard. I figured I earned it. So, I squirreled myself away and eventually got a studio when I was in my 60s.
I’ve always loved things that have meaning. If you look to my side here, this ridiculous looking figure, that’s more of a whimsical thing, but it was once a pair of pants. When we wear out clothes, they can be so horrible that we cannot even donate them to charity. So, I turned a pair of pants into a person, and the person is called “Favorite Pants”. Sometimes the clothing I use is inherited stuff from my mom, who saved everything. She was a child of the Great Depression. I have things from my husband’s parents. So, I have a lot of old stuff. I even had an antique shop for a while, so I’ve managed to save things from there.
Jackie: Behind your work is a big story; it’s your life story really. When I saw your work 10 years ago, it felt very private to me at the time and I kept saying to myself, “When will the world ever get to see this amazing art?” I was so excited last year when you had your show at the Cape Ann Museum. Now you have this expansive show at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton. So, what was the turning point for you? How did you decide to have a coming out party so to speak?
Stephanie: I’ve always wanted my work to be shown in museums because museums are non-commercial, although they need money. I saw the museums as the place for my work. These people really care about getting involved in the art. They make the effort, and their patrons come from all parts of society, and I love that. For an artist to want her first show in a museum, that’s audacious. But it happened for me, and I was delighted that it happened at the Cape Ann Museum, which brought in a lot of local people. It was my daughters who got me to finally do something about showing my work. They hooked me up with Copperhound. Copperhound liked my work so much that they did a short documentary. That brought my art to the attention of other people. So, I would say it’s my daughters who got me here. I’d produced enough and it was time for it to be shown.
Jackie: What kind of reactions have you received from the public now that you’ve had a chance to interact with people at the Cape Ann Museum and at the opening at the Fuller?
Stephanie: I’ll have to say right up front that women get it the most. Some women responded in absolute tears. So I know I’m connecting with people on a gut level with some of these pieces. People identify with what they see and they tell me. There is nothing better than that. I have a guest book that I encourage people to sign because I want to read what they’re feeling. At the Fuller opening, people made a wonderful effort to tell me how much they loved the work and why. So, that kind of interaction is very special to me.
Jackie: Tell me about the Fuller exhibit. The museum is closed now because of the pandemic.
Stephanie: Well luckily for me my show runs until October 25th. And I think people will need to get out and see art like this. My show is called “Secular Cathedral” and it runs the gamut of a spiritual journey from a very ordinary life.
Jackie: Is there work that is new since the Cape Ann Museum exhibit?
Stephanie: The show at the Fuller is a selection from my work. Next to me, I have one of my most recent pieces that has to do with women wearing painful shoes. It’s called “Sacrificial”. Why do women wear shoes that hurt their feet? That drives me crazy. Here is another piece that I’m going to hold up for you. This one came about because I was given this fabulous antique doll body and it had a huge hole in its head. I thought this doll needs hair, and I always use my own hair. There are braids going all over the place. The title of this one is “Let Me Speak”. I don’t plan things ahead of time. They just happen.
Jackie: Has anything new come out of this period for you in terms of the current situation with the coronavirus? How are you inspired?
Stephanie: My family is the number one thing right now and I do get my inspiration from them. The activity of the moment is making sure everybody is safe. One of our daughters lives in California. We have a granddaughter who’s college closed down in Rhode Island. We have two buggy cats. So everything is very much containing one another here and being safe. Out of this, who knows what will come. I never know what’s going to pop into my head.
I’m a gardener. One of my best pieces is called “Paradise” and paradise is what is out in my yard. I don’t garden for food. I garden for beauty. I like this quote that I heard once: “Gardeners are hopeful people.” And I am hopeful that people can get out and breathe the fresh air, smell a flower. Do whatever it takes to get through this time in a good mental state.
Jackie: That is a wonderful message to end on, Stephanie, thank you.
Stephanie: Thank you, Jackie.