Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Randy Hughes
Describe your studio. My studio is exactly 44 steps out my back door. It’s built from salvaged beams, old bricks that once lined a well, hand-cut stone, and rough-cut lumber. It has a tin roof, which sounds blissful when it rains. Plants, trees, stone, rain, time, weather, and decay make the studio look like it’s always been here. The studio is designed around a massive bookcase, and there are 17-foot ceilings, beamed and cross-beamed. There are oversized French doors, shuttered windows, and a wall of salvaged bricks. An arched window floods the space with north light. It’s the one place in this world that truly reflects who I am, and it’s the one place where I am enough. It’s far more than I ever dreamed of, and hoped for, during all those years painting in front of the living-room window because that’s where the light was.
What do you keep in the studio? There’s a Carolyn Anderson painting to inspire me to keep it loose. There’s a beautiful Robert Coombs painting, which is a map for painting air and light. There are souvenirs from the road, such as santos, puppets, and marvelous little Asian dolls. Sometimes there are books, sketches, photos, pages of ideas, props, and creations everywhere in the studio for days. But I can simply close the door. Most mornings, I’m out in my studio by 6 o’clock. I adore feeding the woodstove in the winter. People who love me never go to the house to find me. They go to the studio first.
What sculptures do you have in your gardens? I have Jim Eppler’s raven with turquoise in its beak. It stands over the koi pond outside my door. The steps from the studio down to the pond are of an ancient millstone. There’s another similar stone, leaning Wyeth-style in front of the studio. Collecting millstones is the perfect excuse for a road trip.
What music do you play while you paint? Alison Krauss, Beethoven, old Elton John, Willie Nelson, and Rosanne Cash.
What impresses you about other artists’ work? I am impressed by the sheer charm and magical elfin quality of a Nancy Guzik painting. I adore how utterly romantic the emotion and passion is in a Ron Hicks painting. I am impressed by Quang Ho’s confidence and abandon and also the way Jeremy Lipking, who is a baby, paints black with all those glorious edges with golds and reds coming through.
What artists from the past impress you? All the Wyeths, Antonio Mancini, Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt, and Joaquin Sorolla.
Describe yourself in one word. Curious.
What is your proudest accomplishment in art? My proudest accomplishment is being asked to judge, and do a demonstration at, the Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Exhibition & Sale in Orleans, MA, in September. Also, building my studio was a great accomplishment. It’s something I’m able to enjoy, and it gives back to me every single day. That’s a biggie for me. Finally, being with a fine gallery like Whistle Pik means the world to me.
What is your biggest fear? Doing the demonstration at the Oil Painters of America show was my biggest fear because I had never painted in front of anyone in my life. But it helped me understand my process and to really think about what I do.
What is your favorite subject matter and why? I only paint a landscape if there is a figure or horse in it. I’m attracted to the way light hits a figure and travels across it. Great painters always chose the figure because it is the hardest thing to do. Most of my people are solitary figures. That’s just what I find beautiful. It doesn’t really matter if the clothes are Vogue-magazine beautiful. For me, it’s always more about an emotion or feeling and trying to capture that. But trying to capture emotion and feeling is like trying to capture the wind.
How has your work evolved since you first started painting? My work has changed a lot. In the beginning of my career, I thought I would die happy if I could paint my children. And I did paint them. But from there I kept setting new challenges and goals. I would visit a new museum and then set a new challenge for myself in my own work.
If your studio was on fire, what one thing would you save? The one thing I would save is my old, green chair with a cowhide seat. It is where I begin my days, meet with God, and spend a heck of a lot of time looking at whatever I’m working on.
What is the one place people will never find you? On a cruise ship bound for anywhere.
When you are not painting, what do you enjoy doing? I love road trips in my big, old Dodge truck. I love America from New York to New Mexico. There’s so much incredible beauty and inspiration here in this country. There are large Amish settlements 30 minutes from my home and studio. The people and their lifestyle are magic to me. I enjoy watching them out and about in their buggies and bonnets. It’s the opposite of going to a shopping mall.
What are you working on right now? I’m putting my heart and soul into a show at Whistle Pik Galleries in November. E
Whistle Pik Galleries, Fredericksburg, TX; True North Studio, Springfield, TN; www.wandachoatefineart.com.
Featured in November 2011.