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Interview with Jane Baldridge, October 25, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Jane Baldridge, October 25, 2007
Date:
October 25, 2007
Description:
Interview with artist Jane Baldridge in which she discusses her background and arts education, her aesthetic, current projects and highlights from her artistic career, and the local arts community in Wilmington.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Baldridge, Jane Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  10/25/2007 Series:  Arts Length  90 minutes

 

Hayes: Welcome. We're talking today, I am Sherman Hayes, university librarian from UNCW, Randall Library and Ashley Shivar, who is assisting us today on an oral history interview with Jane Baldridge. Did I get that correct?

Baldridge: Yes, you did.

Hayes: All right. And what's your full name, Jane?

Baldridge: Jane Lawton Baldridge.

Hayes: Jane Lawton Baldridge and we're here to talk to you about art, both your art career and art passion but, before we jump into that, could we have some context of the rest of your life before today. In other words, where were you born and grew up and a little sense of family before we get going on the art which, of course, does make a difference, right?

Baldridge: Yes. Oh, I would hope so. It makes the fabric. I was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, but we left there when I was very young and I grew up on the coast of Texas, which accounts for part of my personality. Everything's bigger there. (laughter) including mouths, egos, attitudes.

Hayes: Well, a particular city in there or in the country?

Baldridge: It was a little town called Seabrook, which is between Houston and Galveston and has become a next door neighbor to Houston as Houston has come, expanded down to meet it. It's on a little place called Clear Lake, which, during the Apollo Mission, is when they would show the NASA Space Center and they would show the town it was in. That, too, was in a place called Clear Lake City, which is now right next door to Seabrook and part of Houston. But Seabrook didn't have roads to it. You could only get there by boat until they started the whole NASA business down there and then they needed developments for people to live, the astronauts. I lived down the street from John Glenn and a block away from some of the other astronauts. It was very cool.

Hayes: Was your family in the space program, too, or not?

Baldridge: No. No. Dad had had a fertilizer company in Wisconsin and it was about the time that corporate America was gobbling up small industry and the chemical industry. It was about late, mid/late '60s and so that's kind of what happened there. And so he moved to Houston and took us down with him and ends up getting a job as a physicist with American Plant Food. It turned out that that was also the time when the EPA was getting going and trying to contain the environmental impact that these major corporate chemical factories that were popping up everywhere and they didn't really want him to solve the problem. They just wanted him to be the go between and keep the EPA off their backs. So, within a year, he quit and ended up in the marine industry, which plays heavily with my life, also, because, in 1970, he opened a boat store on Clear Lake in Seabrook and I helped put the shelves together, polish the chrome and brass and pretty much cut my teeth in the working world there from age 11 on. And I was managing it by the time I was in my late teens.

Hayes: And it was what kind of a boat-- everything?

Baldridge: It was-- we had a shift towards sailing because that's a family love, generational family passion. As a matter of fact, my brother was on the 1992 winning boat in the America's Cup.

Hayes: What's your brother's name?

Baldridge: By Baldridge. And I won a gold medal when I was 16, 17 in sailing and actually went back to the same competition this year for the first time in 31 years. We didn't win but it was really cool to see my name on the trophy. (laughter) So it was an exciting time because the business grew very quickly. The boating impact on that area grew very quickly. That is one of the top three densest areas for boats in slips in marinas in the United States.

Hayes: Really?

Baldridge: Yeah. We...

Hayes: On that lake or the...

Baldridge: Around Clear Lake. It started out on the Seabrook side and then there was some on the Pima side and it's just I mean there's probably, I can't remember, maybe 6,000 slips or...

Hayes: Is it a huge lake?

Baldridge: It's not a huge lake. You don't really sail on the lake. The lake is a bean pole [ph?] to the bay. The bay is huge and the bay feeds into the Gulf so you've got this terrific sailing bay. Galveston Bay is similar, oh, I'm going to get in hell for this, Annapolis into the Chesapeake. (laughter) Probably nobody would agree with me on that but, compared to here where here you either sail in the river, you sail up and down the intercoastal, dodging all the other traffic or you go directly to the ocean. A lot of boats and a lot of people are ocean people are ocean capable... seaworthy... ocean comfortable. It's a big wide open space and...

Hayes: It sounds like you had all three possibilities. You could do the little lake, you could do the bay or you could go-- the Gulf would be comparable to the ocean.

Baldridge: Yes. Yeah. Oh, most definitely.

Hayes: Wide as the ocean.

Baldridge: Yeah. It's just hotter and saltier and the waves do weird things but that's another story.

Hayes: Okay. All right. So we've got you in Texas but we haven't got you to Wilmington yet.

Baldridge: Yeah. I did do some college in California. Came back to Texas...

Hayes: That was the college of art or not?

Baldridge: It was California Institute of Art. It was started by Walt Disney, the Walt Disney School of Film is there as well as a separate school of film for people who aren't Disney...

Hayes: So what was the trigger for art? I mean, your dad, you said, was a physicist or later a business person. Was your mom an artist or...

Baldridge: My mom was a wanna be artist. There's a picture of her right there.

Hayes: Oh, great.

Baldridge: That doesn't play with the camera but...

Hayes: That's okay.

Baldridge: She was a writer, she wrote plays and children's stories and poetry. She loved to cook, she loved to paint. She made her clothes. She was a very, very creative person and also being the timing of my adolescence, being an artist hippie seemed to be an agreeable concept to me. But, until the seventh grade, I didn't...

Hayes: So looking back, then?

Baldridge: Yeah. Well, I remember it pretty clearly.

Hayes: Oh, do you? (laughter)

Baldridge: Yeah. I mean, there was two things I wanted to be when I grew up: a sailor and an artist and, on my 40th birthday, most people have a bad day on their 40th birthday but it was one of the best days of my life because I woke up and went, I'm 40 and I'm a sailor and an artist. I think life is good. You know? I fulfilled that fantasy. I tried to be an artist up until the seventh grade with not a whole lot of success but then I had, for disciplinary reasons, was switched into the stricter art teacher's class in the junior high and something clicked. Her name was Susie Smith and I adored her. She saw something in me and magic started happening.

Hayes: Wow.

Baldridge: And she entered me in every show that we could get in at the...

Hayes: Now, what grade would this be in?

Baldridge: This was seventh. Started in the seventh.

Hayes: This is interesting because, as you know, I talk to so many folks and many of them talk about somebody at middle school or high school that made a difference, a teacher that made a difference that somehow motivated somebody. The artists are talking about that so maybe it's a pattern. Maybe it's important that somebody has that because she said more than just take the class. You say she kind of took her under your wing or...?

Baldridge: I was put into her-- I was taking an art class and, for disciplinary reasons, I was transferred into her class because the other teacher couldn't control me. I was kind of a bad kid but something sparked and I don't know-- because you're saying that you've heard this timeframe or trigger before, you know, we do know that the development of the brain, like the terrible twos are when children first realize they have their own power and then all the other, you know, steps in adolescence that have been categorized are generally created by some new development in the brain. So I'm wondering if there's something there that is a potential and, if you get lucky, somebody taps into it because it was night and day. I mean, the stuff I was doing before was a real disappointment and...

Hayes: And you started to have a media or a type you were using or was it everything at that point?

Baldridge: I was very traditional in the respect of I started out black and white. I very quickly realized that I did not have the skills for color yet so I stuck with and explored black and white, whether it be charcoal or pencil or pen or black and white pieces of paper and scissors or, you know, I studied some color. I ended up, in high school, when I was 14, I decided I needed to leave home and so I went to Houston and went to the high school for Performing and Visual Arts and that was a terrifically intense and wonderful experience. It was a predecessor for the magnate school concept and all the teachers there were under paid and highly motivated.

Hayes: So everybody was an artist.

Baldridge: Everybody...

Hayes: Was that music, too?

Baldridge: Yes, there were different disciplines but all your traditional studies were geared around art as well so my English class and my history class and my art history class were all wrapped around the same periods and the same subjects and just basically gave you just wonderfully deep and involved look at everything. There wasn't just politics. It was how the art played into the politics.

Hayes: Was that the ninth grade then that that's the move?

Baldridge: No, it was the tenth grade.

Hayes: Tenth grade, okay.

Baldridge: That was my sophomore year.

Hayes: Yeah.

Baldridge: Unfortunately, I had to leave and go back and take care of my parents due to some illnesses and problems they had and so I spent the rest of, you know, junior and senior at a traditional high school.

Hayes: Sounds like that set you on your way, though. I mean, you...

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: ...at that point were committed to being an artist. Now, did your high school program actually have a track so that you could take ________________? I mean, some high schools, it's kind of, like, you know, art's over here on the edge. Did you get a full regimen in your high school then?

Baldridge: No. What happened is the teachers who saw-- the few rare students that were taking art for art, not as an easy elective, were then put in a corner and allowed to do what they wanted, so to speak, and given a little bit more free reign and a little bit more tools. Back to the junior high teacher, she got permission for us, in the eighth grade, her special students could do wood block prints, which meant giving us knives. (laughter)

Hayes: Even then it was dangerous. (laughter)

Baldridge: Yeah. Well, they were more worried about us hurting ourselves than our fellow students but (laughter) and, sure enough, the, you know, special teachers favorite was the one who cut herself and I still have the scar. But it was great because, the next week, we were supposed to do a blood donation poster for the Red Cross had a competition and mine was this big splatter of red paint and, you know, it was a very simple text, Save Lives, Give Blood. I won the poster contest.

Hayes: You got immediate empathy... (laughter)

Baldridge: Yeah. It worked well. I was a little more challenged with the one, the poster contest for the rodeo that year but, this being Houston...

Hayes: So this is interesting. We haven't run up against this much in the sense that there was a lot of encouragement to compete, even at an early age, for these various venues and you even had shows, you said?

Baldridge: Oh, yeah. Susie entered me in every competition or poster contest or anything she could get her hands on and, before it was all over, the same year I won the-- I think it was the same year, within a year, of winning the sailing gold medal, I actually won the national level gold scholastic for art.

Hayes: And what was that particular project?

Baldridge: She just-- I don't know if I even knew she did it. She took some of my-- they used to call it one-line drawings, there was a couple other terms, but where you look at your subject, you don't look at what you're drawing, you don't pick your pen up and you get an impression, a linear impression, of your subject. And I did a series of the musicians, starting with the guitar player and had very much fun with the wrinkles on the knuckles and fingernails and, you know, would just glance over and gesture large areas but then focus in on the eyes or the mouth or you know. I did a series of musicians involving the horns and fiddle and the guitar and...

Hayes: But you couldn't take the pen up? I mean, was that-- or was that...

Baldridge: In the original rules, no. I think probably, as I perfected my craft, I might, from time to time, but I did not cheat, so to speak. I was pretty true to it but I practiced a lot and it could, you know, some people's drawings look like disasters but most of them look like Picassos and some look like Claude Howell's little sketches and some look...

Hayes: Interesting.

Baldridge: But my-- I had a particular style that kind of ran through it and so she sent the guitar player up to the nationals and, sure enough, it took the cake and was printed in their national scholastic magazine and...

Hayes: Wow.

Baldridge: Yeah. It was very cool. It was a very good time for me to be getting accolades because we all know that's a treacherous time for any teenager but I was in some situations that, without that stroke and that affirmation, I'm not sure exactly what would have happened.

Hayes: Not to psychoanalyze too much but, as we later talk about your work, which has really strong graphic components, eventually using computers and so forth, do you think that her willingness to enter you particularly in poster contests and so forth, because there is this division where, you know, fine art only does, you know, painting and drawing but it sounds like you did-- she was quite willing to push you a little on the commercial side. Was that the whole program, included everybody was doing...

Baldridge: Back then, in that grade level and whatever, there really wasn't a distinction. It was an opportunity to get your work out and an opportunity to win ten bucks, first place, 50 bucks or whatever and some of the local art groups, you know, like you'd have a bridge club, you'd have an art club in the community and that kind of thing and they would put on a school level show once a year. I always got into that and would generally place. And then the year I went to Houston to live, there was an art gallery a block away that I got a job helping to do framing and I got in there and, actually, there was one opening they had and they had a couple of my pieces hanging in the bathroom and I think they sold more of my work than they did professionals that they were showing. But there was no tremendous-- there wasn't, like, a graphic program at the school or even a delineation, at that point. It wasn't until I was applying for college that I realized there really was a separation of-- that there was such a thing as graphic design and I hadn't really ever thought about it.

Hayes: That's interesting.

Baldridge: And I didn't take graphic design in school. I did not-- I have not had-- other than the occasional seminar on a particular software or something like that that I've gone to, I am totally self-trained in the computer world and the graphic world and I think there are some tremendously talented graphic designers in this town that I-- some people would say I compete with. I don't compete. I'm very much...

Hayes: Well, why don't we talk about that because, I mean, since this is partly a little bit of an educational process for someone who might be reading or listening to it. When graphic design versus art, I mean, give me a little sense of what we're talking about. Is this, would we say, commercial versus fine art? Is that what we're talking about?

Baldridge: Yeah, yeah. I mean, to-- I have had people call me sometimes and say, "My kid wants to be an artist, would you please help them, talk to them about it" and, you know, if they are interested in becoming a graphic designer, a commercial artist, that's much more lucrative than fine art, as is fairly obvious.

Hayes: Because the graphic-- is graphic and commercial the same thing? Commercial's the bigger?

Baldridge: Well, graphic and commercial are pretty much the same.

Hayes: You can use those interchangeably?

Baldridge: I would think so. And...

Hayes: So you're working for hire. Is that the distinction?

Baldridge: Yeah. Yeah, you're working for hire and you have specific projects, whether it's an ad or a billboard or a campaign or a website or collateral material brochures, those kind of things.

Hayes: And they want you to design it but they also want you to bring an artistic element to it because they could use clip art or they could use something else but they want original thinking but within a...

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: ...their parameter?

Baldridge: And because I'm trained in fine art, which part of that training is psychological and what is art and what isn't and what is good art and what isn't and-- which is all totally subjective but where I went to college, there were some pretty hardcore attitudes about it. It was during the period when they thought painting was dead. Everything that could be done visually had been done. So it was a tough time to be an artist. But there is also the technical training and learning how to use color and eventually, in college, I did evolve and cross the black and white to color barrier.

Hayes: Back to the commercial, you said there were some people here in town. Give us a name of who somebody would say is a...

Baldridge: Commercial artist?

Hayes: ...commercial or graphic artist?

Baldridge: Well, Dennis Walsak at Modular Graphics, Jeff Morbal[ph?] at Mobile Design.

Hayes: Okay. I've heard...

Baldridge: The guys at Signal East Design. Cathy Molizio[ph?] and they're all fine artists.

Hayes: John Golden, the younger one, do you know John at all?

Baldridge: Is he doing...

Hayes: Yeah, he's...

Baldridge: I think he's been doing...

Hayes: He's doing, like, some stuff with MTV.

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: Some of it drips over even into the film subset and...

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: ...and cartoons, even, can be...

Baldridge: Sure.

Hayes: ...a form of that. Or caricatures for-- I'm trying to think, even a newspaper probably may have somebody or the university may have some people who are...

Baldridge: Robert is here in town. He's a fantastic artist and his day job is doing artwork for the newspaper.

Hayes: What's his name?

Baldridge: Robert Holst [ph?]. If you look at any given newspaper, if there's a big graphic, especially on the front page, to illustrate something, like, many years ago, he hired me to do a graphic of pig hog wood bins and how they work because he was overburdened with some other things or maybe he just didn't want to do them, didn't want it to have his name on the front page of the paper but I did it. I was hungry. But, yeah, that's exactly. You take your creative skills and your visual artistic skills and then you take the technical skills and tools and put them all together and...

Hayes: But the difference is...

Baldridge: ...the project.

Hayes: ...a client. You have a client?

Baldridge: Right, yes. Somebody's paying you to do it.

Hayes: And they have a right to adjust your work at the end.

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: Saying what they want.

Baldridge: I am very fortunate right now that I work-- my top client is somebody who lets me run free. I have worked for him for a long time.

Hayes: Why would you want a client? You're not a commercial artist.

Baldridge: I have to pay the rent. So I do...

Hayes: You do both worlds.

Baldridge: I do both worlds. And the reason I do both worlds-- there was a time when I didn't. There's certain degrees of separation between being a fine artist and being a commercial or graphic designer artist and, if you're a fine artist, which I consider myself, it's kind of a split personality thing, but, for a long time, I did not do-- I mean, graphic design is-- I didn't get into that at all until I was in my 30s, early 30s but, you know, first 30 years of my life, I didn't have any connection with it, had any schooling for it. But, when times were tough, if you paint portraits for people or, you know, where's the division? People would-- no portraiture artist on the planet would want to be considered a commercial or graphic design artist but they are doing art for hire and...

Hayes: Well, photography has the same splits.

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: You must use a lot of photography in various parts of your own fine art but, you know, they have that same dilemma of are you doing a wedding, which is a high art form, if you do it good, but it's still commercial, versus...

Baldridge: It requires a lot of decisions in how you put together the visual elements and how the end product comes out. Last week, I hired Conrad Lonan[ph?], who is known for his artistic photographs of aerials in inlets because I consider him the best aerial photographer in the town to do some aerial photography for me for a client. And, you know, and I've hired Fritzi Huber to do some drawings for me from time to time. All artists need work unless you're one of the pam-- I mean, name five people who can make a lot of money doing art.

Hayes: Or they have someone else who subsidizes them, so to speak.

Baldridge: They're all being subsidized somehow, somewhere and some of us have not gotten that luxury or didn't like the expense of that luxury, you know? I think anybody who's seen the art films involving Pollack and Frico [ph?] and the things you have to do to put up with being taken care of or promoted, art can be very distasteful. So when I moved here with my son, who was 14 months, I had $36 and a rusty van.

Hayes: What year was that?

Baldridge: 1988, August, 1988.

Hayes: Wow.

Baldridge: I got offered a job full-time at Fiddler's Gallery doing framing.

Hayes: That's here in town?

Baldridge: Yeah. Where the Wrigley's shop is now was Fiddler's Gallery.

Hayes: Okay.

Baldridge: And he was a big promoter of Mary Ellen Golden and she ended up with a gallery upstairs at the cotton exchange and I kind of lost touch with them.

Hayes: Are they still in existence, Fiddler's Gallery?

Baldridge: Earl Fiddler retired and sold it to the Wrigley Clock shop but the gallery is still there. It's a print gallery and I would get so depressed selling Bob Timberlake prints and...

Hayes: This is still in the cotton exchange?

Baldridge: Mm hm.

Hayes: I think I've been in there. But it's really a framing shop, right? I mean, isn't that what...

Baldridge: They probably make more money off framing than they do-- I mean, there were days when Denise and I would cut over 150 mats apiece.

Hayes: Wow. Denise?

Baldridge: She was a mat cutter there and the fellow who made the frames was a musician named Paul and that kind of goes back-- here, again, you have several people in that industry that are trying to support their fine art habit or, you know, calling.

Hayes: But we are going to actually talk with quite a few framers in this whole process because I think there's an interesting relationship between the framer and the mat cutter and the print seller and so forth to the artist because it finishes the package for some people.

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: Right. I notice your pieces are framed so, I mean, it does make a difference. And I would think that some framers eventually consider themselves as master craftspeople of sorts.

Baldridge: Oh, sure. We ended up hiring a girl there before I left and she has since left and opened her own frame shop here in town, Karen Hansberger and she did hand carving on the mats.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Baldridge: And we both played with that some. She had gone to school professional for framing and mat cutting. I, like everything else I do, I did a short stint up north before I moved here. I was in Michigan for three years and started my own art gallery and frame shop there.

Hayes: Oh, so you come from that background. That's why this job was...

Baldridge: That's why, yeah, I was qualified to get a job of that sort. I actually applied at art galleries, frame shops and boat building places and I had got a part-time job offer from Merriman Kennedy at New Elements and a part-time job offer to finish Walter Cronkite's boat at Sun something Yachts, whatever it was, up on highway 17, the company that made the same sailboat as Walter-- they made one for Walter Cronkite and they were finishing and needed a rigger and being I had grown up in a marine boat store and boat yard and had worked as a sail maker, worked as a rigger, worked in the boat store, and sailed all my life, they offered me a part-time job, too, but when Earl Fiddler called and said he'd give me full-time with benefits, as a single mom with a kid, that was-- yeah, for a whole $12,000 a year.

Hayes: Wow. Well, in 1988, it wasn't as bad as now, I mean.

Baldridge: No, daycare still was horrible but...

Hayes: Let's talk just before-- this is fascinating but I want to go back and get that college experience because I'm just curious about what kind of school you went to. You went all the way to California. Was this an art institute?

Baldridge: It was. The entire freshman art, fine art school had 18 people in it.

Hayes: A class had 18?

Baldridge: I mean, that was the entire fine arts school. They had a graphic design school that had 25 in the freshmen class. They had two film schools, one was Disney, one was-- two animation schools, excuse me, one was Disney, one was not Disney.

Hayes: Was Disney supporting this school?

Baldridge: Disney was a huge contributor. As a matter of fact, when they had the cocktail party for the board and, you know, on the board, there's a student representative and I happened to be dating him so I got to go and, in fact, that party was at Walt's mother's house. I remember the salmon was amazing. (laughter) And I talked to Walt's brother, Roy, about sailing because he was a big sailor and they were coming out, at that point, this will date me, with Pete's Dragon that year. He was all excited about the mixing of animation and live action. And so I worked on a project for one of the non-Disney animation school students. She was doing her master's project and it involved-- it was called Five Frames and she hired me to help her-- first, I was coloring film leader for a projection that was going-- and then those of us that colored it, in the production, we actually wore white unitards and the film was projected onto us, this abstract color stuff. And then she also had some morphing animation and I helped her finish up some of the color of the cells and that was back in the days when you had to shoot each cell 23 times to make the second or whatever the math was on that. And then...

Hayes: So this was a regular fine arts curriculum. You finished there?

Baldridge: No, I didn't.

Hayes: Well, it doesn't matter. I'm just curious. How long were you there?

Baldridge: I was there a year and a month and I ran out of money. They-- I was late asking for support. My dad was still claiming me on his taxes so I had trouble getting financial aid, even though they had cut me off, and the president of the arts school and John Mandel, my main professor, he got together and they came up with a little small presidential award but it wasn't enough to sustain me and I just didn't-- couldn't pull it off to get a job fast enough and get it together so I came back and went back to running the boat store and then took classes at the Alfred G. Glassel Museum School of Art in Houston, which was a very cool place. I had a wonderful professor there named Arthur Turner who-- he'd do these wonderful little watercolors and he went to Wahaka [ph?] and he took one of them and the Wahakans[ph?] dyed the fibers and wove a big rug out of this wonderful little watercolor that he had done. But he taught me to be playful and that-- learning how to work with watercolor, because it's a tricky medium, he gave me the skills that, when I needed cash, I could go out and sell myself as a teacher and teach it privately or to art groups watercolor skills. Also, when I transferred, started going into the computer art software, I took that same psychology of learning, just being playful with each tool and seeing what it could do instead of setting out, trying to paint a painting. And...

Hayes: So playful, you're using the term in a freedom sense? In other words...

Baldridge: Yes.

Hayes: ...be playful and try different things?

Baldridge: Right. For instance, when he would teach us the dry brush, wet brush technique and he refused to let us try and paint a specific painting in the first half of the class, we had to just experiment with that technique and then he'd bring in an orchid or something for us to paint to use if we wanted once we had mastered the technique or in sizing or, you know, each technique that he taught us, which, a technique in that context is a tool. So anybody who's looked at Photoshop or any other graphical software, Illustrator, there are a ton of tools and those tools have subset tools and it's an infinite opportunity for decision-making, you know? It goes way beyond what size brush, how much water and what color pigment am I going to use and what kind of paper.

Hayes: But the thinking process is the same.

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: In other words, you've got a lot of choices and...

Baldridge: It is.

Hayes: ...what are you going to do with them?

Baldridge: Which, in the '90s, I was beating the drum, saying, you know, I have to make just as many choices as Gail Tustin does with her clay or Pam Toll or Fritzi do with their paint brushes or Erroll Ross [ph?] does with his lens or Elizabeth Darrow and her multitude of mediums she works in. She's so wonderful. I love the match series. Actually, I've loved all her series but the decision processes are the same and it's a little harder to manipulate the tools and they've come out, down there in the corner is a drawing tablet you can connect with the computer. They're coming out with a pen that you hold that actually is supposed to talk to your computer and toying with that idea, just because that's more natural...

Hayes: Got here in Wilmington and I don't want to keep it to a biography, per se, but were you attempting to keep your art going? I mean, you were working to make a living. You said you had a young son, single mom. Were you able to sustain work? I mean, that's always a challenge when somebody has other choices.

Baldridge: Actually, I did very successfully just that. I took the $36 and, instead of buying diapers, I bought ________________ watercolor paper and set about creating a new series of paintings which I then hocked to friends and family and made enough money to sustain and was pretty quickly accepted into New Elements gallery. And Merriman and her crew were terrifically successful at...

Hayes: Merriman?

Baldridge: Merriman Kennedy is the owner of New Elements.

Hayes: Okay.

Baldridge: And she was wonderful. They sold my watercolors as fast as I could get them in there.

Hayes: Great.

Baldridge: They gave me, I was part of group shows, I had my first two person show there, myself and a woman who painted in oil and we kind of complimented each other in '89. I had 12 full sheets of sailboats racing. Fairly abstract but enough technical that you...

Hayes: Could tell?

Baldridge: ...you got a picture in your head. And that show sold out.

Hayes: Wow.

Baldridge: It didn't sell out the first night. As a matter of fact, there was a mystery buyer that first night and I didn't know who it was. It turned out it was my father but... (laughter) it was very sweet. Yeah. But then, and I think the godparents sent the gallery their credit card number and said pick us out one and send us one, too, but, before it was all over...

Hayes: Well, that was great.

Baldridge: ...I was, I wouldn't say a darling in the art community because the art community can be a little cliquish but...

Hayes: But what...

Baldridge: ...I had created a niche.

Hayes: Let's talk about that a little bit because that is unusual that you can come in and quickly get accepted. Was it your background? Did they accept you because you had gone to these various schools and paid your dues, so to speak, or do you think it was just your material?

Baldridge: I think Merriman was a terrific promoter. Back then, she had less artists to promote and could-- and the community had not filled up their walls and underneath their bed yet and people were enjoying considering themselves art collectors. There was a particular client, a fellow named Steve Whalen, and I think, before it was all over, he owned maybe a dozen pieces and, if I would go back to painting sailboats in watercolor today, he probably would buy some more, even though he doesn't need any.

Hayes: You still know Steve?

Baldridge: I've run into him once in awhile.

Hayes: Do you know he's running for mayor of Wrightsville Beach?

Baldridge: No, I didn't.

Hayes: He's a city councilman and...

Baldridge: I'll be darned.

Hayes: ...running for mayor of Wrightsville Beach so...

Baldridge: He was a great collect-- there were several people who actually collected my work, which was wonderful. I mean, I had sold well at my own gallery in Michigan. I had sold well in Houston but I had, in the entire-- you know, I had all that success, competition success in high school but then, when I started doing watercolor, I didn't win a damn thing. Sold like crazy but here is part of that fine art, what do you do. Do you bastardize yourself and sell yourself somehow painting portraits or doing something? Or do you draw a line and say, okay, from this hour of the day to this hour of the day, I'm a graphic designer and I'm going to use my skills but I'm going to do it for a decent pay rate and then, at the end of the day, I can go downstairs or turn on my computer again and create whatever the hell I want and it doesn't-- I'm not reliant on it selling to survive...

Hayes: And was that-- and that's the decision you've made?

Baldridge: That's the decision-- when I had-- yeah, I struggled with it because, in Michigan, when it would get lean, I would take commissions and paint things people wanted me to paint and, for a series of months, it seemed like they were all dead people and it was depressing as hell. And then somebody came in and wanted a painting done that emulated a painting that somebody else had done on a card and you just say no, you know, I have the skill but I'm not going to do that.

Hayes: You said you did teaching, too. How did that work? Did people just come to you and say, could you...

Baldridge: They do.

Hayes: ...help us?

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: I mean, one or one or small group?

Baldridge: I've done it all. I've had-- at my gallery, I gave independent private lessons but the local art club in Brooklyn, Michigan, had me as a regular teacher once they found me. Every Tuesday night, I would go in and teach them something.

Hayes: I think, you know, as I'm looking at, when you hit Wilmington, you're not a neophyte. I mean, in other words, you got ready acceptance but, having gone through your litany of activities, your actual private experience...

Baldridge: I was a professional.

Hayes: That's what I'm saying.

Baldridge: At that point. I had-- my skill levels spoke to the fact that I had done watercolor for 15 years, you know? They spoke to the fact that I had gone through the traditional steps of learning how to draw, learning how all those-- what I consider required skills. Before you can paint an abstract, you better in hell be able to draw well and, before you go in and color, you better understand the nuances and the 256 shades of grey. And, you know, one of my-- I love teaching children and so, since I was here, after I got here, I was invited-- it happened a few times before but it's happening more here that, for instance, the Cameron and maybe it was when it was St. John's, got a grant to hire artists to go out into the schools and some days it would be a kindergarten class and some days it would be a high school class and I never knew whether they were going to have Macs or PCs or whether it was actual Adobe Photoshop or if it was some kind of rip-off software version, you know, a freebie that came packaged with the computers and it didn't matter because it's all intuitive anyway and it's not about this exact thing working this exact way. It's about being creative and playful and open to whatever it is. And that was one of my tasks. A lot of times, they would want me to try and make the computer a fun playful toy because they saw the children getting bogged down and wrapped around it just being a, you know, grading papers and doing research and it became a box and my job was to open the box. Use it outside the box.

Hayes: So you were doing primarily workshops in computer arts?

Baldridge: Primarily. I mean, some of the workshops, I did a mono story school and took-- did the presentation without computers. It was more of a lecture but I had-- when I do those, I take with me a bunch of paintings and things that are printed on different textures and in different ways and then have, you know, actual analogue paintings along with the digital paintings and a mix and let people hand those around and touch them and feel them and stuff that's on fabric, which is the stuff on paper. This is the same kind of thing, that, to be an artist doesn't mean just being able to paint in a white long canvas and make it look like what you're painting. It's not about that. It's about a lot more and the thought processes. I was very lucky with my year at Cal Arts that it wasn't focused on any technique or painting skills or any kind of skill sets for creating art. It was completely mental and psychological and social, sociological...

Hayes: And you feel that that foundation carries forward today?

Baldridge: I think it made my work have more content. I was held to a higher standard. I can't just paint pictures because they're pretty. It's not going to happen.

Hayes: In other words, it's fortuitous that your first major venture was in sailboats because of your love in this particular area. I mean, I'm not sure about in the middle of the Midwest whether those would have done well but that was a nice combination for here. But did you move away from sailboats? In other words, what were subject matters in that time period that you liked to do? What...

Baldridge: I did a progression. The first show I had here was sailboats. The work I did prior to that show, when I, like I say, I spent the $36 on art supplies instead of diapers, those were floral, always been a huge fan of Georgia O'Keefe and Judy Chicago, once again, one of those kind of-- two totally different personalities but they looked at things the same way. I mean, if you went to a show of Georgia O'Keefe's and looked at her pistols and stamens and you went to Judy Chicago's dinner party, they were talking about the exact same subject, they just did it differently. So...

Hayes: Were you a little worried of not getting categorized as a flower lady? I mean, there is that, you know, there's a whole amateur vein of trying to paint wonderful pictures of-- which is good...

Baldridge: I was trying to be very careful. Now, I love flowers and my grandfather had this amazing garden and he would take me by the hand in his white linen suit and straw hat in the mammoth camellias and azaleas and magnolias and gardenias and just-- ginger lilies and day lilies and my mother was a very, very gifted gardener and every church she ever belonged to ended up with the most fantastic day lily garden that-- because she just could make them pop out of the ground, whether it was Wisconsin or Texas. So flowers, nature, animals, birds, those kind of things are very important to me, just like sailing is, so I tried to approach it in a fresh way, knowing that it would be very easy to get categorized. Never been a big fan of still life and, like, I did a picture of a camellia bush or something, anyway, but I did it as if you were this tall, looking up at it. And then I did some of the flowers kind of microscopically, you know, sections of them and that kind of thing, so detailed. And it was once again, that was a way to make some money so not my deepest work. But then I got that out of my system and, when I was working on the sailboat series for that first show at New Elements, I got somebody to cut me out-- you know those thick plastic pads that they put on carpet in an office so that you can roll on them?

Hayes: Yeah.

Baldridge: Well, somebody had one of those and was giving it away and I got somebody to cut it down and round the edges so it would be just a little bit bigger than a full sheet of Arch's watercolor paper, which is 22 x 30, and I lived with my son in this 300 square foot apartment. It was one room with a bathroom off this way, a kitchen off this way and a little bedroom off this way. I mean, there was not even a hallway. Beautiful downtown historic condiment and I was just so lucky that this very fine family let me rent it when I came to town. It was a gorgeous place to live. It was just tiny. So when I would put my son down to bed at night after a day of work or whatever, I would then burn the midnight oil and work on these paintings and, you know, work on two or three at a time because, with watercolor, you have to wait for stuff to dry. So I'd draw some and then I'd do some washes and layer-- I mean, it's a good thing I had no social life because, if somebody had tried to come in, they wouldn't have been able to walk (laughter) because there were paintings all over the floor and then, before I went to bed, I made sure they were all put up so my precious little toddler wouldn't destroy them when he got up and we'd get up.

Hayes: That's funny.

Baldridge: Then come back and do it again the next night. I had no money to go out and do anything so it was-- and watercolor's pretty cheap.

Hayes: And I think it's a popular medium. People really relate to it and lots of people use it but if you do it differently, people appreciate that.

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: I want to spend quite a bit of time on your transition to the computer part because you're unusual in that sense. I don't know unusual, you know, in the world unusual but in this particular area, I would say there aren't very many who were trying to make a serious statement as a computer artist. Is that a fair...

Baldridge: There's more now than there was in '92. And there were some in '92. Actually, I have-- I think it was Smithsonian article stuck away somewhere that, when they first started constructing the big commercial computers, long before you had a desktop or personal PC, that people, a couple of code writers for that actually wrote code to create art but it was such a forward-thinking idea that it was not even uncovered or discussed or written about until much later and then by the Smithsonian and then it was just as quickly banished. Here, the combination of (a) using graphic design to pay the rent and going into computer art, which, the graphic design actually led to the computer art, I was given a job where I had access to these things, these tools, and I would see them as work related as much as, wow, look what you can do with this. Like I said, that was one of the very first pieces that I created back then.

Hayes: I have run into you in various kind of fairs venues. You know, the art fair or the art show. Did you do that right away? Was that a vehicle to get your work shown?

Baldridge: The first one I did was Feast of the Pirates and it's funny because, in Michigan, I actually would judge and even organize some outside fairs but I didn't participate with my own booth until I moved here. And Feast of the Pirates was a short, I think it had two or three years, Harper Peterson was the spearhead. It was for downtown, along the riverfront, and, unfortunately, at that time, the merchants felt like we were bothering them because we were out in front of them getting money for selling our goods and they were missing out somehow. The concept that maybe more people were coming through and going to be more inclined to see their stores hadn't really sunk in. So we were run out of town after about three years. But I did do that one and then I was accepted into Pining Woods as well and both, the Feast of Pirates and Pining Woods, I start-- I was featuring my digital paintings. I got awards. I started getting awards again. The whole time I did watercolor I didn't win a damn thing. (laughter) But, boy, you get into a new medium where there isn't a lot of competition, hey. (laughter) I mean, I worked very hard to make my work good and there's a lot of bad digital art out there or bad digital pictures trying to be art. It's criminal. Anybody can take a photograph and mess with it and print it out and try and call it art and that's why, even today, I think it's the Franklin Gallery Art Show in July, they don't have a digital category because-- they actually hired me one time to come down and talk to them about the things involved because they respect me as a digital artist but they still feel like they don't have the capability to judge it and know it in and out well enough to determine whether or not they're being taken. Now, that being said, I got into a Wilmington art show one time, early on, and it was when I was working for Fiddler's Gallery so it had to be before '91, and I was-- maybe I didn't get in. I can't remember. It might have been that I didn't get in and I remember being kind of sassy about it because I walked up and down the aisle and I saw somebody had painted a painting of one of the prints that we sold at Fiddler's and all they did was change the name on it, Back of the boat. And ________________. And I thought, that's cheap. Never entered another one of them. I just-- that was the end of ________________ association for me. I'm sorry.

Hayes: I'm not sure they accept digital art. They have the same problem, I think, and they don't take photography. I'm an amateur photographer and I think that they are fairly traditional, watercolor and painting based.

Baldridge: Yeah. And, actually...

Hayes: And we'll get to that in just a second but why don't we just take a break, is that all right?

Baldridge: That's fine.

(tape change)

Hayes: Well we're back and we're on tape two, Ashley, Sherman and Jane. Good. This morning we'd like to concentrate, if we can, about kind of a breakthrough for you to start to use the computer as a primary tool. Now I take it that you still do all kinds of art and you don't necessarily want to be categorized as only a computer artist, but I'm saying you were early here and probably early nationally, and continuing to use a personal computer, correct?

Baldridge: Right.

Hayes: Was that the primary tool?

Baldridge: Yes.

Hayes: As your main artist tool.

Baldridge: After about a year and a half of working at the print shop/frame shop, I was having a real hard time stomaching some of the current art, and we go crying to the Arts Council, Don Fishereau [ph?] and Betsy Perkins, and say, "Please isn't there a job somewhere else out here that I can have or a grant or something to get me out of here?" And then a friend of the family suggested I call a fellow that was publishing a magazine; and he did it- had done it by himself for five years and he's getting really into it now. And so I contacted him and with absolutely no graphic design background or computer skills he hired me on the spot and put me in a room with a bunch of tutorials and a computer and said, "See how you do." And after two weeks I was fully functional, up and running-- actually I was fully functional by the end of the first day, be able to put copy into a paste layout. And as the world was getting introduced to Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and some of those tools, I was right there, and they were put in my lap.

Hayes: This was '90, '91 or something?

Baldridge: '91, '92.

Hayes: Yeah, great. We take those for granted now but that was early and new, and Adobe was the big breakthrough as far as kind of a powerful tool.

Baldridge: Right. Yeah, the Adobe Illustrator is a vector of design. It's an artist's version of CAD for-- CAD is used by engineers and architects to design houses and is very precise and linear, and is used by a series of points that can or can't be connected to make straight lines and curves. Illustrator does the same thing but it's less technical, it has less specific specs, certifications for each maneuver to be-- but that's what most of your logos and things are created in. It's very clean. And then--.

Hayes: And it's Illustrator, Adobe Illustrator.

Baldridge: It's Adobe Illustrator. Over the past decade or more, almost two decades now, the tools in Illustrator and the tools in Photoshop are crossing over. But originally they were very specific. Illustrator was a drawing program with linear pen tools, and Photoshop was a roster program which is based on images made up of little pixels, which are flat. Now they've crossed over into each other's worlds. You can draw, like you do in Illustrator, in Photoshop now.

Hayes: Oh is that right?

Baldridge: You can create pads, you can apply Photoshop type filters to...

Hayes: Illustrator.

Baldridge: ...graphics in Illustrator.

Hayes: Are they still called separately?

Baldridge: Yes.

Hayes: Are they two different things?

Baldridge: Yes, they are, and they still are somewhat separate but there is a lot of crossover there. And even the page layout programs are starting to have some of those--.

Hayes: Page layout is the concept of going through a magazine, you are attempting to artistically give him a look that was different than just a report; in other words that's the page layout. Was there a particular brand that you used or there's all kinds of them out there?

Baldridge: The original main one everybody used was PageMaker, and that's where you lay out your page for your magazine or your book or whatever, and then you import the graphics, you put in the text and whatever logos or backgrounds, depending-- like if I'm designing a book, if there's illustrations. So I, to do my job, had to use these tools. And in just looking at the tools, I mean, the toolbox on the screen has a paint brush and a pencil and a can and scissors and a little thing that looks like a whale but it's actually a trace tool, and scanning tools and things that make things go lighter or darker or invert the color or...

Hayes: Sounds great.

Baldridge: ..._________ them or turn them into dot letters or--. If something looks down, twist them around, paint them a different color, change the hue, change the intensity and saturation. What the hell does that have to do with work? That sounds like fun to me. So I started playing with it in my off time. And being that I got really used to working an 8-hour, 10-hour day and then taking care of a kid and then using whatever was left of that 24 hours to do art, that's what I do. And when I had been painting watercolors to sell at the gallery, I started playing with the computer and seeing what I could do with it. And then I had all these friends in the industry with these big thousands of dollar toy printers-- they didn't think they were toys but I thought they were toys-- and they let me put different kind of paper through them. And I was one-- to the best of my knowledge and research, maybe in the nation but certainly this side of the Mississippi, I was the first one, I think, to put watercolor paper through one of those big fodders and print out any kind of image, but a painter linear image that had been created. Now there were people creating painted images in the computer room by then, and there were-- and this is around the world; not a lot, I don't think there was anybody in Wilmington doing it. If there was-- some of these other graphic designers that I referred to earlier, they are all fine artists, they are all doing the same thing I am, they're just trying to support themselves. It's like some art professors and teachers, they do that to pay the bills but-- and they just pray that when they go home at night they have the energy to create. And oftentimes that doesn't happen. Luckily I was gifted with a tremendous amount of energy and managed to squeeze more out of 24 hours than most people; but how long I'll be able to pull that off I don't know.

Hayes: I think there's a constant conflict for an artist. If you have to make a living, no matter what it is, then you have to have the other time to be creative. Does one drain from the other?

Baldridge: Yes.

Hayes: And it can go both ways. And your boss, wherever you're at, is hoping that you'll be alert for whatever.

Baldridge: Well, and one of the other reasons I had so much time in mid-career, early in mid-career, to create, was because I didn't have a significant other. I do now. I've had a husband for almost two years now and we like to go sailing, we like to lay on the couch and watch a good movie, we like to spend time together, and it took me awhile to realize that I have 24 hours a day, same as I did before, but I have to choose how I split that up, and if I choose not to pencil him in, it's going to hurt his feelings.

Hayes: You could watercolor him in and it'd be different.

Baldridge: Yes.

Hayes: Or put him in through the computer.

Baldridge: Visually. But so the piece of the pie is split up another way. And I mean I have five paintings going on downstairs plus I'm supposed to have the window for the Habitat for Humanity auction done by next Monday. So-- and I haven't started it. I keep changing my mind what I'm going to do.

Hayes: So the computer, how fast did the-- could you see the tools just getting better and better? I mean, it just exploded didn't it? Or was it-- when did that happen? Because now it just seems so sophisticated.

Baldridge: It has--

(crew talk)

Hayes: All right, we're back.

Baldridge: I personally feel like the tools got really where I was happy with them, and they could never have upgraded again, by the late '90s.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Baldridge: A lot of the latest, greatest versions and stuff. They added a few little trinkets here and there, some of them. But a lot of it is specifically corporate business, trying to create something for you to buy-- planned obsolescence has never been better illustrated than with computers and software. And I have two computers right over there, and one is running on the archaic system 9.22, which was the last Macintosh system before they went to system 10, the big X. And the laptop is system 10, because there's certain things that you just-- I mean, a lot of websites you can't get on without that anymore. There are certain things you just can't do. But I actually still have people I have to supply files to that require a low enough version of the software that it won't run on system 10. So, and I'm a lot happier in the system 9. I don't really want all that jazz. I would've been happy if they stopped at 9.2 and Illustrator 10 and Photoshop 5. I could've gone-- and Core 3.3-- for the rest of my life.

Hayes: And everyone knows about the ____________.

Baldridge: I know. And if they keep upgrading systems and then you have to upgrade the software because otherwise you will have an incompatibility problem, and that causes it to break, and then the hardware. And so I'm actually making one of those devices. They're aligned to each other because it really wants to be- have a USB 2 port, and I don't want to buy a machine that has USB 2 port, because I just don't-- it's just stupid. And really it's a big bad lie. So I get very belligerent about upgrading. And part of that was my early training. After I worked at the magazine and got introduced to all this madness, called digital, then I found a need to leave that job as well. I think that boss couldn't figure out why I would ever want to go home, and that was a problem with a child and a life. So I left that job and went on my own part-time, and then worked part-time for Modular Graphics, which was wonderful because--.

Hayes: What kind of company was that?

Baldridge: They're a graphics design studio and ad agency. They do all the ball printout graphics, from billboards to magazines to--.

Hayes: Are they based here in Wilmington or South Point?

Baldridge: Yeah, they're in Wilmington. And Dennis Walczak [ph?], who owns it, is a terrific artist, has shown at St. Johns, is very forward thinking, and one of the most creative people I've ever met, as are Burt Buille [ph?] and Jack, two of the other people that work there. Very, very visually talented people, and technically talented people. I mean, their graphic commercial work is art. It is absolutely always stunning, very well done, visually stimulating, intellectually stimulating.

Hayes: And they really have to-- they must have to go much wider than Wilmington in order to get enough business. Are they a regional firm? Is there enough to--?

Baldridge: These-- they've had clients-- and I'll admit their client list is many more than my involvement-- but I think it's probably enough to sustain most people. That's a pretty big thing. They do a lot, they spend a lot on working. But I think we worked on the AAI stuff and PPD. There's a Triple-T trucking company on 421, and I remember seeing them do that logo. There's more work in that than in-- there's the hospital.

Hayes: That's right.

Baldridge: Now they have-- they hired one of Modular's people to go in-house. And some people do that. There's some developments down in Williamsburg County that have a full graphic design staff, in-house. It's a lot of work. You know, everybody thinks oh computers now, it's easier. That's bull; that is just __________________. They had their processes but it's not any faster. Certain things are faster but certain things are slower.

Hayes: So are you still doing that, are you still working for a company or are you independent?

Baldridge: I am independent. I worked for them for about a year, a year and a half, and then got fired. Showed up one day and marked boxes, at the front door. And it was the best day ever because the owner gave me a project to work on, sent me home. I sat outside- or inside my living room at-- my drafting table was right by the window in my other old house and the azaleas were blooming and the temperature was perfect, and the azaleas were actually scented and so there was this wonderful scent wafting in. And I was coloring for hire, under my own terms. And it was great, and I never looked back. That was the last real job.

Hayes: They fired you and they gave you a job.

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: It wasn't a firing proper.

Baldridge: It was a you don't blend well in the office with others but here's a job we can give you to help make rent.

Hayes: Now that you do this, you climb out a world here of fine artists and then living with the commercial side. How do you get that commercial side business? That's the question, and that's the age old dilemma for a person who's freelanced-- is that the term correct or--?

Baldridge: Yeah.

Hayes: How do you get the business? Where do they offer it?

Baldridge: I am word of mouth. I am very, very fortunate. I've never run an ad. My company isn't in the phone book. If you want to find me, you better know somebody, because-- and I have a full docket. I have- I've created a-- I developed respect when I was working for the magazine originally and then went off on my own and kept the clients who I had done their ads for-- some of them came to me to continue doing the ads. The magazine that I was working for paid me a per page bonus to bring it in, because I was doing the design work ahead of time and delivering it done. And because of the background that I got at Modular Graphics, I knew how to make documents that would not cause problems in the process. It's fine if people create a beautiful image on screen and make an ad page out of it, but if you don't cross all your t's and do your i's and know how the technical side works, it's not going to work, and no publisher is going to get to the service bureau to print out either the, in the old days the film, or now the plate or the actual print on demand. And if the file isn't set up right it will stop the press. And that is way more common than people have any idea, and until you've worked in a service bureau, like Modular Graphics-- which is what my job was, was taking outside designers' files and putting them into a separator, a machine that would spit out takes. And if you didn't get the right thing on the right frame, somebody's going to tell mom. And oftentimes it was-- it didn't used to be the service bureaus would figure out what had gone wrong, but as just Mark Kohn [ph?] and Mrs. Fricks [ph?] said, attitude; I wanted to figure how to help the designers so that they can fix the problem quickly and satisfy the client. And that was good for business at Modular. So I became pretty intuitive. And the people there, before me, taught me everything I knew about it, and then taught me how to be intuitive; which is also how people call and say, "We want to try your computer like right now." They taught me how to do that. They taught me how to maintain a computer, how to understand what's going on in there so that it's less likely to screw up, and if it does start malfunctioning, how to try and fix it. So we're self-reliant. But what-- back to your question. Because of my fine art background, art background, I would like to think that the visual part of my work was pleasing, if not successful. The intuitive, whether it was a headline or copywriting or what images I picked to give the message, was based on some intelligence that came from the heart and brain and not some graphic design company, and then the technical side being able to put it all together and have it work. I've got a reputation that was pretty positive, and I worked for some pretty hard people. My bread and butter has been actually a couple of developers. And I had trouble with that in the beginning because I'm a tree hugger and then kind of put the two on the same page. And I had an advisor tell me, "Somebody's going to take their money and they're going to hire them. They're not going to go out of business because you're not working for them." So I said okay and went. And one of them, who I'm not working for presently but had the pleasure of for about 16 years, let me do things like put a single image-- it's now become quite typical. But in this market we were the first ones to put footsteps in the sand to the water, nothing else on the page but a date or a phone number. Whereas most people want to see how much information they get crammed in.

Hayes: Yeah, you were--.

Baldridge: Or a white page with just a little bit of information. Every once in awhile I'd get to-- so they'd be like, $2000.00 for a blank page, for here's the phone number. But it worked. And so it was fun. And the big client I have now, that I'm still working for, has given me a tremendous amount of latitude.

Hayes: Artistic latitude.

Baldridge: Artistic latitude, and also because of the years at that, in the same arena, being able to use my intuitive and intellectual mind to figure out what needs to be done, as well as-- you see it's a puzzle, it's a game, it's how to survive for them. But how to make that happen and bring the people in and speak to them. It's a form of communication, which art is also. It's just, this is a teddy bear.

Hayes: Can we get back to your computer today? Because as I look at lots of your work that I've seen in various forums, it seems like you do a lot of autobiographical. Is that a fair statement? Is that a conscious--?

Baldridge: There is a consistent return to something biographical or autobiographical, family related. The show I had at WHQR years ago that was called Stories, most of the artwork in there-- there was a piece about my mother, which is in the other room; there was a piece about my father in the war. There was works that spoke to the time in Seabrook and Kima [ph?]and that environment, and a whole-- I've done a lot of shrimp boat stuff and fish house stuff, which-- to that environment. And when I was living there-- I also get into some social things, situations-- not social situations-- social causes that are important to me, like the men hating fishing here. Or in Seabrook I did several paintings, digital paintings, that were about the influx of the Vietnamese, with the evacuation of Saigon, into our area. They actually threatened to take away funding to the high school, or to the schools, because there's not enough teachers for the Vietnamese. Those of us that were working our butts off for a living, making enough to get by, but certainly not any more, were down at the local Kroger or Zaki's [ph?] grocery store. And the immigrants in front of us would have a stack of 100 dollar bills and that-- our indigenous shrimpers were having a real hard time, and there was a tremendous amount of conflict, and the Ku Klux Klan got involved and there were effigies burning in this little, silly little town. And there was gun fire and there was calls sometimes to the marina saying, "Get everybody who has a good suntan off the dock because the client's coming out with a boat, with a big machine gun mounted on bow." There was sailing on Sunday afternoon through the Sea Wakima [ph?]Channel, which was where you got out from Clear Lake into the bay, and on one side was shrimp boats and on the other side-- and shrimp houses-- and on the other side was restaurants and a tourist town. And all the boats, thousands and thousands, that were in Clear Lake, that wanted to go out in the bay, had to go through this little channel. And we were-- had been in the sailboat race, and we were coming back, and here comes this barge, and there's the Grand Dragon and a couple of others, in their white sheets and their pointed hats [unintelligible]. An effigy, hanging by the deck, big bones. I know that.

Hayes: [unintelligible].

Baldridge: All I know is the vehicle. There's the autobiographical. There's things that I know that affect me, is the broader way to categorize. Whether it's-- or things I don't know that I want to know more about. For instance, the family stuff. I know so little about my parents, and they're gone. And a lot of the work that I've done about them is based on things that I've found, that I didn't know existed when they were alive. But history.

Hayes: So you're doing it for yourself, but is your hope that this will hit the same chord as for other people too? In other words, how are they going to respond to--?

Baldridge: In fact, when I started with the digital, one of the first things I did after I felt like I-- as an art term, we say you ready to paint a picture? I did a series of old grocery stores, which basically in Wilmington it relates to crack corners now. And but the number of people that came up. They weren't particularly pretty images, but I try and affect them to be more- kind of a particular feel to them. Some were darker and others were like a hot sunny day somewhere in the South. But the number of people who had to come up and tell me their corner grocery store is still running was unbelievable. It was so touching, it was so wonderful. Everybody has-- that's over a certain age-- has a corner grocery store story.

Hayes: That's good.

Baldridge: Whether they grew up on a farm and it was in town, or whether they grew up in a town and it was around the corner, and back in the day when you'd send little Johnny down the street with two bucks to buy milk and eggs, or somebody--.

Hayes: You really coined that.

Baldridge: I really, really did. And so from there I went-- the timing was such that my father passed away, and I started coming into these picture books, scrapbooks and letters that I didn't know existed, and that spoke to times and lives that I knew nothing about. My mother's college life must've been amazing. I mean, there's pictures of her in every bar in New Orleans and Savannah, out with a different guy every one, all dressed up, some of them military. She was a model for some articles. And there were letters from GIs that had seen the articles in the magazines somewhere else, and there was an opportunity of writing here. There was a whole flow to laying-- there was two clubs. There was the in love with Betty and the out of love with Betty club. And there's letters from the guy, the in love with Betty club president that was switching sides. I know nothing of this, and she's been gone since '83, I mean. So to fill in those holes. And in doing that, yes, people have come forward and said, "I didn't know what to do with that box of stuff I found up in the attic." Or, you know, I wanted to research my parents' lives and see if the stuff was there.

Hayes: Isn't that interesting?

Baldridge: And of course the World War Two veterans, the PO-- my dad had been a POW. Did he ever talk about that? No, he took 90% of that to the grave with him, except for the __________. I found a picture of him and a buddy standing next to a bunch of skeletons, remains. Just some pretty wicked imagery. And he had been shot down on a- when he was trying to blow them up, and captured. And so yeah, you were saying at the beginning of this interview how people don't write letters anymore, people don't keep diaries, they don't have-- this video is one of the last remaining forms of keeping a record on who came forth, who- how did they think, how did they work, what did they do? And these boxes of letters and pictures, some of which I have no thread to connect them to anything, that's the way I look at them. And when you made that comment it made me think of a history class on the Dark Ages and how there was no written history.

Hayes: Sure.

Baldridge: And people got stupid, was how the different instructor explained it; I mean, just all this knowledge was lost.

Hayes: Well it was lost, yeah.

Baldridge: And how scary that would've been. But so I really committed to the project. But that yeah, so--.

Hayes: Is that-- if I said what's your latest work, is it still autobiographical, are you switching to something else? What would you say is your--?

Baldridge: My latest work, the way it's being constructed is probably-- the more consistent commonality in it, and that is it's a combination of analog and digital. I'm doing some digital work and then taking it out of the computer and marrying it with paint, all over the canvas. And some of it-- I'm working on two different series of work right now. One is based on images that I captured while traveling in exotic places that I've got an abundance-- oh I haven't even scratched the surface. A lot of people I know, some of my peers here, that I tremendously respect, but they're in Italy and paint, or paint the Greek, the whitewashed structures or the cathedral or the this or the that. And I just go and have a good time and really try and get a sense of the culture; you know, the food, what do the people that live there eat and what did they do and how did they go there; whether it's France or it's Mexico or it's Belize or Honduras or whatever, I get to end up. My husband and I are both boat captains, so we've been doing a lot more traveling in the last few years, because we get hired to deliver boats.

Hayes: What is your husband's name?

Baldridge: Jeff Fisher.

Hayes: Jeff Fisher. And what is your son's name?

Baldridge: Jason Cook.

Hayes: I'm just wanting to get those because we've talked about them, and we will be giving you copies of the DVD and they may want to check again--.

Baldridge: [unintelligible]. That's true. "Mom, you talked for two solid hours and never said our names."

Hayes: Right. So you've traveled a lot. And then you bring those back. So you don't necessarily do the art while you're there?

Baldridge: I usually will do some sketching, if I have time, if I'm sitting around. But whether I'm sketching with a pencil or with a pen, or whether it's paper--.

Hayes: Let me get one other participant's name on here, because we've had some clicking [ph?] and occasional imagery of this wonderful black dog.

Baldridge: Zeus.

Hayes: Zeus. What kind of dog is this guy?

Baldridge: Well his got his Labrador haircut today. When he grows out he's a real shaggy mutt. And we really have no idea. He had a hard life before he came to live here, and he's really happy.

Hayes: He's a good dog.

Baldridge: He's a good boy.

Hayes: And so the last comment, you claim probably to be a digital artist. Do you think that that's going to be a subcategory that's appreciated and held up? I mean, in other words artists have a tendency to want to categorize where they're at, and yet that's still pretty vague. Are you an abstract artist? Are you a realist? There is always terminology. Do you feel that a digital artist is going to kind of rise to a level of acceptance soon or--?

Baldridge: Well I have shown in Europe and some of the places in digital shows or shows that had a digital category, and they find my art on the website. And if you Google digital, I'm probably going to show up sooner or later. I have for marketing purposes switched to mixed media, with the marriage of the digital and analog.

Hayes: Which is different, yeah.

Baldridge: Because even when I was more purely digital, my biggest problem was with the surface. It just didn't have the warmth of something that had been touched with the human hand, in some capacity. And so I have a piece downstairs that was a wonderful piece but it took me nine months to reconcile the fact that 72 inches by 48 inches of canvas printed digitally, no matter how interesting the image, still has a flatness and a sense of being removed from the human being; even though all the content that you're seeing digitally is very human and emotional and touchy-feely. So I took a pair of scissors and cut the canvas and sewed it back together to disrupt the surface. And that helped, but it's still not there. So then a little while, a few months later, I took a large sheet of plastic, clear plastic, and I blew up one of my father's love letters to my mother-- because one of the images in the painting is a scan of one of his letters and it's collaged in with the other things. And out of these 12 letters, the one on the canvas is the only one that- where he was angry with my mother; and he was really angry, it was like damn you, or it was very blunt, instead of Darling, you know, Brandy, or whatever his nickname for her was. So that was the other irreconcilable. I did that, I created that initial image when I was on the outs with somebody I had been seeing for a long time and I was pretty worked up about it. And so I had all this pent-up anger, and so I picked the nasty letter. And I was having trouble reconciling that and the surface problem of the image. And so I took one of the nicer letters and blew it way up, and then traced it onto this plastic, and wrapped the plastic on top of the other. And because the canvas printed part is very matte and not shiny, and then you have the shiny, clear plastic, and you've got the two different layers on top of each other, and then that piece was solved. But I have worked very hard to not fall into a category, and that goes back to my college training, is that why would you want to be something somebody already else is? Why would you want to create something somebody already else has? How can that be art, how can that be original, how can that be--? There are new ways to do things that have never been done before, and obviously I strive to do that. But I really try and take it further, either intellectually or technically, or both. And I probably work way too hard to do that. And with some of the pieces that they were stuck for it was complicated. But switching over to mixed media is going to be easier for the gallery employee to describe with digital. There's just-- it's, digital is complicated. And so in the realm, when I enter a show or something, or get invited into a digital show, there's a tremendous amount of respect on an international level for myself and my peers. There's maybe 100 of us whose name will pop up at the similar events, on an international level. And more so when I have more time to market myself, which is the bane of all artists' existence-- I hate it, go look for somebody just to promote it, saying, "Oh, let me promote you, you just make your pictures." But anyway, there is work to that. But collage is a word that is used a lot with my work; mixed media.

Hayes: Mixed media.

Baldridge: I finally gave up on trying to believe that digital, pure digital, could surpass or equal to the feeling of paint, and so thereby taking the two, marrying them together, create a juxtaposition, with imagery, with concept, and with technique is kind of where I'm at right now. My artwork's an argument.

Hayes: Well that's a good place to end, and we want to thank you very much for talking to us. How's that?

Baldridge: Thank you, I appreciate it.

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