BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Anne Cunningham, November 1, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Anne Cunningham, November 1, 2007
November 1, 2007
Interview with local artist Anne Cunningham. Here, she discusses her educational background, how her work in interior design led her to mixed media, her materials and techniques, and the business of being a professional artist.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Cunningham, Anne Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  11/1/2007 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Hayes: Welcome. Today we're visiting with-- and let me have you say your name so we get it right.

Cunningham: Anne Cunningham.

Hayes: Good. Is there a full name there that we should have? Anne?

Cunningham: Anne Kimberley Cunningham.

Hayes: Good. And we're here in Wilmington and Anne is one of the well-known and leading artists in town, that's my judgment anyway, and I am Sherman Hayes, university librarian, conducting this interview for the UNCW's Randall Library and Ashley Shivar, who is assisting us today. Anne, before we get into some of the specifics about your particular art and creative process, why don't we go back a little bit in some context to see how you got to Wilmington and ended up in this. So where were you born, where did you start, a little bit about your family?

Cunningham: I came from southern Ohio, Chillicothe, Ohio. I was born and raised there. I went to, actually, went to a lot of different colleges. (laughter) You know, I started at a girl's school in Columbia, Missouri, called Steven's College.

Hayes: I've heard of that. I'm from Iowa originally so Missouri was...

Cunningham: And Steven's was a great start. I mean, we-- that was in the '60s and I was part of an experimental group of a dorm and we got to go to New York City and interview artists and we did kind of all the different major...

Hayes: You were actually starting art at that initial phase? That's what you were going to do?

Cunningham: Well, no, actually, I went to Steven's because I was going to be in journalism.

Hayes: Okay.

Cunningham: And University of Missouri is right there and it's a very good journalism school. But I'd always done artwork and loved that part of it.

Hayes: In high school? Was that a program?

Cunningham: I was in-- yeah, I took art, what little there was. There wasn't a whole lot of...

Hayes: I wondered about that.

Cunningham: We had art class and...

Hayes: That was it.

Cunningham: Yeah. We just didn't-- it wasn't stressed in my high school just, you know, unfortunately-- but my early-- and I've told this story a lot of times but one of my earliest recollections was in the first grade and we were given coloring, you know, then they would rip out pages out of coloring books, you know, which was so non-creative but that's what they did then. And we were studying the North Pole and I remember specifically being told not to color the polar bears because polar bears are white, that was part of the lesson. And somehow mine became polka dotted and striped and (laughter) totally not, I obviously was not paying attention or just being rebellious way back then and had to stand out in the hallway. And that was huge because it was a big, long, you know, in those schools, a big, long hallway and I remember hiding behind the door, thinking, you know, I don't want the principal to see me, you know? I'm in trouble. But that was a very clear memory for me and probably the first one. And then I kind of went on from there so I'd always enjoyed coloring and drawing and my mother would get those not so much the paint by number kits but they were some better kits back then that I enjoyed painting. So I've always kind of been doing that and, as I said, I started at Steven's and that was a great first year but the girl's school, one year at a girl's school was enough so I transferred to Ohio State and that...

Hayes: The Ohio State?

Cunningham: The Ohio State University. Once again, it was number one in football. And that was pretty wild. I mean, there were a lot of wild art things going on there that, at the time, I think my father just thought, oh, my gosh, you know, ________________ for all this. But it became-- a lot of that has come to be very important to me now. We had some classes where, you know, that's back when there were happenings going on.

Hayes: You started in art? At that point, you made a choice to go into art?

Cunningham: And I switched and I said this is what I want. I was actually in art education because, once again, back then, you had to be able to support yourself with what you went to college for. (laughter) Yeah.

Hayes: We still have a problem with that.

Cunningham: Fortunately, I'm doing real well with my art now but it's taken all these years but some of those classes, some of the painting classes, you know, you'd spend the whole-- it was a quarter system and you'd spend the whole quarter with a model up on a stage and a movie projector coming in on her this way and a slide projector this way and music coming from a lot of different sources and lights changing and we were supposed to create a piece of art from that by the end of the quarter.

Hayes: Was it a painting class?

Cunningham: It was a painting class. And, at the same time, we carried around a little two inch square canvas that whole quarter and whatever happened to it, happened to it. You dropped it in a mud puddle, if you spilled food on it, whatever. And then, at the end of that quarter, you compared the two and I know my father was just horrified and I'm not quite sure I understood the whole thing at that time, either, but it resonates now because it's all about that experimentation and that kind of letting things take you, you know? Let the art take you places.

Hayes: Did you have any traditional let's paint a landscape or any of those kinds of classes, too? Basic drawing?

Cunningham: Oh, yeah. The drawing classes. And, once again, because I was in art ed., I took all of the different medias, which was-- that was good, you know, the sculpture and pottery and collage kind of classes as well as the painting. And so that all was good. Then I actually left there after my junior year and got married. Then we moved to, at one point, we moved to South Carolina and I took a lot, a lot of classes at University of South Carolina. Then my husband was transferred and ended up actually getting my fine arts degree from Ohio State. I went back to Ohio State. So it was kind of long period of time but, in retrospect, it was probably really good for me because, when I went back to school, both at South Carolina more as an adult, you know, by then, I was probably 23, 24, and then when I finished at Ohio State, I was a few years older than that and then I just absorbed so much more. I mean, I learned. I mean, gosh, I loved school then. It wasn't, like, I have to go to school.

Hayes: Well, you were almost a graduate student because you'd been out a lot.

Cunningham: And I loved it that younger kids would come and say, "Oh, gosh, you're so smart," you know? It was because I applied myself, you know, I really enjoyed the learning then.

Hayes: That's an interesting concept. [inaudible]

Cunningham: You hear that but, unless you experience it...

Hayes: And I think it's only because they're in the mode of, you know, I need to do what they say. When you do take art education later on, it's a different...

Cunningham: Well, you really want the knowledge.

Hayes: Yeah.

Cunningham: Yeah. I remember taking some geology courses, thinking, this is so incredible, you know, and it just interested me so much. But I know first go round...

Hayes: So your degree then is in art-- did you stay in art education then?

Cunningham: No. When I went back and finished-- I actually finished with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Hayes: Did you have to do, like, a major project at the end?

Cunningham: No. Not really. At that point, I had so many hours, you know, from everywhere and, when I finally went back to Ohio State, I just kind of-- I'd had all my requirements and all those classes that you have to take, that was all out of the way so I just did nothing but took studio classes.

Hayes: One of the questions I always ask about, this studio work is so individual. Were there faculty that made a difference that you, today, still think about? Because for some of this ________________ it's a lecture hall of 300 or 30 or 40 but you probably had very small classes.

Cunningham: Well, yeah, I had some of those, too, at Ohio State, it was big, but those were the art history, those classes. The studio classes were very reasonable. One of my-- I mentioned South Carolina and I was living in Aiken, South Carolina, and there's a branch there and so all the classes I was taking were right there in Aiken and they had a beautiful new campus but they had no art on campus so all the art classes, I don't know if you know much about Aiken but it's a lot of-- it's where the winter training grounds for the sulky racing horses because, way back then, the railway had stopped right there, before Florida was developed and all that. So there are many, many large mansions of wealthy New York families and on one of these estates is where all the art classes were and pottery was in the old barn and print making was in, like, a little shed and, you know, we'd do ________________ firings outside and, you know, it was just a really great experience to take art classes there. But the Ohio State classes were awesome. I mean...

Hayes: Any particular individuals...

Cunningham: Well, one of the-- and I can't-- his name was Hewitt, I can't remember his first name but, when I went back to Ohio State and finished, it was a class, it was very experimental. It was, he'd kind of just give you a project, you know, to simplify, it's a, you know, paint-- the project is a leaf and then you could take that any way you wanted to. You could develop that in any way and it was-- that really made you think. It wasn't just painting the leaf or creating a leaf out of clay. It was taking that leaf as far as you could take it and, of course, I...

Hayes: How does a teacher help you with something like that? I mean, that's what I never quite understand is. Does he comment on where you were going or technique or...?

Cunningham: Lot of conversation and I don't think it was so much technique because that limited you. I mean, he was really stressing this experimentation of whatever you chose to-- whatever media or combination of medias and he really focused on that, you know? Layering and all kinds of-- any way you could just push it as far as you could, I mean, to the point where I remember photographing-- I mentioned the leaf because that's kind of what I took, a leaf, and just took it as far as I could take-- I mean, I painted it and I photographed it and I ripped them up and I, you know, created a lot of different things out of that.

Hayes: It sounds like your various previous coursework with every media came in handy with that project.

Cunningham: Years later. Years later, when I got into this mettle.

Hayes: Great. We've got you degreed, anyway, and a professional artist.

Cunningham: And then, for years, to make a living, I did interior design work, kind of starting working on this small studio in Ohio and then picked that up again in Aiken and, the whole time, I was kind of still doing my art, mostly painting, but, as a designer, then I would kind of personalize spaces I had worked on by either doing a painting for them or a lot of fabric painting, fancy cushions or tie backs on draperies, something to kind of personalize spaces.

Hayes: Tell me, you were doing interior decorating?

Cunningham: Yes.

Hayes: What is an interior decorator? I mean, I know what it is but tell us what your perception of that is. They came to your company?

Cunningham: Yes. And, at first, I was working for a company. Eventually, I started freelancing on my own. It's, you know, it's everything from helping people-- I did a lot of new construction when I had my own business so I would start with them and help them pick out their flooring and their wall treatments and their lighting and, actually, everything that goes into a house or, oftentimes, I did commercial spaces, too. [ audio off then on ]

Hayes: Okay. Sorry for that interruption. We want the artist to always be well lit. That's probably something that you...

Cunningham: Yeah. (laughter)

Hayes: So your interior decorating, then, was a personal service where you're...

Cunningham: Yes.

Hayes: ...helping people. Did you have to be licensed and all those kinds of things, too?

Cunningham: I was not.

Hayes: That doesn't matter. I just didn't know.

Cunningham: There are different degrees of designers and decorators and many of them did go ahead and get their ASID and AID and-- but I knew that that was just kind of something I really enjoyed. I guess I had sort of a knack for it because of my art background. I did that until the early '90s and then we were living in Raleigh at the time and that's when I-- I'd always kind of, even when I was doing my art, I always had a little part-time job just to get me out of my studio and with people.

Hayes: Well, talk about that a little bit.

Cunningham: It becomes very...

Hayes: I've heard about that. It can be a lonely existence.

Cunningham: It can and I think that's why a lot of people enjoy having studios in group situations like ________________ and I've considered that many times but I enjoy having my studio at home. I get a lot of work done, you know, and then my computer is here and it seems like the galleries are always calling me and saying, "Send me an image" and it's always kind of-- so everything's right here and it's become easy. But, at the same time, I kind of miss that camaraderie with people. So that's always kind of been the case and, anyway, I was working in Raleigh in the Five Points area at a little garden store part-time and it was not a plant place, it was garden accessories and so she had brass lanterns and bronze things and garden statuary and that kind of thing and we would patina some of the metals and...

Hayes: Patina...

Cunningham: Patina is what Mother Nature does, the aging process that happens to, particularly bronzes and coppers and brasses. It's that patina green that you see on...

Hayes: The ________________

Cunningham: ...the exterior...

Hayes: P-A-T-I-N-A? Is that patina?

Cunningham: Patina.

Hayes: Okay.

Cunningham: And, anyway, so it was-- and, back then, there weren't patinas-- we would mix them up with the chemicals and...

Hayes: So you were trying to get the metal to do something...

Cunningham: That nature...

Hayes: ...that you want.

Cunningham: To speed up what Mother Nature does...

Hayes: Anyway.

Cunningham: ...anyway. It just takes a long time.

Hayes: All right.

Cunningham: [inaudible] Because a lot of people like that aged look immediately and so waiting for that copper to turn or the bronze to turn. So she had scraps of pieces of lead and copper and that around the shop and would let me take home what I wanted. And so I started putting little pieces in my paintings, just little...

Hayes: So you were mainly doing painting. Was that an abstract painting at that point?

Cunningham: Mostly abstract. Sometimes I would do some images but not real specific.

Hayes: Oil or acrylic?

Cunningham: Then, I was using acrylics and, once again, I was kind of incorporating some different materials in with the paints. Sometimes I would put, like, sandy kind of mixtures, which gave it more texture.

Hayes: So you were mixed media early on?

Cunningham: I didn't even know it.

Hayes: You didn't know it. (laughter) You didn't claim it? You didn't even tell people?

Cunningham: I didn't know it. And then I started putting little pieces of the metal in there and I was intrigued with what all you could do and, you know, you could even use plant fertilizer, the liquid fertilizers will change metals. And then other things around the house. I mean, I played with everything and I, you know, I would take metal to the beach down at Fort Fisher and let the truck tires run over it because it was amazing how many different truck tires there are, treads.

Hayes: And it would imprint on the metal?

Cunningham: Yeah. And I'd throw it in the ocean and-- just everything I could think of, I would try on these metals.

Hayes: But the point is, you went way beyond let's let natural aging of the metal. I mean, you were looking for-- you were doing your project again, right?

Cunningham: Mm hm.

Hayes: Stretching it as far as you could stretch it, it sounds like.

Cunningham: Where can I take this?

Hayes: So you didn't want to come with nice, green copper at the end, right? In other words, you were doing anything and everything?

Cunningham: Yeah. That was what was so fun and the surface, you know, metal is strong whereas paper eventually-- and canvasses, you can only work so much. I mean, you can Jusco[ph?] over a canvas and redo it and Jusco over but eventually you have a lot on there and you can't just strip it down. But this metal is so durable, I could do anything to it and so then I got to where I was putting more and more pieces in my metal and to where it became all metal. And, at first, I was using very lightweight metals and, you know, it's just been years of experimenting.

Hayes: Now, could you turn to anybody for advice or help in this? I mean, it's kind of...

Cunningham: No, I just kind of...

Hayes: Yeah.

Cunningham: ...went for it.

Hayes: Not a class on distressing metals. Would they teach that today, you think?

Cunningham: I think so. Well, I don't know in a school curriculum if they would or not but there are so many packaged patinas now that you can get at all the stores. I mean, it's-- and you can buy very thin rolls of coppers and brasses to play with.

Hayes: Is this coming more out of the hobby side than the artist side?

Cunningham: I think. I think. But I know a lot of artists now who are putting little pieces of metal in their paint.

Hayes: Oh, is that right?

Cunningham: Yeah, there's quite a few here locally and...

Hayes: Interesting.

Cunningham: Yeah. Because it's, I guess, it's more available. But I just, I don't know, I just enjoyed what would happen and never knowing what's going to happen and I still don't know what's going to happen.

Hayes: So talk us through-- maybe we should get this painting here. Do we call it a painting?

Cunningham: Well, nobody quite knows what to call it. Let's see. If I can pop this up.

Hayes: We can put it up here.

Cunningham: Okay.

Hayes: If that's okay?

Cunningham: You know what, I'm going to get a towel ________________ metal...

Hayes: The metal we just talked about.

Cunningham: Yeah.

[ audio off then on ]

Hayes: Now, you went and picked up one of your works and I was kidding you about what it's called but I shouldn't be kidding you. What do you say? Artwork? An art piece? Metal sculpture?

Cunningham: All of the above.

Hayes: All of the above. (laughter)

Cunningham: You know, early on, I used to enter a lot of shows and they would put on as sculpture and it's not really sculpture but they considered it sculpture because it's metal.

Hayes: And you're working the metal, you're not just putting random things in, that's for sure.

Cunningham: Right.

Hayes: But it really has elements of painting, to me.

Cunningham: Yeah. It's just a very-- a lot of them I layer with papers. This one doesn't have paper on it. It's mostly different chemicals and...

Hayes: Now, we're looking at a finished piece and this is common to your work now. What were some of the other evolutionary experiments you were trying for? Were you doing round before or did you do...

Cunningham: I've done all kinds of shapes.

Hayes: Every shape.

Cunningham: I have done big rounds. One of the largest ones is up at Rex Wellness Center in Carrie over the front door. It's a nine-foot in diameter round piece. You know, it's 20 some feet up in the air that I had to get on a cherry picker and get all strapped in. That was a challenge.

Hayes: Tell us about that piece. In other words, I'm kind of getting the sense that some of your market then is more of an institutional market?

Cunningham: A lot of corporate, mm hm.

Hayes: And so those then are not a go to a gallery, those are more working with a client?

Cunningham: Mm hm. Mostly through my galleries.

Hayes: All right. So a gallery would...

Cunningham: Make the contact.

Hayes: ...make the contact or they would contact and say...

Cunningham: Do a proposal to the company.

Hayes: That's, like, a formal, must write it up kind of proposal?

Cunningham: Yeah. Well, yes. And many of the corporate pieces I have up in the Raleigh area are through my gallery up there and, you know, a lot of times they work from before the building's even built or, you know, once again, through designers. They have colors, you know, a lot of times I'm given color schemes to work with.

Hayes: Size.

Cunningham: Size is very-- and sometimes it's a lot of multiples to cover big spaces because all these new buildings, you know, are huge with huge wall spaces. Mine seems to go very well because even the smaller pieces feel bigger because they're not a framed, contained shape. And...

Hayes: How do you feel about the certain loss of control that comes when you're working with a client? Of course, you did the other side of the street for many years, you were the interior decorator.

Cunningham: Right.

Hayes: But is that okay?

Cunningham: Well, commissions are harder. They're a little bit more limiting because you are trying to please or, you know, meet their requirements but it's been such a big part of this whole development for me that I don't-- and there are challenges, too. You know, there's good and bad things. The hardest thing for me is when, and I'm working on one right now, I had a piece in my gallery in Raleigh and I just took it up there last week. Well, a client immediately came in but they need two because they have two niches in this space. So one of the girls from the gallery brought it down to me Tuesday and said, "We need another one like this." And I said, "I have told you a million times, I can't make this metal react the same way from piece to piece."

Hayes: It's not reproduction work. This is art, right?

Cunningham: Make it blend. Make it blend. Okay. And I'll be able to do that but it's very difficult to control. It depends on the temperature, the humidity, whether it gets out in the sunshine, it's amazing the difference.

Hayes: Let's go back to the technique, then, so that we get a sense of this. You would take the metal and you'd do shaping of it, obviously. These are not flat. Then is there...

Cunningham: I cut every single piece. (laughter)

Hayes: And then you have various treatments that you can do on the metal, that's your choice, and it's experiment to see what happens but you must have some expectation, based on...

Cunningham: Yes, yes.

Hayes: ...track record? And different metals react.

Cunningham: And one roll of copper to the next roll of copper can react differently.

Hayes: Really?

Cunningham: I think there must be, you know, coppers have different amounts of copper in them and it's, you know, that's the part that I really...

Hayes: And are you applying layers of chemicals and paint? Because some of these look like paint. Are you really painting what you want?

Cunningham: There's some paint on there and there's some chemicals. There's some dyes. I have kind of developed these interesting dyes. There's some iridescent tones in here.

Hayes: And what does that mean, iridescent? They glow a little bit?

Cunningham: Yeah. They kind of shine, shimmer a bit more. This one has-- some of this is copper, some is brass shapes so the brass reacts differently than the copper. Oftentimes, I use aluminum and sometimes stainless...

Hayes: Now, if you're working for a client, do you get a sense to see what the light's going to be because that would make a huge difference. I mean, how do you know how your piece is going to be lit?

Cunningham: One of the things someone said to me years ago that they enjoyed about my work was they felt like it was alive because it did change with the lighting.

Hayes: Okay.

Cunningham: And so that happens no matter where you put it because it's going to be-- if it's in a public space or if it's in your home, it's going to change.

Hayes: Like today, we're darker and lighter as we talk.

Cunningham: Right. So I don't worry about...

Hayes: So you don't worry about that so much?

Cunningham: No. I'm given kind of the color scheme or the, you know, the textures in carpet, that kind of thing, that, once again, my interior design background kind of helps me with that because I'm able to kind of look at those colors and pick some of those designs and...

Hayes: Now, do you coat it for protection?

Cunningham: Yes.

Hayes: So you use some...

Cunningham: Yeah. I use...

Hayes: ...plastic or...

Cunningham: ...some polyurethanes to...

Hayes: Because, otherwise, it can continue to adjust, right? That's the problem with metal?

Cunningham: Right. Uh huh.

Hayes: Have you had any that had a problem with that?

Cunningham: You know, I've got some even hanging out on my back-- not that I'd recommend anybody putting them out in the elements unless I know in advance because then I treat the wood supports on the back before I apply the metal. Like, this has been up here for-- it's been out on a screened porch for a very long time and it hasn't changed because it's been treated. But they will, just the nature of the metal, I think they will gradually maybe mellow a little bit.

Hayes: Well, patina always talks about different stages.

Cunningham: That's right. But I think that they will remain more intact than a painting, you know, because the same issues with painting and you look at old masters and stuff and that's all...

Hayes: You do the square technique and you do different sizes and then you have an attachment issue, right? That becomes the next challenge? And is that part of the artistic process? What combination, how to...

Cunningham: That's the drudgery. (laughter)

Hayes: I mean, which order, which goes-- I mean, what's the decision process there?

Cunningham: In the ones with the squares like this, I think that is just a, you know, I try to make, you know, one of the elements of art is you want the eye to kind of move through a piece and so I try to do that with many of these although this one has so much going on that I think your eye just goes from shape to shape anyway just to see all the different textures. But I think those elements that you learn as an art major all are there in some respect. It's not totally chaos. (laughter) Sometimes there's a chaos going on but...

Hayes: Well, I see some patterns here.

Cunningham: Yeah.

Hayes: There's three that you are using to draw your eye down.

Cunningham: I've had so-- I just a big 55 by 55 one for...

Hayes: 55?

Cunningham: Inches by 55 inches.

Hayes: Inches. Okay. Good. Wow.

Cunningham: ...that almost-- well, over six feet. And big square that often, when I'm asked to do something that size, I'll say, "Well, can we do two smaller ones and then hang them right together?" Just because of transporting...

Hayes: I was going to say, the weight...

Cunningham: ...the weight of it.

Hayes: Oh, yeah. What do you think this one piece here that looks like it's about three by four weighs?

Cunningham: It doesn't weigh...

Hayes: Too bad?

Cunningham: Mm-mm. Maybe 10 pounds.

Hayes: Okay. But when you get big on the wall, they get to be...

Cunningham: Yeah. But, anyway, these people were specific and they wanted it 55 by 55 so I did it and it was quite heavy but they wanted every single square different.

Hayes: Wow.

Cunningham: So that was a challenge. But...

Hayes: But still held together as a cohesive piece of art?

Cunningham: Yeah. And that's one of the things I did kind of stipulate was that's fine but I still want to be able to, you know, I don't want blue, green, pink, yellow, you know, just, you know, it needed to blend, it needed to work together. So you have those interesting commissions from time to time.

Hayes: It seems to me that you're kind of blending both almost an industrial and hand craft and art together. Is the appeal the fact that it's so unique? And that the artist did it? Because a commercial, I guess, a milling place could come away with something like this but do you find people really respond that you, as the artist, produced this? I mean, why do people come looking for...

Cunningham: Metal art.

Hayes: Metal art, yeah. I mean, you know, painting I understand we can't do that but any sense of what the draw is?

Cunningham: Well, I think people want something different occasionally. I mean, there are the traditionalists that just want a painting, you know, or watercolor or something like that but I guess I've just hit on something that is different. It gives a lot of texture, it gives a lot of strength to a space. It's abstract, which is easy for a lot of people to understand. A lot of people don't understand it but it's easy to enjoy, I think. And then the fact that I can do all these different shapes, you know? I've done ovals, I've done more that are like-- I've got a piece in there more of a box, almost like a canvas deck piece but it's wrapped and many that are woven metal. I'll take strips and weave it together.

Hayes: Interesting. And what's that technique? Just a hand technique?

Cunningham: Yeah, I just hand weave it, mm hm, yeah. Cut those strips and hand weave it through before I-- usually, then, I'll lay the metal out and it's a lighter weight metal than this. Lay it out and I've oftentimes layered them with papers and done work to it before I cut it and then cut it into strips and then sit and weave it and wrap it around these kind of deeper box shape.

Hayes: Interesting.

Cunningham: And those have been very popular. I haven't done any for a little while because the flat metal like that, for whatever reason, has just gone higher than all the rest of it.

Hayes: I was wondering about that because I understand that, with the construction in China and everything else, that metals have just gone through the roof.

Cunningham: They have.

Hayes: As far as prices go.

Cunningham: Uh huh. And it's...

Hayes: I don't know if you could say that, gone through the roof for metal. (laughter)

Cunningham: And then people are stealing copper out of-- that's how high, you know, you've heard about all the construction sites and taking them out of air conditioners and anywhere they can get a hold of copper now, particularly. And it's really...

Hayes: Is there one metal that's not gone crazy that you can work with?

Cunningham: No.

Hayes: They've all?

Cunningham: They've all gone up. Aluminum's probably maintained the most but I can't use the patinas on the aluminum. So it's really cut into my profits because I think you can-- one of the things I've found, and everybody goes, "Well, just keep raising your prices. You're selling so many, just, you need to keep raising them." But I think I want to sell my work because I love doing it and I can't-- this is so cumbersome, I can't just store it all. I mean, I really enjoy selling and I do sell a lot and I want to keep doing that.

Hayes: Is it validation do you think from the sale? Or you just like the idea that it's out there?

Cunningham: I love creating it and I love hearing the comments people have and the enjoyment that I hear. I don't always get to meet or see the people or even see the pieces hanging because I'm in so many galleries and they're, you know, all over and so often they sell pieces that I never know where they go.

Hayes: I was going to ask, do they keep-- they don't always keep track?

Cunningham: Galleries are a little bit protective because they do a lot of the marketing, you know, they want-- they don't want the client coming to me directly the next time nor me going to the client.

Hayes: Well, you must have some individual clients if you know people?

Cunningham: Yes.

Hayes: I mean, and that's okay, right?

Cunningham: And I get a lot of response from my website, you know, we're talking about, I mean, the internet's really huge and people are getting very savvy at just Googling your name and finding you. And I have to be pretty careful about that. I really make an attempt to find out if they've seen me in a gallery or just from my website, word of mouth, or in somebody's house or whatever.

Hayes: Yeah, you were telling us earlier about a scam where somebody was trying to get you to-- they were going to buy something from you and then-- well, you should tell it, not me.

Cunningham: Well, it's very prevalent right now and I know quite a few other artists, even right here in town, that this has almost happened or happened to. You're contacted through your website or through email and it's someone inquiring about work which happens fairly frequently now for me and this person was from Texas, a woman, and she was interested. She, I think, she mentioned three pieces that were on my site that she was interested in and, as it turned out, I think all three of those had been sold. And so I said that I have these and so I emailed her images of pieces I had currently available here. And she said, "Well, I'll take boom, boom, boom" just like that. So that was my first thing, you know, my first indication that that's pretty quick, to buy artwork that quickly over the website.

Hayes: And yours are not inexpensive.

Cunningham: No. Right. So anyway I kind of played along with it and she said she was moving to South Africa. Her husband was already working there for a company and that she would send me a check-- a money order and have her shipper pick up the work. All I had to do was get it ready, you know, boxed up, and that they would pick it up and then that shipper would take it to wherever all her other household goods were going to be shipped from and it would all go together. So this was kind of a-- that made the immediacy kind of, like, why she was in such a hurry to do this. So, anyway, I said, fine, and we agreed upon a price and she said I would be getting the money order and that her partner was flying to London so that it was going to come from London, which it did. I got the...

Hayes: The money order?

Cunningham: The money order on a-- well, she threw that part in there because she said he made a mistake and he wrote it for more than what-- he included the shipping and I'm the whole time sitting there going, this is getting too strange. But the money order came on a Friday afternoon, right before the banks close, as a matter of fact, and I-- the male-- she said he paid too much so, when you get the difference, just return, you know, the difference because he included shipping, that's what she said. So I thought, well, maybe it's possible. He could have included an extra $500 for shipping, something like that, something reasonable. Well, the check ended up being for over about close to $3,000 more...

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Cunningham: Well, you know, and then the light bulbs were just going, cha ching.

Hayes: Thank goodness.

Cunningham: So I immediately went to the bank and asked them to check the routing number and they said, yeah, it's bogus. So I didn't even deposit it because, had I deposited it, then I would have been charged the bounced check fee and there's no way I would ever have sent them-- but they wanted me to send them the balance, you know, the difference between what I was going to charge.

Hayes: And then it'd disappear. So it was a pure scheme.

Cunningham: And it's probably-- they said they get so many of them at the bank all the time and, you know, they said it's just one person sitting there at the computer someplace doing this whole thing, pretending they're this lady from, you know, and then that whole weekend-- this was on a Friday, which I think was very well planned, they were supposed to pick up the artwork, like, the following week but they wanted me to Western Union the difference back to them Saturday. Then, all of a sudden, I was having phone calls all day Saturday, all day Sunday from a very African-sounding person saying, "No, Ms. Cunningham, you must go to a Western Union immediately and send back..." and I kept saying, "Your check hasn't cleared. I'm not going to send you anything." And it got to the point where it was-- got scary and I finally just said, "Look, I know it's bogus, don't..."

Hayes: And you never heard from them again?

Cunningham: No. I started worrying about it because I thought, gosh, it could be somebody here in Wilmington, you know, you don't know. But, anyway, yeah, but it's very prevalent and I've talked to...

Hayes: Thank you for telling us that story. It's a warning at all levels but I didn't even think that artists could be vulnerable because, you know, they're going to buy something, which is a very appealing process, right?

Cunningham: That's why artists are very vulnerable because, oh, somebody wants my artwork, yay.

Hayes: Yeah.

Cunningham: And somebody in Texas and it's going to South Africa.

Hayes: But you said you do do a lot through the internet so you've had good experiences, too?

Cunningham: I've had very good experiences.

Hayes: Oh, okay. So [inaudible]

Cunningham: Yeah. It's not a bad thing.

Hayes: But you need to be careful.

Cunningham: Yes, very careful.

Hayes: Very careful. Well, how would most people pay than using the internet? I mean, a personal check that clears? And then you don't ship until the money is in the bank?

Cunningham: I get 50% down to do, whether it's a commission or something that I have here and then I don't ship until I get the full amount and it's cleared and then I-- but now, you know, they have PayPal so I signed up for that so I can do...

Hayes: And that's-- PayPal is safe because they have to put the money in?

Cunningham: Mm hm. And that goes...

Hayes: You don't deal with credit cards?

Cunningham: Well, that's kind of the same...

Hayes: Same thing.

Cunningham: ...thing. They can then pay, use their credit card...

Hayes: Well, the reason I'm...

Cunningham: ...PayPal charges you a fee which is, like, a credit card fee.

Hayes: Kind of a side rule of artists that they don't think about that there's actually a business, kind of a business side...

Cunningham: That's not the fun part, either.

Hayes: Yeah.

Cunningham: It's a lot of work, I mean, it's, you know, I'm-- my accountant, bookkeeper, internet person, packer and shipper...

Hayes: You do all your own packing and shipping?

Cunningham: It depends. If I'm shipping to a gallery and I'm trying to save some money because it's quite expensive to ship this stuff, I try to box up most of mine to the galleries and then I'll ship. If it's a client, they're paying the shipping so I just take it to, you know, UPS or Mailboxes or someplace and let them handle it. But, you know, you have to be pretty thrifty as an artist. I mean, it's...

Hayes: A lot of up front material costs, too. That's a good idea to get some money ahead of time because you could be-- if somebody changes their mind...

Cunningham: Right, right.

Hayes: And this is not something that, you know, I think, particularly your large pieces, you've got to have a home for those. You're not going to have those hanging in the gallery and many people come in, 55 by 55, and your extremely large ones have to go corporate because most houses wouldn't be able to handle them.

Cunningham: Take any of that, mm hm, that large, yeah.

Hayes: But that's good in the sense that I was wondering if PPD, I mean, did you work with that gallery in Raleigh?

Cunningham: Mm hm. They got that contract, I think, because the designers were in Raleigh and I think PPD has maybe other space up there.

Hayes: Oh, yes, they have several buildings, I think, in Raleigh.

Cunningham: Okay. So they had already done those.

Hayes: They have a marketing unit or something up there.

Cunningham: Okay. So that's how they got the contract and they tried to use as many Wilmington artists, put it out there as Wilmington artists to submit plus they already represent quite a few artists here and that was the main focus to use. PPD wanted to use local artists or, if they couldn't find everything they wanted locally, then at least North Carolina.

Hayes: So did you get a piece into?

Cunningham: They bought a lot of my work.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Cunningham: Uh huh. They got two 48 x 48 in this look, the squares, and then they bought-- I do a lot on-- I don't even have any examples here, I don't think, on copper rods. Some are straight rods and some are curved and they have one wall goes into the conference room which is this huge wall that goes up like this and they got 32 of those and then five straight sticks that are in another hallway.

Hayes: So you put them together next to each other?

Cunningham: Yeah, and it just looks like, you know, they're just kind of going up. They're very organic. They wanted everything kind of, you know, because of what they do, very cellular and organic looking so a lot of the shapes were very curvy. It's quite an installation. It's very exciting to have it here locally, especially.

Hayes: So you've seen it, it's already done and...

Cunningham: I helped, I helped hang them all. Once again, we had a cherry picker going up and down and...

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Cunningham: Yeah. To get way up there with the gallery people and so I was there several days and then PPD had a cocktail party grand opening where they invited all the artists, which was awesome, and a lot of their corporate people were there and, you know, the mayor, you know, city people, council people, and it was just a really nice thing. And then they had tours through the building so we were able to go up on the 12th floor, which is where all the executive offices are, and see the whole city, you know, which was-- I've talked to many employees there that say, "Well, we never get to go to the 12th floor." So we felt real honored to be able to really see the building.

Hayes: So where are some of the other installations that one might be able to find your work in that you're proud of? I mean, you mentioned the Wellness Center in...

Cunningham: In Cary. Rex Wellness Center. I have quite a few pieces at Duke Med, Wake Med has several pieces, CPNL, oh, gosh, a lot of attorney's offices. Sharp Architecture here locally has several pieces. I've got things out in Park City, Utah, at a bank, Bank of Birmingham. You know, just a lot of corporate...

Hayes: That's good. I just want to ask a last question then go in and look at your studio, if that's okay.

Cunningham: Sure.

Hayes: Just to get a sense of the process but given that you're kind of experimenting all the time and yet you're drawn to corporate and so forth, what do you do to make sure that your art is changing or creative or different? In other words, so that you don't become a production. How do you help keep yourself in a new medium, if you want to, and I assume you want to?

Cunningham: Yeah. And it's been, you know, it's-- and I know we don't have time but, you know, when I look back at pieces I was doing 15 years ago, they're so different and you can just go through all my images and it just-- they just have changed and evolved and it's new ways, once again, it's just-- I've just thought of new ways of treating the metal, of shaping the metal, of-- I think I get bored so I get tired of doing the same-- you know, even though I might do the same format over and over, and this really developed because I wanted to do a tile backsplash for a house we built and I never got around to it and I started thinking about tiles all the time because we were building a house and so I ended up-- I wanted to do it in ceramic and take some pottery classes and never got-- didn't have the time to do it so I got into this tiled look which I call it, but I've done-- it's just changed so much and I think a lot of it has to do with, you know, experimentation. It's the excitement of seeing what it's going to do if I take it this way or I might head off that way and it brings me right back this way but, you know, I don't know where it comes from. Things come to me, I'll see something else, sometimes I'll see, you know, I can see grain in a wood floor or something and it'll just-- oh, it'll hit me and I'll think, gosh, I wonder if I can take the metal that way? And I think, because I don't have any boundaries, you know, there's nobody out there that's-- I shouldn't say nobody but there's not too many people doing what I'm doing so it's allowed me to just kind of do it and it's not right or wrong if I do it this way because there's nobody back in history or-- and I think what's so exciting is that, you know, art always changes and evolves and it has forever and ever and ever and, you know, I tell some of the young artists come to me and I guess I'm kind of become a mentor, you know, when you stick around long enough, that it's just to try the new things. I mean, just don't let all this influences hold you back. Just go for it and that's kind of what I've done. It's been fun.

Hayes: Well, thank you for talking to us. This is great. We're going to take a break here and then we're going to go into-- you call yours a studio, is that...

[ audio off then on ]

Cunningham: I did a lot of hand cutting.

Hayes: Snipping, yeah.

Cunningham: There's a lot of hand...

Hayes: One of the reasons I'm coming with this idea of the tools is that here we have people talking about art and then we have the finished product but that's not what it's about. It's...

Cunningham: It's how you get there.

Hayes: Yeah. And the stuff, I mean, and we're just amazed at what people use. Everything is possible. Even the traditional painters and so forth are-- one lady was telling us about a new type of paper that she can do abstract art on now because it doesn't soak in as much and so there's always some material influencing the work.

Cunningham: Right. That's right.

Hayes: The person's influencing the work and the tools. I mean, I don't know if you know Ellie ________________?

Cunningham: Oh, my gosh, yeah. And Arnie Lords and...

Hayes: She's got drills and, you know, [inaudible] what is your art tool? The saw, which is fine. I think the sculpture has always had that element but the painter was, like, oh, a collage, mm hm, but there into it just as much. So they're saying they're not...

Cunningham: I know. And that is so true. You know, the same with-- see, these are all reproductions of mine.

Hayes: What are reproductions? Oh, really?

Cunningham: That's all ________________ clays.

Hayes: And you're trying them in that? Is that working? Or is that...

Cunningham: Well, it's something I'm just starting to get kind of-- I haven't marketed them too much. This actually came from this, if you believe that.

Hayes: Isn't that something?

Cunningham: That square.

Hayes: Is your [inaudible] Yeah. She was talking here about the fact that ___________ the reproduct-- you're taking your metal, scAnneing that?

Cunningham: Photographing, having a photograph.

Hayes: Photographs. Then putting it in and blowing it up and putting it on traditional canvas?

Cunningham: Or paper.

Hayes: Or paper.

Cunningham: They print it on paper.

Hayes: Oh, what a surprise when that comes out, I bet. Is it...

Cunningham: Well, it is. It is and it's limitless. Now, a lot of galleries and a lot of artists are not receptive to ________________ clays but, for me, I think because it-- a painter, a painting can be misconstrued for the original ________________ clay but my work is obviously that's not metal...

Hayes: Well, the point is, it's not a reproduction. It's a new original piece of work.

Cunningham: It is.

Hayes: You're just using metal to construct the...

Cunningham: Right. And a digital camera.

Hayes: And a camera. But then the ________________ changes it so it's not a reproduction.

Cunningham: Right.

Hayes: Because we talked about that. I'm worried that someone will say to you, now, take this to a metals place and repeat this again, repeat this again, like clay can be done or ________________

Cunningham: Right. I don't think anybody can do this. (laughter) [inaudible]

Hayes: ...temptation. In other words, ________________ going to come back and you're going to start to see work that is all looking just like yours and you get nervous that...

Cunningham: Yeah.

Hayes: ...they can do that. But I don't think that...

Cunningham: But they could go to a website and just see your work and do the same thing.

Hayes: But they can't produce the uniqueness, that's the whole thing.

Cunningham: Yeah. I don't think they can.

Hayes: So I think that's a different medium. I think that's-- so you're using it in a very different way than a painter who wants to get 12 and say, limited edition number and I don't object to that if that works because most people can't afford originals. I mean, so, in some ways, you're offering...

Cunningham: And it's much more decorative, you know? It's just-- these are more for, you know, to me, this is more for a, just a decorative, less expensive, you know...

Hayes: Those look like ________________. Are those...

Cunningham: Those are [inaudible] (laughter)

Hayes: Okay.

Cunningham: No, those are my weights for my metal. They are.

Hayes: Your weights for your metal?

Cunningham: Well, after I glue these down, I weigh them down so that...

Hayes: That's fantastic. See, there's...

Cunningham: ...until it dries so, yeah, those are my tools. All of this, I mean...

Hayes: And these are your patina...

Cunningham: Patinas and some dyes and...

Hayes: Okay.

Cunningham: of the metal and then I have drawers of papers that I use and...

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign