BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Dixon Stetler, January 18, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Dixon Stetler, January 18, 2008
January 18, 2008
Interview with Dixon Stetler, local artist and co-founder of Independent Art Company, which provides studio and gallery space for artists as well as a venue for arts-based community events. In this interview, Stetler discusses her background, aesthetic, creative process, and contributions to the arts community in Wilmington.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Stetler, Dixon Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  1/18/2008 Series:  Arts Length  120 minutes


Hayes: Thank you for talking with us today. My name is Sherman Hayes and I am here with Ashley Schreiber-

Shivar: Shivar.

Hayes: Shivar- I keep calling her Schreiber- Shivar, from UNCW's Randall Library, and today we're talking with Dixon Stetler- did I get that correct?

Stetler: Yes, you did. Yes.

Hayes: That's good. And this is part of our series of interviews with artists in the Wilmington area. But you also- we wanna talk about what it is to be an artist because you're an entrepreneur of sorts with your own gallery and your own- what would you call it? Artists' cooperative- is that-

Stetler: Studio space.

Hayes: Studio space.

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: But before we jump into those things, no one gets to this level without a start, so why don't you give us a sense of early on- where you got started from, where are you from, and so forth.

Stetler: Well, I grew up in South Carolina and learned basket-weaving in high school.

Hayes: Oh!

Stetler: And I was originally using traditional basketry materials, reed and raffia and those kinds of things, and vines I would rip down from the forest and-

Hayes: Did you learn basket-weaving as part of a formal program or just for fun?

Stetler: I did.

Hayes: You did?

Stetler: I did.

Hayes: In a high school?

Stetler: In a high school.

Hayes: That's kind of interesting.

Stetler: I was the only one who liked it. (laughs)

Hayes: (laughs)

Stetler: I don't think they did it the following fall because it was a trial run- I was the only one who had a good time.

Hayes: You were the only one. That's interesting. What town in South Carolina?

Stetler: Hilton Head.

Hayes: Oh, wow. That's interesting.

Stetler: Mm-hmm. So I-

Hayes: Were your folks artists?

Stetler: No.

Hayes: I mean, were -

Stetler: No, my mother's an actress, so she's got some creative sparks in her, but-

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: I just-

Hayes: So, basket-weaving- it was pretty much a traditional course in the sense of-

Stetler: Yes. Yes. Very traditional. And I went to college and couldn't afford art materials, even reed, which is pretty cheap, so I started gettin' stuff out of dumpsters and people's trash.

Hayes: Which college? Where was college?

Stetler: I finished up at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I had bounced around for a while- went to Colorado State for a few years. Spent one miserable year at University of South Carolina in Columbia- (laughs) and that didn't take, so-

Hayes: Was art your- pointed to all of that-

Stetler: All along, yes.

Hayes: Early on, right? Right away you said, this is what I wanna do.

Stetler: This is what I wanna do.

Hayes: Had you done all the other traditional arts as well? Painting? Or-

Stetler: I- no, I struggled through a Painting 101 class, and I think I cried every day-

Hayes: (laughs)

Stetler: And I just thought, I can't paint, I can't be an artist, and I dabbled in photography for quite a while, but again, that was before digital, and so I just couldn't afford (chuckles) to get the prints developed. It was just- I had to pick a cheaper hobby is what I decided, because it just wasn't workin' for me. So, I started just gettin' free stuff along the side of the road, and eventually, it dawned on me how much junk there is on the side of the road, and how much stuff we have and how much stuff we throw away, and how short our relationship is with all the objects we come into contact with on a daily basis. So, it became much more than just finding free materials. It became about using these items that- they're just there, and they have a lot of energy around them.

Hayes: So what program did you take at Chapel Hill? It seems to me that the Art program's gettin' kind of didactic in the sense of you better take drawing and lifeform and clay- and you wanted to do sculpture or what-

Stetler: And a whole lot of Renaissance art. (laughs)

Hayes: Pardon me?

Stetler: A whole lot of Renaissance Art History.

Hayes: Like history-

Stetler: Yes, yes.

Hayes: So you took that whole route, or-?

Stetler: I took the Art History route because I just fell in love with Art History.

Hayes: Studio. Oh, really? Oh.

Stetler: I did. In the studio, the options were painting or drawing or photography- maybe sculpture, but it was very traditional, either, you know, bronze casting or wood, not contemporary materials.

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: So, I went the Art History route.

Hayes: So that's what- you have a degree from Chapel Hill in Art History, a Masters?

Stetler: No. Just a Bachelors.

Hayes: In Art History.

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: But you didn't really expect to practice Art History.

Stetler: There was a short time where I thought, "Yeah, this makes sense." (laughs) And then I listened to the Car Talk guys- I don't know if you ever listen to them- on NPR. Their biggest joke is how- what a ridiculous thing to major in, Art History, and I got it after looking for a job for about six months (laughs)- and still waiting tables, I thought, "Okay. Maybe I need to re-think this." (chuckles)

Hayes: But you didn't do a lot of art?

Stetler: No, no. And I actually got a job working with the scrap exchange in Durham. I don't know if you've heard of them. It's a great place. They take industrial scrap materials from all the factories in- well, all surrounding the Triangle- any factory, they go and get all the mis-cut socks from the sock factory in Burlington, and they go and get all the medical supplies that Duke University's gonna throw away, and they all sell it as art materials. They have a big warehouse in downtown Durham-

Hayes: Wow!

Stetler: And you can go and you get a garbage bag, and you can just fill up all these old springs from spiral-binding companies that didn't work, and so there are springs and there are colorful foam and weird fabric-

Hayes: And it's mainly for art-

Stetler: Yeah-

Hayes: Or do other people use it for other things, too, or just-

Stetler: They do, but it's mostly art supply.

Hayes: Wow!

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: That's a great idea.

Stetler: Yeah, it was fantastic. I felt at home right away.

Hayes: (laughs)

Stetler: I loved it. So- and we went to go travel around the country and go to big street fairs and festivals and set up all the barrels, and people could come and make whatever they wanted. We would give them masking tape and staplers and scissors, and that's it. And it was a fascinating experience because it- once seeing adults create with their children, which you don't get to see without a kit or set guidelines- and we would just have stuff and you can tape it together. That's all you can do.

Hayes: Well, what was the funding level for this group? I mean-

Stetler: The street festivals and fairs would pay for us. You know, when you go to the- what's the big one in Raleigh? The overnight- where they drop the acorn first night? It's a big street fair and, you know-

Hayes: And so they commissioned you in a sense to be part of that whole thing-

Stetler: Right. Right. And it would just be- we would be part of the kids' area.

Hayes: Is this solely a non-profit then?

Stetler: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Hayes: Still going?

Stetler: Still going- going gangbusters.

Hayes: That's really a great idea.

Stetler: It is a great idea, because the businesses that donate all those materials- they get a tax write-off.

Hayes: Do they-

Stetler: They're keeping it out of the landfill.

Hayes: [unintelligible] the dump-

Stetler: Exactly.

Hayes: Right. And you didn't have to go to the landfill.

Stetler: Right. They keep it out of the landfill so it's good for them-

Hayes: [unintelligible mumbling]

Stetler: Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: Sounds interesting.

Stetler: Yeah, it was fun, and it's fun to see, you know, kids would be tying things together with pantyhose and a little piece of masking tape and it would be this giant, you know, temple that they've made out of shoes and all these weird things and the parents would say, oh, that's not gonna work, that's not gonna hold together. And I would think, you know, "That's not gonna hold together." But then the kids just take off running with this giant thing and it holds together just beautifully, so you could- I learn a lot from watching children create art, from that experience, so-

Hayes: When you use the term "found objects"-

Stetler: Mm-hmm-

Hayes: Is that a term common in art? If we said to somebody else, "found objects"- would that mean something in kind of the commercial world that's out there? Is that a "found object?"

Stetler: What I think of as "found objects" is when you take an object, you find it, and you don't change it. And maybe you take it out of its original context, but you don't alter it, such as if I'm making- the flip-flop boat- I wouldn't call that "found objects." I solicited those objects and some of them I did find, but it's- I changed the function of them.

Hayes: All right, so-

Stetler: And I might not be- this is just my definition and it may not be accurate.

Hayes: No, no- I'm trying to- so if you paint on a "found object," that's changed it- it's no longer to you a "found object?"

Stetler: It's mixed media at that point. (laughs)

Hayes: Okay, mixed- that's good, all right- no, that's good. That's helpful because, you know, as people read these and listen to these, you know, looking for truths that they can speak to- so do you have any that are just "found objects" and not really- you combined them to-

Stetler: I have had one piece that was a "found object" and it was in this last show that I was in, in September and October- was a three-woman show with Fritzy Huber and Susan Craniac, and I had one small elephant-eared bulb that I had dug up from the garden, and I put that- it was with some objects that I had made, and they all were relating to female genitalia, and it just seemed to fit. So-

Hayes: Okay. Didn't mean to divert you back- you're in Raleigh or Durham? Durham-

Stetler: In Durham, mm-hmm.

Hayes: Okay, so- next on the track- (chuckles)

Stetler: So, next I moved here- just needed a change, and-

Hayes: And when did that? When did you come to Wilmington?

Stetler: Six years ago? Six or seven years ago. And I started teaching art at the Children's Museum, which was a great time.

Hayes: In fact, we should probably say today is January 18th, 2008. I'm supposed to say that at the start, and my staff gets kind of upset when I don't follow the right way. For those on the staff listening to this, I got that in a little late-

Stetler: Sorry. (laughs)

Hayes: (laughs) It's a reference point- 2008.

Stetler: Yep. I started teaching art at the Children's Museum, which was great fun. There was also a science teacher there, and so we collaborated. Science and art are just a beautiful mix, and so we did all kinds of crazy things, and had beautiful messes and-

Hayes: Where was it at, at that time- six years ago- it was-

Stetler: It was on Market Street.

Hayes: Yeah, right here, not too far away-

Stetler: 1020 Market Street, just a couple blocks away.

Hayes: Yeah.

Stetler: And-

Hayes: So you worked with- trying to think who the Director of that-

Stetler: Mebane Boyd.

Hayes: Mebane Boyd.

Stetler: Yeah, yeah- she's a wonderful lady.

Hayes: In fact, did you know she's at the university now-

Stetler: Yeah, I do- we're still- I'm actually going to Book Club with her next week.

Hayes: Graduate program- I think in Social Work.

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: And works with Cameron, who is also a partner in this place-

Stetler: Yes. Yes.

Hayes: Small world.

Stetler: It is. Small town, anyway.

Hayes: Small town. (laughs)

Stetler: (laughs) Yeah.

Hayes: So, the Children's Museum.

Stetler: Children's Museum. That's where I learned the beauty of collaboration. I hadn't really gotten groups to work together effectively until my time at the Children's Museum, and I learned that parents- adults- are intimidated by creating, especially in front of their kids. And the kids are also intimidated, and "Oh, it's not- doesn't look right- doesn't look like it's supposed to." And they get very frustrated. But if you have a group project, anything goes. And everyone is anonymous in the group project, so-

Hayes: So the product becomes the product of the group- I mean-

Stetler: It's actually the- I think, more the process is what it's about.

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: And- like we would have a- we had a lot of field trips come, and there was a group- during October, we were doing science and Stephanie, the Science teacher at the time, would have all kinds of tarantulas, and creepy spiders in the science room, and bats and it was a lot of fun- very inspiring for me, and I would have these, you know, fifty kindergarteners and about $5.00 to make a project with them all, and they wanna take something with them. Kids- and adults- wanna have a product. So it's not just the process. So, we would- and I had about ten minutes, which with ten- group of ten- so it was wham, bam- we gotta get these kids- make some art! Right now! But we would start out making a spider, a giant spider, really big, that they could take back with them. So the first group would make the body, and then we would have the next group make four legs, next group would make four legs, and then the next group would make the head, and it was all supposedly anatomically correct- going from the science room looking at the spiders there, to coming there, and so each group didn't really know what it was gonna look like until the end, and then all the kids were sitting down and we'd unveil it, and they'd say, "Oh, we worked on the head! Oh, we worked on the body!" And, you know, it was very rewarding to have a team feeling come out of that, and everyone was really excited.

Hayes: That's true. They got to take it back to their kindergarten-

Stetler: They got to take it back and, you know, I think a lot of 'em ended up in their library, and so I was- I learned a lot about group projects and how important that is.

Hayes: Interesting.

Stetler: So- mm-hmm.

Hayes: When did this come to existence? Your Independent-

Stetler: Independent Art Company. We bought this building about five years ago, and it was-

Hayes: We being-

Stetler: Dan Brawley, Hannah Vaughn and Dan Brawley, Sr.- four partners in the business. And this building was a mess. It was a mess. It had been a Coca-Cola warehouse and it had been just for files and junk, and it hadn't been used in years, and there were rats living here and it was just pretty scary. And we gutted it and built all these walls. Deborah Cavenaugh was actually our first tenant- yeah.

Hayes: Interesting. But she's not now?

Stetler: No, she's back at Acme, but it was great having her around when she was here. And so we built the studios one by one, and then had this building filled to capacity. We had- and then the building across the street, which is now Jingo's Playhouse, came up for sale and we said, "Well, gosh, we gotta get that."

Hayes: Wow.

Stetler: And didn't really have the money to do it, but we did it, and here we are.

Hayes: And that one was used more for film?

Stetler: There are six studios in Jengo's Playhouse. There are three filmmakers and two glassblowers and the Cucalorus' office has two offices there and then a micro-cinema that seats sixty.

Hayes: That's good.

Stetler: And this building has six studios, and currently, we have two painters, a fashion designer, two jewelers, a classical guitarist and two sculptors. So we have a pretty good mix.

Hayes: So tell me the impetus to be in business- was it the client space for yourself and then other artists?

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: What's the-

Stetler: Primarily to find spaces for ourselves, but it's really important to have other artists around. Many artists are stuck in their garages and their spare bedrooms and you don't have the energy and the feedback that you need to get- it's so important- I can be stuck on something and I can go knock on the studio next door, and say, "Hey, come look at this. What am I doing wrong?" And, you know, a friend will come by and say, "Uuhh, change that" and then, voila! It works.

Hayes: So it can be a lonely existence is the-

Stetler: It can be a lonely existence for many artists, and for some, that's how they want it. Some work better that way. I like to have a lot of feedback and a lot of artists around. It's part of my- part of the performance aspect to my work, too. A lot of people come and like to see me work, and I like to just talk and chitchat while I'm working, so-

Hayes: Yeah. 'Cause you can do that with the artists-

Stetler: Right.

Hayes: It's interesting that you say this because we see in the painter world, many of the people that we've interviewed have formed up their own kind of support groups and really- it was even- remember the one lady who, I think, finally went to Europe just to do plein air painting-

Stetler: Oh, wow-

Hayes: In France-

Stetler: Wow.

Hayes: And had the time of her life, but it wasn't a junket, it was true to what you were saying- kind of interaction and community-

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: I wonder, do you think that is a more female thing or male thing, or it doesn't matter- or your tenants have all types of-

Stetler: I think we have fifty/fifty, really.

Hayes: That's good. Don't know if it made any difference- this particular group happened to be-

Stetler: All women- I certainly am closer with more women artists than I am with men artists, but I'm just closer to women, I think. So-

Hayes: Yeah. Does this take a lot of your energy, then? Your creative energy- to be a business person, in a sense? You're a business person? Or, is it that-

Stetler: No, what takes my energy is my day job that I have to work to pay the bills- (laughs) 'cause this doesn't work. No, I love networking and curating the shows here and working with other artists.

Hayes: You have a day job? What do you do?

Stetler: I work at Planned Parenthood, and I'm also a doula, which is a- I help deliver babies.

Hayes: Oh! Interesting.

Stetler: So I'll be certified, hopefully, by summer, as a doula. I'm still working on my requirements.

Hayes: Spell that word-

Stetler: D-o-u-l-a.

Hayes: It's not a midwife? That's not a-

Stetler: No. It's not, but I work with midwives. So-

Hayes: A lot of things go on here, I mean, you were sitting in this space that people can't see that is really a couch with, obviously, you see it as a gallery space on occasion? Is that-

Stetler: It's a gallery space, it's a working studio space. We have poetry readings and yoga workshops and people have coffee here- you know, anything goes.

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: But, primarily, it's a gallery space. But, for instance, we purposefully don't have any work up right now because Dan's getting ready for his next exhibition and so in about a week or so, he's gonna be testing things out in here.

Hayes: Oh, that's-

Stetler: So we needed a bigger space, so-

Hayes: I would think that that's a really good use for it because so often you don't get to test, right?

Stetler: Right.

Hayes: You just gotta put up the next installation and it's-

Stetler: Right-

Hayes: You know-

Stetler: Right. And for installation work, it's very important to be able to test it and tweak it, so-

Hayes: Okay. Let's get back to your own art. How would you describe what your end product is- what is your art form?

Stetler: Sculpture.

Hayes: Sculpture.

Stetler: Yes. Yes, three-dimensional work. I have tried two-dimensional work and I just can't do it. (laughs) I just can't think that way. I wish I could sometimes, but I am inspired by materials, such as the annual, the piece that the Cameron Art Museum bought, is made out of speculum, which you know what speculum are-

Hayes: Thank you. I didn't know.

Stetler: A speculum is an instrument- a medical instrument that is used on women during a pap smear.

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: And I made a candelabra- a chandelier- out of speculum, and it's roughly the number of speculum that a woman would use in her lifetime- have used on her- and it's got pink bulbs and beads and pearls and all kinds of things hanging from it, and you don't realize what it's made out of until you- unless you're a woman or you get up close and figure it out. And I was just inspired by this object that has- you know, women see it and they cringe and it's just such a yucky thing, and to make something beautiful out of it really was a challenge, and I was inspired to do that. And they actually purchased it for their permanent collection, and now it's in a vault, which really trips me out, that I have a piece of art in a vault somewhere- (laughs)

Hayes: I just wonder the downside for museums. They can't have a-

Stetler: No. It was up for a while, and I'm sure it'll come back out someday.

Hayes: Let's talk about choice of subject because sculptors who go beyond doing representational, you know- in other words, I'm doing a forest or I'm doing a sculpture of this- you're consciously been thinking about what you wanna say with a sculpture- correct?

Stetler: Yes. Yes.

Hayes: You're not- it's not an abstract sculpture. It could be abstract in the final form, but you wanna say something, right?

Stetler: Yes. Absolutely. With the flip-flop boat, which is called the Lost Soles- S-o-l-e-s- I wanted to find another use for these objects. And it's very tongue-in-cheek and-

Hayes: Describe the flip-flop sculpture-

Stetler: It is a raft, kind of a Tom Sawyer-type raft that I made out of flip-flops. The bottom layer are empty soda bottles that have been wired together and then a layer of flip-flops on top, and I crossed the Cape Fear River last summer on it just to prove that I could do it.

Hayes: (hearty laughter)

Stetler: And people thought I was crazy, and I had to notify the Coast Guard and I had a real boat out there just in case I did not make it-

Hayes: Oh, good. (laughs)

Stetler: And I had a life jacket on.

Hayes: Are you a swimmer?

Stetler: Not so much-

Hayes: Not a swimmer! (laughs)

Stetler: I could have made it if I had to, but-

Hayes: Oh, goodness. (laughing)

Stetler: And so, I think people understood the concept of, "Wow! Look at all this junk that we were gonna throw away. What's another use that we can do?" 'Cause we've gotta start figuring out what we're gonna do with these things 'cause we're gonna be stuck with 'em before too long. And that's my new project about the gloves- if you lose a glove, the partner immediately becomes redundant. You're gonna throw it away. And I thought, "What a sad thing." And since I've been- and I- it started out I just was finding these gloves, or they were finding me, along the side of the road, all over. I found one in Piggly-Wiggly in Alabama.

Hayes: Oh! (laughs)

Stetler: I mean, they're just everywhere. They jump out at me. And I've actually reunited two pair. I found one one day, and then about three weeks later, I found another one- a good mile apart, but they're definitely a pair, and that's happened twice.

Hayes: (still laughing>)

Stetler: So I can't wait to get started on these gloves, but I- because I'm making it such a massive project and I've got so many people collecting. I actually have a- there's a man in Memphis who's collecting them for me along the river banks in Memphis. I've got somebody in Florida, somebody in California, and they're all gonna send them to me. And I have six drop-off sites in Wilmington right now.

Hayes: Wow. All right. So here's the raw material.

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: And you're talking about the fact that they're lost, or they're surplus, or they're whatever, right?

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: What's the final place that you have 'em on?

Stetler: I can't tell you.

Hayes: (hearty laughter) Can't tell-

Stetler: It's a surprise. (laughs)

Hayes: Thirty years from now- they're reading this transcript- they're going to have to try to do some research to figure out-

Stetler: Yes. Well, it's going to be- because I'm getting so much help from people, it needs to be in a public space, where everyone can go and enjoy it, or hate it, whatever they want. And I'm still working on the location. I've got a few feelers out to try to find a spot, and I think I've narrowed it down, but I can't tell you-

Hayes: Okay. It will be a sculpture piece.

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: And gloves will be the main component.

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: But they have to be tied together somehow-

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: You can't tell us how that-

Stetler: And they're gonna be sutured together.

Hayes: Sutured.

Stetler: Uh-huh. With medical stitches.

Hayes: Gives us a clue.

Stetler: Uh-huh.

Hayes: Another symbolism if you happen to be-

Stetler: Yes. Yes. And I'll be-

Hayes: Will there be any glass objects that are used with women's testing in this one, or not?

Stetler: No. No. Hmm-mm.

Hayes: That's nice.

Stetler: No, I got-

[unintelligible comment by interviewer and laughter]

Stetler: I started out making baskets and I was known as the "basket lady"-

Hayes: And what did you make the baskets of?

Stetler: Mostly out of wire, when I started to get the reputation as the "basket lady"- it was all industrial scrap, extension cords, electrical wire of all kinds.

Hayes: And later we will hopefully see some of that when we take the camera to your studio.

Stetler: Mm-hmm. And then I got known as the "flip-flop lady" 'cause I was collecting flip-flops, and then I had a reputation for a short while, but it was pretty big- as the "vagina lady"- when I was doing all the female reproductive stuff, and that was inspired by Planned Parenthood and my work there. And so now I have a feeling that I'll probably be "crazy glove lady" now, but that's fine, you know? As long as I keep evolving.

Hayes: (laughs) Now, outside before we started this, we used the word performance artist.

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: And do you consider yourself a performance artist?

Stetler: Absolutely I do.

Hayes: And tell us what you mean by that 'cause everyone has a different, you know, take on what's a performance artist.

Stetler: My collecting materials and the interactions that I have with people in my environment in the space and the objects themselves that I'm collecting is all part of the performance. I made a cigarette chandelier kind of thing last summer, and I collected cigarette butts off the street for several months. It was really gross. And I would actually get a little buzz from the nicotine after picking them up for so long, but I got to talk to people about smoking, and what a weird thing that brings people together. You know, you see people outside, huddled, you know, on a rainy day under an eave, smoking, and they're brought together in ways that non-smokers don't really get to meet people in that way. "Oh, do you have a light? Oh, sure." And, you know, "Can I bum a cigarette?" And there's this whole communal kind of thing amongst smokers, which I hadn't really learned. And everyone- and it's a very personal object because they all- somebody will stomp theirs out and another person will roll theirs, and you know, somebody else will tear the paper differently.

Hayes: It's a tactile thing-

Stetler: It is a tactile thing. But my collecting and talking with people as I'm collecting the cigarette butts was all part of the performance. And then when it's hung, you know, I smoked a cigarette inside it- (laughs) just to say that I did.

Hayes: Are you a smoker?

Stetler: No.

Hayes: Oh. (chuckles)

Stetler: But I did.

Hayes: But your performance in the process wasn't tied together in a public venue in that particular case.

Stetler: No. It was a one-on-one performance, or a small-groups kind of performance.

Hayes: And did they know that you're an artist in performance or it didn't matter?

Stetler: Didn't matter. I don't think they knew. Just like with the flip-flops, I don't think that-

Hayes: But that had an ending performance-

Stetler: It did have a-

Hayes: That fit the model.

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: It was still a visual artist, as far as you're concerned, because your medium is something visual, right?

Stetler: Right.

Hayes: Do you see adding film to this? I mean, some people who are visual artists who are performance artists then go to a film venue, because then they have a different- can use a different approach.

Stetler: During the weave exhibition, which was two years ago at the Cameron?- We had- Dan and I did an installation, a large-scale installation of all woven things- the wire, primarily. And we had a time-lapse video made of the entire installation, and so it was fifteen minutes long, but it was about a week's worth of time, shrunk down to fifteen minutes, which was a lot of fun because you would see me weaving, and then I'd lay down- (laughs) because we actually slept at the museum- that was part of the performance is that you see us drag the bed out, slept there, and then get up the next morning, drinking coffee in pajamas, and then back at it, and then a group of docents would come in and then leave, and you know, it was a- so, film was definitely important in that aspect, to see the whole process and to document-

Hayes: Do you see that as a trend for many performance artists to document their visual art using- or photography, I guess, would be a better possibility.

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: Do you see yourself going into writing, as well? It seems that that's a logical co-op collaborative-

Stetler: I've done a little bit of writing, primarily with this glove thing. I haven't done much writing previously, but I- for some reason, this glove project is making me feel like writing. So-

Hayes: So performance art in some ways becomes almost- can become multi-disciplinary-

Stetler: Yes, absolutely-

Hayes: Naturally.

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: If you were a painter, they don't think about actually writing something. In other words, they'll see, you know, divisions that are narrower. That their medium is their primal calling, but you're saying that the process of performance, the process of doing, if you can capture it, is part of the art project.

Stetler: It's all part of the piece.

Hayes: Let me ask you the crass question. How do you sell, financially, performance art? How do you- if I'm a customer and I like your work- the woolen baskets I can choose to have and put in a space and I like how they fit. How do I reward you for your creativity as a performance artist?

Stetler: The performance aspect of a lot of my work I do for me. I don't do it to make money 'cause- and I-

Hayes: Are there people who do, though? I mean, are there-

Stetler: Yes, there are.

Hayes: There are, okay.

Stetler: Not in Wilmington. (laughs)

Hayes: Yeah, there are people who do actual performance, as well as making-

Stetler: Yes. Yes, there are, but in much bigger cities and with much bigger venues, but I do it for me. And I do it because I do need to make baskets to sell to pay my mortgage. So I do the other work for me, to remain honest and true to myself, and why I became an artist in the first place. I don't sell a whole lot of work. That's why I work a day job. I mean, I sell- you know, I- it's funny, I have a piece in a museum and I have a couple- you know, I- there's a woman in town who collects my work and- I have a couple of important pieces in important places, but as far as day-to-day people coming in wanting to buy my work, it's- doesn't really work like that.

Hayes: I think when I saw you several years ago at Art for Masses, you were doing very well. I mean, just- I, for example, am a pottery collector, and your work strikes me as well within that realm as far- the basket work or the hanging sculpture work- I think that that's well within bounds of what somebody would see as an object they'd wanna have.

Stetler: Sometimes they-

Hayes: And it doesn't- I mean, this is my opinion- it doesn't- it looks like an artist infused their vision into the work. And that's what I was talking about with "found objects"- it doesn't look like, you know, the driftwood that was found on the ocean-

Stetler: Right.

Hayes: So you have an intentionality in your work- but you don't use a gallery. You haven't tried that approach to say-

Stetler: I have tried that approach and I'm getting ready to try it again because I didn't try it wholeheartedly.

Hayes: Yeah.

Stetler: And the woman who runs this shop at the Cameron Art Museum- Lynn- has asked me to put some work in there, and she's asked me several times and I need to just do it.

Hayes: Well, I think that sculpture as a whole is a difficult sell for people because three-dimensionality is both appealing, but it also is a challenge, right? To where it goes?

Stetler: Right.

Hayes: I think we've kind of trapped ourselves in a two-dimensional- the wall- it's pretty easy, right? So you're fighting that fight. The other one is, how much time goes into one of your pieces? It's not whipped off very quickly, I would think-

Stetler: No.

Hayes: A traditional weaver could spend tens of hours. Is that your product could take tens of hours, or-?

Stetler: Sometimes, yes. It's an interesting thing. I have friends who are jewelers and they make- they call it production. They're in production and they are making thirty types of this earring this week, and then they're going to take them to different stores and sell them, and I truly don't think I could make the same thing twice if I tried. (chuckles) I mean, I just- you know, I don't have a formula, and they do very well with a formula, and they, you know, a friend will give me advice on how to price my work, and she'll say, you know, your materials times two, and you're gonna pay yourself "X" amount an hour, log all your hours- I don't keep track of how long it takes me to make a piece-

Hayes: Mm-hmm.

Stetler: And I don't really keep track of how much I spend on materials. It's usually not very much, but I don't have the formula down very well.

Hayes: But I think for the sculptor, one of the problems is when you get the formula, then the price becomes prohibitive to what people can afford for the time. I mean, it's very labor-intensive, right? That's the-

Stetler: It is, but I- yeah, it is. I also fear repeating myself.

Hayes: Yeah.

Stetler: I don't want to be in production. I don't wanna make the same thing over and over again.

Hayes: So, let's talk about that for a minute 'cause I like the distinction you're making- there's production art and then there's original art. And there's original art that's claiming to be original, but it's really this production...

[unintelligible, loud sawing sound in background]

Hayes: So the same jewelers, I guess, pine after making a unique piece that they could sell for several hundreds of dollars.

[loud sawing sound in background]

Stetler: And some of them do.

Hayes: You see what I'm saying.

Stetler: Yeah. And some of them do.

Hayes: They have to balance that-

Stetler: They also don't have to work a day job, which I would rather work a day job and be cobbled together in income, which allows me to make the kind of art that I really wanna make, and therefore, it's not so crucial that it sell.

Hayes: One of the issues that keeps coming up as we talk to artists is the validation- it's kind of what we're talking about-

[loud sawing sound in background]

Hayes: What success provides- we have to define- partly it's the process that's successful for you, personally successful- then having your work in every house in town isn't a success model that we can-

Stetler: No.

Hayes: On paper I'm saying, you know, many, many, many of my opinions are out- that's a validation- but you don't really need that validation to-

Stetler: The validation I get is when kids come up and see my work and say, "Oh!"- and they wanna touch it. And they can, 'cause I don't make things that are delicate. And when people can- when people feel like my work is accessible to them- the Average Joe who's not gonna go to an art museum, who's not gonna go to a gallery, can see my work and say, "Oh, cool, look at that." That is validation for me. And when someone sees me and says, "Hey, how was that flip-flop boat trip?" That's validation- thinking about art in a different way. 'Cause art can be so intimidating for people- paintings, especially, are intimidating 'cause people don't know how to describe 'em, they don't know how to say what they like, what they don't like, and paintings are expensive and they're in fancy places, and they're framed and, you know, something made out of tires and twine is not so intimidating. And it can make people- hopefully, it will help people to see that art can be everything, anything.

(crew talk)

Hayes: I'm gonna just take a break for a second here and then see if we can become mobile-

Stetler: Okay.

Hayes: And if we can go in and see your workspace, I think that will help, and we'll keep talking.

Stetler: Great. Okay.

Hayes: And then even out into your yard, to get a sense of that.

Stetler: Okay, great.

Hayes: Is that all right?

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: If you don't mind, I'm gonna come a little closer in a sense to make sure that your microphone picks us up. Now, we're just- the microphone is where that red light is-

Stetler: Okay.

(crew talk)

Hayes: What I wanted to ask you is, you had told us that you were doing the Lamps, which I really love. Tell us about the process here, what do you start with, what are you hoping to get to, do the materials control you or do you control the materials?

Stetler: A little bit of both, a little bit of both. This was inspired by- it's not an octopus, which a lot of people, kids especially- "Oh, an octopus!"- which is fine. I'm okay with that. But it's actually inspired by Susan Craniac's work. She did a lot of work with atomic bombs and nuclear explosions, and so this is actually a mushroom cloud, or that's what I was thinking about when I made it.

Hayes: Well, you know, you could change that with titling- do you title these pieces?

Stetler: I do.

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: But I kinda like that people can see what I really want in it.

Hayes: Okay. If you were in a gallery setting, you might title it.

Stetler: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: Because once it doesn't have a title, like you say, it becomes whatever-

Stetler: Yeah, whatever you want it to be.

Hayes: And what is the material that you're working here?

Stetler: This is a little bit of everything-

Hayes: Come in closer here-

Stetler: Mostly copper wire. These are aluminum. This is all copper Ethernet cable, and then this is Rumex- or no, this is an extension cord that I cut off. And the top is started in a very traditional basket way, and then I- the way that the lamps relate to the surface that they sit on is really important to me. And so I was playing around with trying to- rather than just having a solid base- to make it a little more whimsical and have some movement-

Hayes: Your light fixture- just a light fixture that you choose?

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: Well, that is great. I really like that. Is this yours, too? I mean, this looks-

Stetler: No, this is just a table that's- (laughs)

Hayes: All right, now, shut yourself off. This is part of your working studio now?

Stetler: Part of it, and I hesitate because Dan's working on this show that he's going to be hanging up in February- I'm a little hesitant to film too much in here.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Stetler: But there's the cigarette-

Hayes: Oh, good. Yeah, that's great.

Stetler: See what I was talking about, and it's pretty funny the nasty things I found. There's- you can tell different neighborhoods by the different brands of cigarettes that I could find- there's a really bad corner a few blocks from here, and I found like thirty different little crack bags, and you know, some of the nicer neighborhoods have a lot of cigars- you can tell-

Hayes: Okay- (chuckles) it's a sociological-

Stetler: It is a sociological- (laughs)

Hayes: Scavengers.

Stetler: Process- I mean, you know-

Hayes: Now, are these your pieces hanging from-

Stetler: This one is actually the inspiration for all of this work. I made this one about four years ago-

Hayes: Okay.

Stetler: And it actually plugs in. It's the same- it's all one cord. And the light is actually in the cord.

Hayes: I like that.

Stetler: And that was really the inspiration for all the other lit pieces. I was weaving with this wire and I thought, "Well, gosh, why don't I make it actually plug in and work?"

Hayes: Is this yours behind you, too, as well, or-?

Stetler: Yeah. This was one that was at- Dan and I did this one together. This one was in Botega- Art & Wine- last February, and it's-

Hayes: It was? Good. And it plugs in?

Stetler: It does not plug in. But-

Hayes: Oh, I-

Stetler: It hangs to the wall. This one was at the Cameron, and it's gotten smushed, but-

Hayes: Oh!

Stetler: It plugs in, as well.

Hayes: Excellent.

Stetler: Kind of- don't tell OSHA about our-

Hayes: (tsk-tsks) We won't say- as I'm looking here, I see welding equipment-

Stetler: Mm-hmm. That is Dan's- he's the welder.

Hayes: All right, good, good. But your tools are gonna be clippers and cutters-

Stetler: Yes. Yes, I've got a number of them outside I can show you-

Hayes: All right. Now, I'm just-

Stetler: Yeah.

Hayes: You don't have to show us so much as to talk about-

Stetler: Wire clippers and tin snips- yard cutters-

Hayes: I was wondering- with the crazy pricing in copper now, are you competing with people for the junk?

Stetler: Yes, I am.

Hayes: You are? (laughs)

Stetler: Yes, I am.

Hayes: Where before, it was just available, and now it's-

Stetler: And people would give it away, and now I have to buy it-

Hayes: To buy it. Ouch.

Stetler: Yeah. It has changed things quite a bit, 'cause- but-

Hayes: I see a saw down there-

Stetler: Mm-hmm. Sometimes, it's just so heavy that you have to use saws to cut the wire.

Hayes: Weaving with this material- are your hands at risk?

Stetler: They're-

Hayes: That's what I'm saying. Do you get bangs and bumps and-

Stetler: I do. I do.

Hayes: Yeah, 'cause it's not quite the same. 'Course, even a traditional weaver may have had- those could be pretty sharp- some of those things, but you know, we don't think about that as tough on the hands. You don't wear gloves-

Stetler: I don't wear gloves. I don't wear gloves and someone told me once I should wear eye protection, and I don't do that. I just kinda go with the flow-

Hayes: Go with the flow- (chuckles)

Stetler: I'm not the most careful person around.

Hayes: That's all right. Let's just go outside. You wanna shut that down? Just a second- go ahead-

Stetler: This is a piece that I'm really hoping that it will live on a little bit longer. It's been in one exhibition and I've submitted it for a couple others. It's- let me put it up here so you can see it.

Hayes: No, that's fine-

Stetler: It's called "Always be prepared." And-

Hayes: Girl Scout?

Stetler: The Boy Scout motto is "Always be prepared."

Hayes: Oh, okay.

Stetler: And the Girl Scout motto is "On my honor, I will strive to serve God, my country and mankind." Which- the girls need to be prepared, too. And so that's what inspired me to do this, and it's a little dirty, it's been out here, but these are patches, which are now off the market, or seem to be- diaphragm, condoms, Nuverine pills- these are sponges- more pills- this is a cervical cap and these are IUDs. So all different methods of birth control, which I think is what girls need to be learning, or at some point, I don't know when- but at some point, they need to learn these things. And this is a fun piece- this is another performance-type piece. I made this and I submerged it in the Cape Fear River. I tied it to a dock, and it was there for a year and a half, and I would go every week and pull it up to see if anything was living in it-

Hayes: Uh-huh-

Stetler: Rain or shine, I would show up and check it out and there were some little, tiny- I guess they're brine shrimp- that were living in there- and other, you know, little creatures- I'm not sure what they were, but mollusks of some sort, I think-

Hayes: Did the water change it, too?

Stetler: The water changed it. It is bright copper- I mean, it was bright copper, and then it got this nice patina. But it got so overgrown, I couldn't get to that spot anymore- (laughs) and so I had to-

Hayes: You had to bring it back?

Stetler: I had to bring it back, but I think I'll put it back in the river at some point when I find a new spot.

Hayes: Is this some of your weaving here? Ah, this is great.

Stetler: Yeah. This is a rag rug that I'm making. And it's actually the female reproductive system. It's kind of hard to tell. Ovaries, these are fallopian tubes- (chuckles)

Hayes: I like that.

Stetler: This one I think will also- may travel. Let's see-

Hayes: You don't have- given these big projects, is your goal to have several things going at once? Or do you get consumed by, you know, the big ones? Because this one looks like doable at a certain timeframe, but you know, the gloves can become all-consuming-

Stetler: The gloves are all-consuming. The gloves are all-consuming right now, and I- mainly, just 'cause I'm so excited, I can't think about anything else.

Hayes: Okay. But would a normal pattern would be to have multiple themes going, and-

Stetler: Yes.

Hayes: In different mediums-

Stetler: And I'll work on something for a little while and then ditch it and throw it in the corner of the studio and then start something else, and maybe come back to that first piece a few months later.

Hayes: So you're not in a, "I start here and I go to here and I'm done."

Stetler: No. I'm not linear about anything. (laughs)

Hayes: Now, that's fine. So it's good to have many things going.

Stetler: It is.

Hayes: Because it's hard to stay totally focused on something. Do you think that in the back of your mind, you're processing even on the old projects that's in the corner, or do you just need to have a rest for a while, or have you thought about that-

Stetler: Sometimes I throw 'em away. You know, if it's been a certain amount of time-

Hayes: Really!

Stetler: I don't keep anything over a year. I just- I feel strongly about purging your work. And a lot of people- a lot of artists get very attached to their artwork and can't part with it. And I haven't yet felt that way about anything I've made. And if I have old work around, it prevents me from making new work. And so I visit the dumpster often and I'm collecting materials, and I'm also puttin' my artwork that I don't like anymore in there.

Hayes: Wow.

Stetler: It's kind of a trading out.

Hayes: Do you make a record of it for history or not? It's gone.

Stetler: Sometimes I do, and I'm getting better about that, because I am gonna apply for some grants and I'm submitting to other shows and things, so I have gotten better about documentation.

Hayes: Yeah.

Stetler: But if something's not working, it should just go in the trash. (laughs)

Hayes: Well, this is very fascinating and I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

Stetler: Thank you. Thank you.

Hayes: And for posterity.

Stetler: Thank you.

Hayes: Yeah- we won't throw this away!

Stetler: All right. (laughs)

Hayes: (laughs) Thanks.

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