Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teresa Sullivan: Don't Tell Fred and other stories.

Last year, when I interviewed Teresa, she showed me a note found with a necklace she’d bought at an estate sale. It was a short handwritten note with more questions than answers. The mystery intrigued and inspired Teresa to make an art piece incorporating the note with the beads from the necklace along with other icons. The piece pictured above, ‘Don’t Tell Fred’, is featured in the September/October issue of Fiberarts Magazine.

Teresa has many stories to tell about her bead art pieces. Here's the article I wrote after spending an afternoon with Teresa in her home and studio. You can also listen to a podcast of her interview at

Entering Teresa’s living room, it was easy to see her inspiration starts at home. Bookshelves lined the walls filled with an eclectic collection of books on music and musicians like Radio Birdman, Nico, The Velvet Underground and Ramones, comic books and graphic novels as well as science fiction authors like Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. The other walls held CD’s and DVD’s, two guitars, band posters and, of course beads. There were beads in tubes, tubs and tins in all colors of the rainbow on shelves, the floor and hanging on the walls. Teresa also collects antique beads and African beaded jewelry from estate and garage sales.

Although Teresa didn’t get into beads until her mid-twenties, her interest in comic book super heroines and graphic novels goes back to childhood. As a kid, she loved to read Richie Rich and Mad Magazines. According to Teresa, she drew all the time, making her own paper doll clothes and comics, “I was even doing my own graphic novels before I even knew what a graphic novel was and doing my own cartoons.”

So it’s no surprise that her seed bead sculptures depict super heroines. And although her current work is comic book inspired, it was her job at a tile factory that got her started in beadwork. She said, “I took home some clay and started making my own ceramic beads and around the same time I finally got my ears pierced so I made my own little earrings.” After that, Teresa was hooked on beads.

At first, she was only interested in chunky, trade beads which she felt had more history and cultural significance. “In the same way we wear a wedding ring to tell that we’re married, there are people who wear beaded adornment that tells others that, I’m ready to marry or I am married and have a son that’s a warrior.” And even in recent times, Teresa sees beads as a way to make a statement, “When Nelson Mandela showed up for his trial wearing western clothes and traditional bead work. It can have a non verbal impact. You wear it and the message gets through. It’s interesting that way.”

While working in clay beads, Teresa joined the Portland Bead Society and took a class from Baltimore artist, Joyce Scott. It was in that class Teresa found a way to use beads to tell her own unique stories. Teresa explained, “When I saw Joyces’ work, I instantly saw a connection to the comic book style, the graphic representation that you could do and also the narrative aspect of it. Beads have always been a method for storytelling, so, that really grabbed me. And with a two day class from her, you could stay busy for the next ten years with all the information and inspiration. So that got me going in a very fun way. And I guess I took it from there.”

There are times when Teresa has a specific concept or character in mind when she starts sculpting one of her unique beaded art pieces. Other times, it’s the process itself that leads her. “Sometimes, I don’t start to get ideas for the piece itself that work until I just start working without specific goals in mind. So it does help to just dive in and let myself get a little bored and try something else, something new.”

Teresa’s very first sculpture was a seed bead eyeball complete with optic nerve. Since then, she’s done super women sculptures and seed bead paintings inspired by 60’s comic books as well as jewelry. A recent jewelry piece includes a cryptic note she found at an estate sale. Teresa said, “There’s a story there, so I can laminate and incorporate it in a necklace and you can read it.”

Sculpting figures and tapestry-like pictures out of seed beads is an exacting and detailed sewing process. According to Teresa, “You put three beads on, skip three beads and sew through the next three beads about twenty thousand times.”

Now her beadwork keeps her so busy with new projects, teaching classes from Seattle, San Luis Obispo to Detroit, she sometimes forgets to water her plants. But it wasn’t always this way. While working at the tile factory, Teresa began exploring how she could make her art, her full-time work. She got books out of the library and took more classes. It was one of those classes that led her closer to her path, “While taking a year long beadwork class that was about the creative process, a bead store owner told me that she was going to expand her business, and I started working for her and was around beads a lot.”

That led to working in several bead stores around town, teaching more classes for bead societies and guilds across the country, and showing her work here in town at Beet Gallery as well as in New York and Tokyo. And her exploration of beadwork as an art form just keeps expanding because she believes, “As artists, we push the notions of what is real. We’re making tangible objects, but they come out of our imagination.”

When you enter the world of Teresa Sullivan’s imagination, you see real objects sewn seed bead by seed bead representing the power, strength and beauty of women. It is a powerful message for the maker as well as the viewer, and new territory that breaks the old cultural stereotype of beadwork. And Teresa’s glad to be a part of it, “The whole modern bead work genre is so new it’s kind of like the Wild West, unexplored territory, and that’s one thing that I really like about it. There aren’t a whole lot of people representing this science fiction, comics, rock n roll, crazy wild stuff in beads, I’m happy to fill it.”

Teresa’s website is And remember, you can visit her studio this year during the Portland Open Studios Tour in October.

Friday, August 14, 2009

David & Janice Weitzer: A passion to live a healthy life makes them a healthy living.

Listen to the audio interview at

“We could see that the suburban development was marching toward us like a tidal wave,” said David Weitzer, about the need for privacy that grew into the bamboo nursery he and his wife, Janice, now operate. “We realized that the wonderful farmland feel was not going to last. So the initial bamboo hedge started with about 40 plants. It really turned into a business because people saw the bamboo and started driving up the driveway.”

Bamboo Oasis, now the main income producer for the Weitzers, is a suburban bamboo farm growing 35 hardy varieties of bamboo plants for residential users. Together, David and Janice also operate a massage therapy practice, a private yoga school and traditional Thai Massage classes. The couple met in a restaurant on a blind date when they were 19 years old. Three years later, they were married and had the first of their three children, Josh.

As young parents, the couple decided to find a new way to balance earning a living and raising a family. “Our family is very important to us,” said Janice. “By getting married young, we actually grew up together in every aspect of our lives.” Over the years, they’ve done a wide variety of creative jobs: David has worked building specialty wooden parts for classic cars, wood working and cabinetry in his father’s furniture factory, assembling office cubicle walls and a variety of custom carpentry jobs. Janice has studied natural herbs, organic gardening, worked sewing custom clothing, had a booth at Saturday Market and helped with the office cubicle business as well.

Their creativity, flexibility and commitment to make their interests into paying work developed into the range of home-based businesses they operate now. An interest in yoga that started in their teens led the couple from taking classes to teaching them. What started out as working for a large yoga school has evolved into a small, private yoga school which they operate out of their yurt just a few steps from their home.

“Our approach to yoga has shifted,” David explained. “We used to teach very large, structured classes. We’re teaching really small groups, now, that really allows us to make everything we do individualized.”

Janice became interested in massage therapy during her herbal studies at the Naturopathic College. After getting their massage license in 1988, the couple discovered Thai massage in 1989. This led them to further study in Thailand in 1992. They still go back there every year bringing others to study with their teacher. In addition to practicing the healing art of Thai massage, David teaches weekend massage retreats at The Oregon School of Massage throughout the year.

“The massage practice is the main source of income for me,” said Janice. She is also a Master Gardener through the Oregon State University program. “It’s all about community for me,” she explained, “doing the massage work, the garden work and some of the bamboo work.”

“If you look at the world, we’re all growing together,” she continued. “Now, it’s time for us to grow together again, as a community.”

As they’ve grown together as a couple and raised three healthy children, their businesses have also continued to thrive. It’s always been their passion for a healthy lifestyle that has fueled their interests and their businesses. And it’s been a model for their now grown children as well. Their youngest works at the farm and inspires visitors with his passion for bamboo. Their two oldest are now in their thirties and living in Spain.

“Both are independent teachers, and do translation work,” said Janice. “They love it and they’ve made it a business. They could see it can be done because we taught our children that being independent is important.”

With children grown, the western model of working would lead to retirement, but David and Janice don’t see that working for them. “Passions we hold we’ll never grow out of,” said David. “I could be teaching Thai massage till I’m 95 and still love it. The healthiest elders you will ever meet are the ones who stay active, have a hobby or passion they love.” Janice added, “Most people I know who are real entrepreneurs, they never retire. They’re always doing something they’re passionate about.”

Through the years, income has flowed in and out through a variety of different jobs, but they’ve been able to sustain their life by making conscious choices.

“In general we’ve always selected less debt and worked towards something that we wanted or needed and that has helped us stay more on the path. We’ve always had cycles of income,” David explained. “Some of the things we tried didn’t work for us because they were more financially oriented than happiness oriented.”

As they continue to grow together personally and professionally, they have some words of wisdom for others looking to make their passions evolve into a healthy life. First and foremost, they suggest taking some business classes in accounting and marketing. But it’s networking that really makes their business work.

“You build up a network when you are your own boss,” said Janice. “People recommend me, that’s how I get my business.”

“I think if you get good at what you’re doing, people will seek you out,” agreed David. “Remember that it’s not the product, it’s the communication that goes on, listening to the person and knowing what their needs are.”

Some might worry that networking might lead to less business and more competition, but David sees it a different way. “I do not see myself as a competitor with anyone in any of my business,” he explained. “If you love something, keep studying it, there’s always more to learn. It keeps you inspired and happy. So, don’t wait, start some small cottage business, something you like doing, you work when you want to. When you’re your own boss, you can’t get fired.”

For David and Janice Weitzer, their life, work and family are their passion. “Developing your lifestyle as an art form, it puts an element of fun and style into living your life,” David said. “For us the internal goals of being happy and healthy and having a good family life has been our primary drivers.” It’s their way to not only a healthy life but a healthy living as well.

Bamboo Oasis website:
Thai massage website:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kelly Neidig: Painting Landscape Memories

Listen to an interview podcast with Kelly at

“I’ve painted and drawn ever since I can remember,” says Kelly Neidig. “Now, when I think of my memories a lot of the details are lost, but I can remember the colors and how I felt.”

Kelly Neidig remembers drawing birds in kindergarten, and they were so good, even her mother didn’t believe she’d drawn them. After winning an art contest in first grade, Kelly devoted most of her time to art. Growing up in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, a small town west of Pittsburg, Kelly went to schools that didn’t have any art programs, but she didn’t let that stop her. “I would just stay home and draw all the time,” says Kelly. “One year, my dad got me a big box of Prisma colored pencils, which are really expensive. So I was so afraid to use them that for three years, they sat in my room on my dresser. I still have them.”

All that drawing led Kelly to a major in landscape architecture at Penn State where teachers took notice of her natural talents and skill in art. For the first two years, the majority of the work focused on things Kelly loves like drawing, perspective, and working with color but then things changed. “Then it got into computers,” Kelly says. “For the next three years, you had to be on the computer and I didn’t want to be on the computer. I wanted to work with my hands. So I switched my major to art.”

On her first day in the art department, Kelly knew she was in the right place. “Walking around the art department, I felt so happy,” explains Kelly. “I actually wanted to apply for an art major but you needed a portfolio and I didn’t know what that was. But after two years, I realized I could just transfer because I was doing an integrated degree, I was just able to play and take whatever classes I wanted. It was awesome to be taking art classes.” Kelly took a variety of art classes including figure drawing, sculpture, ceramics and book making. Even though she did take a painting class, she found the teacher too structured for her and learned best when the class was more flexible. These classes taught her more about being open to the flow of the process than trying to control the product. “I’d rather just do it and see what happens,” says Kelly. “I do that with my paintings. I don’t ever try to have a complete idea. I like to go with the things that naturally occur.”

Letting things happen naturally is a reoccurring theme in Kelly’s art and life. From college at Penn State, Kelly moved to Arizona while her boyfriend went to school, she learned about the desert landscape all around her. “I only lived there for a short time, but coming from Pennsylvania and going to this landscape that was so alien,” explains Kelly. “It was like living on the moon, you can really see how the land is formed. I love the desert. I can’t get it out of my head.” While she was there, driving around the desert seeing the clashes between farmland and urban landscapes, taught her much about the importance of having natural places left undisturbed by man.

This sense of honoring the natural sense of place stayed with her when she moved to Portland. A choice Kelly says was driven by her art, “One of the reasons we chose Portland, was because I knew there was a big art scene here. And if I’m gonna be an artist I should be somewhere where people embrace art.” Her art career started on the street where she lived, selling small paintings on Alberta Street during the Last Thursday art openings.

It grew from there one step at a time from Last Thursday street sales, to coffee shops, wine bars and ultimately a gallery show at Guardino Gallery on Alberta Street. “I just started taking all the little shows on and started selling my art, and was able to work less and less at a job and work more on my art,” says Kelly. “Finally I quit my job and I’ve been a full-time artist for two years.”

In the last two years, Kelly’s been busy painting and getting her work out to the public. “I just say yes to everything, and figure the more places my art is the more chances it’s gonna be seen by somebody so I get it out there as much as I can,” Kelly says. Her goal - to make her work accessible to everyone at every price range – has led to some very interesting opportunities. Kelly now has paintings hanging in a Westin Hotel in Cincinnati and the U. S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, as well as an upcoming show in La Conner Washington at the Museum of Northwest Art from October 10, 2009 to January 10, 2010.

Working on the paintings for that show and others, Kelly finds her process evolves naturally, “I start with a lot of layers of drippy acrylic and see something in it. Then I go into it with thin layers of oils and then thicker layers.” As Kelly adds layer and layer of color, the feeling of landscape emerges for her connecting her memories to a sense of place. “I’m more creating a feeling of a place on the canvas using color, rather than creating a specific place or statement,” explains Kelly. “I omit a lot of detail and let the viewer put in their own ideas. I try to help people connect to their memories using color. I use color to create a feeling that helps people connect with a place through color.”

Helping people connect with the landscape or each other is another important part of Kelly’s life and art. It was a neighbor’s suggestion that helped Kelly become part of Portland Open Studios. In 2006, Kelly says, “I got accepted, went to the first workshop and didn’t know anybody. But after the event, talking about my art for two days straight to perfect strangers, I had a better understanding of what I was doing.”

Kelly enjoyed the experience so much she re-applied in 2007, got more involved working on the publicity committee with Bonnie Meltzer and at Bonnie’s suggestion became a board member and president the next year. Kelly is amazed at how much she has learned as a Portland Open Studios artist and president, yet in the three years it’s the connections and community she values the most. “Meeting all the artists in Portland open studios is definitely my favorite part,” says Kelly. “I have a really good community of other artists. And the artists who do open studios are the type of artists who are open to sharing what they do with other people.”

Kelly wants to encourage artists and art lovers to come on the tour and get more familiar with Portland Open Studios. When she first took the tour, before her first open studios weekend, she learned so much. “It was a bit overwhelming at first,” Kelly says. “But all the artists that I saw were just great. I loved seeing everybody’s art work and going into people’s spaces. As an artist, just seeing the way other people do their artwork, it always reflects their environment.”

Kelly Neidig may be president of Portland Open Studios, but she welcomes anyone’s questions about art or the tour. Kelly says, “I’ve gotten so much help from other great artists and people in my life, I just love helping other people as well.”

You can visit Kelly Neidig’s studio during Portland Open Studios Tour as well as 99 other artists all around the Portland Metro area. Tour dates are October 10, 11 and 17, 18 from 10am to 5pm. To find out when your favorite artists studio is open, buy your Tour Guide at New Seasons, Art Media and other outlets listed on the website

And visit Kelly’s website at