Photo by Stacey Herries.
Stacey Herries is much more than an aspiring artist. Her day job as a high school art teacher inspires teenagers to be creative, while simultaneously her own artwork is flying out of galleries. I sat with her in her studio to hear her story. Her energy is as infectious as her artwork; bright, colorful and cheerful. She continued to work as we talked. Her process is fascinating and her drive is impressive!
How and when did you get into art?
I always liked art growing up, my mom is really artistic and creative so I grew up in an artsy house. We spent a lot of time making things. I also took a lot of art classes in high school. I had a really good teacher, Mr. Campeau. He was so inspirational I like to give him credit. I also modeled for Freeman Butts, who is a legacy painter. He became an art mentor right out of high school which propelled me in that direction.
So it’s always been a part of your life?
Yes. I studied graphic design at Montana State University, then transferred to the University of Montana and became a fine arts major. During this time I met Deb Santo, a former graphic artist who was earning her master’s degree. She hired me to do illustrative work for her. Eventually, we formed a graphic design business together. I learned a lot from her in terms of the business part of art because she was already experienced.
What happened next?
My husband was in graduate school, which took us to New York City. I intended to get a graphic design job but my son Eli came along, so instead, we started a family. I wanted to be able to be home with him, so I couldn’t really get a job. I decided to take a hiatus from it all and we had another child.
When did teaching come into play?
We had moved to Havre, Montana for my husband’s job. I needed work, but there wasn’t a demand for graphic design. Once my son and daughter were older, I went back to school and got a teaching certificate, which included English and reading endorsements. I knew it was easier to find a job teaching English than it was to find an art job.
I taught in Box Elder, on the reservation, for nine years. At night I taught art at Stone Tribal College along with summer school art programs. It was a way for me to keep my toe in it. I was busy with the kids, so I didn’t do any art professionally, just for fun.
I like teaching and I like the kids. It’s really rewarding to introduce them to different mediums and techniques and new ways of seeing things. I hate the statement, “People teach because they can’t do.” Teaching and doing are completely different entities. I do and I teach.
Where did your career go once you moved back to Bozeman?
I filled in for an art teacher at Bozeman High, but it was a one year contract. When the economy went bad, I started working on a Master’s Degree. My focus was on artistic techniques to help low level English students comprehend reading. When the economy improved, I got a job teaching high school English in Belgrade. Although I love teaching English, an art position came available so I applied and got the job.
Are you glad you became an art teacher?
Yes, I think there are parallels. English is a way to communicate through reading and writing. Art is a different form, but it’s all communication based; for me that’s the parallel.
You're obviously doing your own artwork now. How do you find time to do both?
While I was working on a Masters’s Degree, I had time to create art for myself. I began producing so much I started participating in art shows. People bought my paintings, so I started selling my work while continuing to teach. I paint during the summer, weekends, holidays and after school if I have the time. Now that I have an empty nest, I have even more time. The problem is there are so many things I would like to do, I don’t enough lives to do it all!
Do you ever consider doing art full time?
People ask me that a lot. I still enjoy teaching. I enjoy the kids and the social interaction, and teaching helps me become a better artist. Teaching them keeps me fresh. I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me practice what I teach. During my off-time I am able to focus; it is kind of like going on a sabbatical every year.
How did you get into encaustic painting?
My mom bought me an encaustic class for my birthday. I fell in love with it and bought all the materials and supplies to do it on my own.
What exactly is encaustic?
Encaustic uses heated beeswax with colorful pigment to paint with. I like to melt the wax down and make my own new colors. I add a type of tree pitch that has crystalized which makes it a little harder, so it doesn’t melt so fast. I paint with either foam brushes or encaustic tools. I can carve into the wax and add oil paint, then using a torch, it infuses the wax which becomes one with the layer beneath it. The process is one of the reasons I like encaustic; there are so many ways to manipulate the wax.
Photo by Stacey Herries.
Tell me about your subject matter.
I think there’s a commonality in all of my subjects; I am nostalgic and place oriented. I’m from Bozeman, so I’m nostalgic for Montana I knew when I was growing up. Fields, silos, old grain elevators— these things are familiar to me. I equate old Montana with those structures. Grain elevators speak to me because they are often times lonely, broken down, in the middle of nowhere. My studio is off of Mendenhall and I love the BG Grain and Ag Depot buildings. Some of the structures from when I was growing up are still the same, but Bozeman has changed since my childhood. I feel a sense of urgency to capture those images before they disappear, especially the BG Granary.
You paint a lot of Poppies, how did that come about?
I’m also sentimental. I think that my love of poppies stems from sentimentality toward the Marimekko poppy print fabric from 1964. I always loved that. I think of the flowery wallpaper that was on my bedroom walls; those 60’s floral prints that many of us had. Bathroom wallpapers inspired by those prints conjure up good memories. Also, flowers have lots of movement and I love creating movement and exploring color. Flowers are imperfect and encaustic painting embraces imperfection. It’s very forgiving, so its fun. I also like high contrast, so aspen trees are another subject. Aspen groves are magical and charming. If I go on a hike, it’s a place I want to go.
You have a beautiful studio. How did you create this space?
Every artist struggles with their pile of supplies and having a work space. After years of working in my garage and sharing studio space, I was finally able to produce my own work area that provides me the ventilation I need.
Where is your art displayed?
Currently, my art is at Altitude Gallery in Bozeman, and 4 Ravens Gallery in Missoula. Although I would like to expand the venues, I can’t produce enough to keep more than two galleries stocked at this time. Now that I am an empty nester I might have more time to get in more parts of the state.
My plan is to make art full time once I retire from teaching. It would be interesting to see what it is like to do art full time, but I love the kids too much. I’m too social! Now that I have a studio space, my intention is to teach private classes again. There are a lot of people interested in learning how to do this, and I really enjoy that. In the future, I would also like to do children’s art camps during the summer.
How do you maintain your enthusiasm?
Being a teacher has allowed me to remain true to myself because I can create what I want in a way that is appealing to me. I don’t worry so much about whether or not other people like what I am doing or whether it is marketable. That is a luxury because many artists have to make their creative decisions based on whether or not they can sell. So far I’ve been lucky that people seem to like what I am doing so I am able to afford to keep doing it!
To keep up on her latest work, follow Stacey Herries on Facebook.
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