I recently had the privilege of interviewing Emerging Artist Desiree DeLong. At the American Craft Exposition (ACE), the Emerging Artist category encourages the participation of craftsmen who are beginning their careers. This option is open only to those who have been practicing their craft for less than six years and who have never exhibited at ACE. Read below to learn more about Desiree!
Q: You’ve drawn inspiration from just about everywhere, from your former work as a seamstress and draper for theatre to your previous work as a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit, all of which announces itself through your work. The Ginko Cuff, for example, drapes loosely on the wrist with no detail lost as each vein in both leaves is explicitly shown. Can you elaborate further on how all these former careers have shaped the metal you work with today and how it’s shaped your statement of intent?
A: Although my former careers as a seamstress and nurse may appear drastically different from one another, they both require the same attention to detail that metalsmithing does. Metal is an unyielding medium which requires thought, patience, intention and critical thinking, all of which I employ in my role in the intensive care unit. It’s not only how these careers have shaped my approach to metal, but also how I approach metal in the same way I have approached every other aspect of my evolving careers: with passion and humility.
Q: So many of your collection pieces have interesting names that seem to be inspired from mythology in literature like Escape from Eden and Persephone’s Breath, John Milton and Homer respectfully. Do you find this inspiration before you begin working on a piece or do the titles proclaim themselves after a piece is finished?
A: I don’t really have a fixed process for naming. I’m actually quite terrible at planning. My work has a pulse and usually reveals itself to me organically. I base most of my work from feelings or emotions that I try to realize in their three dimensional form. I know the piece is complete when I see it, touch it and it mirrors the feeling that inspired it. Many times those feelings are birthed from some combination of literature, plays, objects, radio shows or even conversations.
I started exploring mythology when I was working on a sculpture comprised of hundreds of pounds of dried wisteria vines. I was isolated in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the dead of winter. I thought how beautiful these vines were in the spring and how resilient they can be: to rest in a winter tomb for long periods of time only to come back stronger and more beautiful every spring. It reminded me of the Greek abduction myth, Rape of Persephone. When her mother, Demeter found out that Hades had taken her to the underworld, her depth of despair had lulled the earth into dormancy. Persephone could only return for a third of the year annually and each return marked the beginning of spring. That sculpture inspired the Persephone line.
Q: With so many mediums explored previously, what specifically drew you in to metal work?
A: My hands. I have an insatiable compulsion to work with my hands. In another life I was in a Masters of Fine Arts program for draping and pattern-making for the theatre. I worked constantly. I gradually lost feeling in my hands, then my elbows. It took me a while to accept the fact that my love of sewing was killing the most precious tools I had: my hands. I reluctantly dropped out of the program, put down my scissors and picked up an anatomy book. I had spent so much time in physical therapy with nurses and doctors that the environment became like a second home. Nursing became a natural transition and was kind to my hands. After four years of working in the hospital I realized that I needed to integrate art-making back into my life. I took a metals class at Penland School of Crafts on a whim. It turned out that the way metal must be worked doesn’t aggravate my repetitive injury. It was really a thrilling moment to make this discovery. Of course now I am much better about knowing the limits of my hands and body, but I’m relatively new to this medium and full of ideas for pieces I want to make.
Q: You’ve explored design theories previously in your tenure as a seamstress and draper and even as a nurse in the ICU, and then formally in metal work at the Penland School of Crafts making your metal work truly unique. What are some of your personal theories of design? What do your statement of intent and your artwork mean to you?
A: Design to me is a vehicle for exploring visual balance and dressing up utility. Design challenges the function of an object and gives it a voice. My artist statement is like a fashion accessory. It will dress up an outfit, but it will not over power the ensemble. I feel art should speak for itself, with or without an artist statement. My artwork is the air in my lungs; without it I would perish at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I can never survive off just food, shelter and safety.
Q: What are you most excited about in participating at ACE?
A: I am excited and honored to share the same stage with such a vibrant and accomplished group of artists. I am also ecstatic to contribute to healthcare in a way that doesn’t require scrubs or hand sanitizer!