Today on Tuesday Tours we get to visit the Viroqua home and studio of artists Amy Arnold and Kelsey Sauber Olds. Together they create wood sculptures, raise their three boys, and share a studio in Southwestern Wisconsin. I happened upon Amy and Kelsey’s work quite accidentally, as I clicked link by link during an online search, and wound up on their website. I was immediately impressed by their gorgeous sculptures, and because I’m all about collaboration, I was delighted to read about their creative partnership. Over the last three years they have combined their creative talents–Amy’s fiber art and Kelsey’s woodworking/furniture design to create beautiful figurative sculptures that they sell across the country at art festivals. Photos by Ray + Kelly, Richard Bock, and Drew Shonka.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
We are a married team of artists who make our home and studio at the end of a road on a ridge top that overlooks Seas Branch of the Kickapoo River in Southwestern Wisconsin. We live with our three sons currently aged 13, 8 and 7. We five are here together, working, playing and homeschooling ourselves. Over the years as time has passed and our needs have changed, our work and work space has changed as well.
When our oldest son was small we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Kelsey had a studio and storefront away from home in which he was making custom furniture and I had a studio in our house where I worked about two days a week making soft sculpture and wool hats under the business name Peepwool. When we moved to rural Viroqua, Wisconsin we had two more children and an increased desire to make our lives more home and family centered. We found a house with an attached three car garage/studio and a finished third floor which could also be used as studio space. With this arrangement we were able to more successfully share working time in our studios and time caring for our young boys.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
About three years ago I found myself feeling a bit restless. Our work lives changed such that I was the one who was working more and I felt like I was missing out on my kids lives. I was tired of being alone with my work. The repetitive movement involved in the hand sewing I was doing was becoming hard on my body. Kelsey was missing being in the studio and I was missing seeing him in the studio. All of these things led to us beginning the process of learning how to collaborate in our art work.
Now, drawing upon both of our experiences we are working together making human/animal figurative sculptures in wood. We each have our own processes and working styles and fitting these together can prove both challenging and exciting. In this new work we are interested in exploring a balance between human and animal; wild and tame; crude and refined; movement and stability; humor and seriousness; adult and child; and toy and art object. Now we’re sharing a work space and are actually are in the middle of setting up a new shop for ourselves that is not in the attached space but across the driveway. It is an very exciting time. Kelsey is over there installing the dust collection system as I am writing this.
Describe a typical work day.
I love the studio. The time and space is precious. To have a day to oneself is a treat. I can open the doors during the warm months to a sunny day. And I build a fire to keep me warm in the winter. I can see my children sledding down the hill, or playing outside. I can see the birds sitting in the lilac bush outside my window, and the turkeys and deer in the field. I watch the sun move through the sky. I feel connected to my husband who made this space for us to work in together. And whose hands are also going to be on this piece that we are working on. These are things that are really important to me. I don’t like to feel isolated from my family or from the natural world. And because I am content and feel connected in our studio my ideas flow from a place of contented connectedness.
What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
As much as I love my work, everything is a distraction! There are so many things that could be happening instead of working in the studio. Sometimes I have to trick myself into settling in by listening to This American Life or The Moth.
A luxury of collaborating is that if either of us is feeling really stuck or called to do something else the other can go into the studio instead.
And the work keeps going. And often the work of the other will generate enough energy that the stuck feeling disappears and the work becomes interesting again. It is a really lovely arrangement.
Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I like to listen to stories about real people. This can become addicting. And after a day of listening to The Moth podcasts all day my head and stomach hurt and I feel like I did when I was a kid glommed out in front of a TV all day. Kelsey listens to music and sings really loud. I like to sing and learn new songs while I work too. The best days are the ones that I can sit in silence and listen to my own thoughts.
Share with us a memory of one of the best times you had working in your studio.
Last year during the summer we were working for a big deadline and our kids are old enough that they can be on their own, so we were both in the shop for days on end and staying up after our kids went to bed until the wee hours. We noticed that it felt like when we were in college—when being in the studio and making artwork with our friends could fill our whole lives. I remember looking over at him thinking, not only am I really attracted to that fellow who is working here beside me, he is my husband, and this is our beautiful life!
Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I am inspired by regular people living inspired lives. I get really excited looking at folk art. And things carved out of wood are always exciting because they give us new ideas about what is possible. I am inspired by my farmer friends who stand on the soil everyday and have such an intimate, creative, connection to the earth. I am inspired by people who are asking themselves what they can do to make big changes necessary for the health of the earth. The idea of co-creation—I love this idea that what we can make together is most beautiful. My artist friends who make their lives with their hands. I am inspired by my children and Kelsey whom I co-create with.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice would be to be realistic about where you are in your life and what fits. I made the mistake multiple times to try to set up a creative worklife that didn’t work with my life. I tried to set up a clay studio in the basement when I had a baby and not enough support to get myself there. One time I set up an outside-the-home work space when I had a newborn. Both of these efforts were frustrating and demoralizing. A corner of your room that you can commit to being in one day a week can be the perfect set up.
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
We are going to be doing a number of shows throughout the country this year. Our website will be updated soon with all the venues listed.
Thank you, Amy and Kelsey! Your work and home life is really inspiring, and your work is amazing!
Join us next week when we take a look inside the studio of Wisconsin illustrator Carol Schwartz.