How local artists are faring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — and how you can support their work.
The vibrant sea of artists and artwork that have congregated for Columbia’s Art in the Park festival for over half a century has receded this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pausing this Columbia Art League tradition is a thoughtful precaution to protect the health and safety of artists and the community members who flock to buy their work each June, but nevertheless, it’s a heartbreak for vendors and shoppers alike. And for some artists, it’s more than heartbreaking — it’s bank-breaking, too.
Those who rely on the art festival circuit are grappling with the cancellation of many, if not all, of their scheduled 2020 shows. For many of these makers, their craft is their sole source of income; shutting down shows is like handing them pink slips. But creatives are just that: creative. In the midst of uncertainty, these local artists are adapting to new ways of making and merchandising.
We caught up with three local makers to learn more about their work and find out how the community can show socially distanced support during this art show drought.
Bill Brackett, Metalworks
Bill Brackett’s workshop is a steel garden. Hand-worked petals shaped with custom-crafted tools make up an infinitely blooming array of flowers that rust and age gracefully in the elements.
As he recalls, Bill’s love for plants sprouted early on in life. “I was a really little kid,” he says. “There was a broken bag of beans and I asked my mom if I could take some to try growing them. She said, ‘You can take three,’ so I took three. I took them home and planted them in a little cup. Everybody laughs because I was like 3 or 4 years old and I had a beanstalk growing in my bedroom.”
Through a winding career path, that passion for plants turned into creative expression. You can see the precision in his art; he mirrors the fine details that nature makes. “I just always thought plants were perfect little mechanical things,” he says. “I’ve always been into mechanical things, building stuff, but plants have always fascinated me — they have just always been, to me, synonymous with machinery.”
Now, this artwork is more than just pleasure; it’s Bill’s sole income. But this summer, with the cancellation of Art in the Park and several other shows he had lined up, Bill’s focus will be on tending nature-made blooms instead of those in his workshop. “All the income I expected for this year, it’s gone,” he says. “It’s kind of a bummer, but I really do love plants, so that means I get to spend more time working in my garden.”
Bill’s creative process puts him ahead of schedule for summer shows, so his shop is now full of work with nowhere to go. “Except for a couple of new things I was going to do, everything is ready to sell,” he says.
You can find a sample of Bill’s collection at oak-n-iron.com. To purchase his work, email [email protected]
Sidebar: We’re Still Here
I’m sure that I’m not the only artist who has a house full of stuff ready to sell. Look up your favorite artist, call them up, or email them, because we’re still here; we just can’t go anywhere. I’ve been doing Art in the Park since 2007, and a lot of the people I met in 2007 are still doing it, and I bet they’re prepared to do shows, but they can’t. They have homes and studios, so go out and look them up.
Jessica Pelzer, Oil on Canvas Miniatures & Necklaces
After the birth of her daughter, artist and graphic designer Jessica Pelzer embraced time a little differently. “I think children are really cool because they teach you how to appreciate time so much more,” she says. “Everything means so much more because everything is so much more significant. A week is the difference between her saying a couple words and her saying a ton of words.” Even the small spaces of time — like naptime — become creative windows when there are small children around. While her daughter sleeps, Jessica paints miniature oil paintings, usually 4-by-4 canvas landscapes, or even smaller necklaces. “I’ve always been drawn to miniatures, but it’s especially helpful when you have a full-time job and a small human to take care of. Doing miniatures is like my naptime hustle.”
That hustle paid off during her first year at Art in the Park in 2019, and Jessica was delighted to be accepted to the show in 2020. “I really got kind of the art show bug — it’s so cool and so magical,” she says. “That was kind of one of the big ways I was going to sell my art and also just get exposure from word of mouth.”
Her plans, like those of many artists, have changed; but it’s not all negative, she says. “There’s this amazing artist who’s called Emily Jeffords, and she has this really great podcast for creators called ‘Do it for the Process.’ Whenever everything started happening with COVID-19, she did this really wonderful episode where she spoke about this mantra of asking, ‘What does this make possible?’” Jessica says. “Even though this is hard and you have to give yourself grace, you’re really looking at as: What great opportunity is there? How can you kind of pivot or change things for the better or go your own way?”
Jessica is using this mantra to put a plan into action. She says, “What I’m hoping is that it’ll push me to revamp my website a little bit and look at some other ways to sell my art.”
You can purchase Jessica’s art at jessicapelzer.com and follow her on Instagram at @jessica_pelzer to see her latest work.
Ann and Lloyd Grotjan, Pottery, Multimedia
Husband-wife duo Ann and Lloyd Grotjan share a passion for the arts and a common inspiration: nature. Ann, a three-dimensional artist, creates functional stoneware pottery in her studio near California, Missouri. Lloyd is a multimedia artist, using photography, music, and video in tandem. Their work is different, but their end goal is the same: to create work that offers beauty and resonates with their community.
“I like to use plants in the clay a lot, or I’ll carve images of animals into the clay as well,” Ann says. “More form and function, but I like to add an extra touch of beauty in there, too, so you can really appreciate it while you’re using it.”
Pottery, like many three-dimensional art forms, is best sought in person — it’s a tangible experience for buyers. “It’s just really tough for Ann to sell pottery [now] because it doesn’t ship very well, and it’s generally a pretty hands-on thing for customers,” Lloyd says.
With the closure of galleries and shows, that experience is no longer readily available. And Lloyd’s photography and live music performances have taken a hit, too. “I have always supplemented our income with photography — that’s our practical artistic backup,” he says. “I’d say 85% of our business even for that has been gone [during the outbreak].”
Instead of dwelling on their dwindling income, the two have used the opportunity to re-focus. “This has actually given me a chance to make music videos and stuff that I’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t felt like I can allocate the time for,” he says. “There’s been a feeling of uncertainty, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve actually enjoyed all of the time being at home, and we can be outdoors more and kind of re-evaluate priorities.”
Ann has found herself embracing the pause, too. “I’m always working in my pottery studio for future events,” she says. “I’m usually working and working to have enough inventory for shows, and now I’m caught up, but I just keep making it. Like right now, the dogwoods are blooming and I have to do all the pottery that has the dogwoods in it while they’re fresh, so I have dogwood pottery inventory for future shows.”
For Lloyd, the re-evaluation includes how he’s sharing his music. “I go out and do a show, and there might be 50 or 100 people there. Artists that have posted online stuff potentially have millions of viewers, so I’ve rethought using that for my own things,” he says. “One thing I would say that would be an advantage I would see is if I could get my artwork seen on YouTube. If I get enough hits, I can make money, but it takes a lot.”
To see and purchase work from Lloyd and Ann, visit fullspectrumphotoaudio.com, or contact them via email at [email protected]
Sidebar: How to Show Your Support
Share artwork and pieces that you love on social media. It’s free and easy to do — just make sure to credit the artist responsible by using their handle or including their website. It means a lot to the artists!
Send a nice message to an artist you admire. One of the great things artists love about art shows is the people they meet. They can see and hear about the joy their pieces bring to their customers and the people who just stop by to admire their work. While this can’t be done in person this year, it can still be done online! If you find a piece you love or that speaks to you, reach out to the artist and tell them, because it’s incredibly encouraging.
Keep an eye out for collaborations. I’ve noticed that there’s been some really cool collaborations that have happened lately. Logboat Brewing Co. collaborated with Smiley Textiles on these beautiful bandanas that are branded with Logboat logos. It’s this really cool collaboration to give both parties exposure and something new. I think it’s a great thing for businesses, especially, to collaborate with other artists or for artists in general to collaborate with each other, making sure it’s beneficial for both parties.
Buy the piece of work you love if you are in a position to do that. I think some people might not realize that some artists have different price points for their work. It’s not just the original piece that you can buy — a lot of artists do prints. It’s a great way to support the artist, and you have beautiful work that makes you happy.
As things become less restricted and art festivals and such happen again, get out and support your local artists, check out what they’ve been doing, and find a piece of art you love.
—Ann & Lloyd Grotjan