I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was 6 years old. I don’t remember knowing of any artists, but I remember distinctly saying to myself that was what I was going to be.
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to a family that was both Mormon and Greek Orthodox. My grandfather on my mom’s side was descended from Danish pioneers, and my grandmother’s father came from Crete. Visual art wasn’t really high priority in my family. My dad, who’s from New York City, loved to teach me about classical music and read stories to me. I was captivated by the illustrations on the record albums and in the books.
My favorite tv shows were Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Cover to Cover. Sesame Street had excellent graphic shorts, Mr. Rogers would have visited artists and created art. Cover to Cover featured an artist who’d tell a story as he drew an image in pastels on tinted paper. I began creating class art as early as primary school at 3 years old. The 1970s was very colorful and creative, and left a major impression on me.
I thrived on all art projects in school. We worked with as much media as the school could provide. In 1970s tradition, we started and ended our days with songs. The school had entire days for art and music activities. I remember tie-dying tshirts. And then the entire town would have parades where you were encouraged to dress up in costume. Neighborhood kids would put on performances for other neighborhood kids likes dances or puppet shows. I was involved in ballet and plays starting at 5 years old. I took mime lessons during the summer. Art was part of my community.
At 8 years old, my parents pick up our lives and moved us to a small town in North Carolina. Luckily, the schools I went to there also encouraged creativity. They didn’t sing like my schools did in Utah. I missed that. We lived at the end of a dirt road with no neighbors, so I lost the sense of community and abundance of friends. There were only about nine kids in my class. I was thrust into the outcast role at that moment because I had a strange accent and curly hair. There were questions about our race because my dad, who is Italian, Irish, and German, had dark olive skin and his hair was almost black and was big and curly. This was the Deep South. I had never experienced racism before. Very much a culture shock.
The next year, we begged to go to the public school. I got to make more friends. We moved to town, so I got to be around neighborhood kids again. My best friends were from Indian and Korean families. We watched 1980s fantasy films and played dolls together. I got involved in school and summer plays. Took art and craft classes. By this time, video rentals started up, so I became an avid film fan, discovering creative stuff like Barbarella and Monty Python.
By junior high, I was taking full art classes. At that school, you either went into band or art. All my friends chose band. I was actually a very poor student. I scraped by every class except for art. By 12th grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Until I was diagnosed, my parents forbade me take art classes once I hit high school. They thought that would help me study harder. It did not. I was finally able to take art again my last year. Surprise, surprise, I actually did well that year.
With my dyslexia diagnosis, I was given a scholarship to go to any college I wanted to in North Carolina. I wanted to go to the school of the arts, but only was allowed to the local community college. There I got involved with as much art and theater as I could. I ended meeting my now ex husband there, and eventually dropped out as I didn’t receive the support I needed with my learning disability.
My ex husband and I moved to Seattle for several years. I had a kid and we moved back to North Carolina. I really didn’t do a lot creatively until my ex husband’s spleen ruptured in 2002. I had taken a couple of acting classes after moving back, but I couldn’t do any plays with little ones at home. When my ex husband’s spleen ruptured, I found myself needing a creative outlet to distract me from the events. I then discovered knitting and crochet. I already knew how to sew, but hadn’t worked with yarn much since elementary school.
I took to crochet more than knitting. I had a therapist at the time who crocheted and she encouraged me. After becoming proficient at blankets and hats, by 2008, I tried my hand at dolls. At that time, I had started doing plays again, where I was doing double duty of being on stage and working with costumes. I had taught myself how to size patterns down or up, as needed. My SIL owned a dance studio and everyone was dressed as Elvis one year, including my 2yo nephew. There were no children-sized Elvis costume patterns. I was homeschooling my kids and started taking classes myself again. during all that, I was teaching myself how to do these dolls and sizing clothes down to fit them.
My brother saw my dolls and offered advice that I should try making zombie dolls. In studying about knitting, I learned a technique that I thought might be fun to try out on my zombie doll designs for the eyes. It worked! I started producing those and shrunken heads with the zombie eyes. But I still longed to do fine art.
In 2016, Durham Tech announced that they would start an AFA program. My ex husband encouraged me to take the courses. I had plenty of credits, so I could focus mostly on art classes. It was intimidating at first. I’d never really painted and not for many years, and I had never really learned to draw. The painting class went ok, but the drawing class was where I flourished. When I tell people I only learned to draw five years ago, no one believes me, but it’s true! I didn’t learn how to draw until 2017, when I was 43 years old. What you see on my page has only been done in the past few years.
I ended up getting the presidential scholarship, which encouraged me to go to classes full time. I graduated top of my class and summa cum laude. I’m currently a graphic designer for a sign company. This summer, I will be teaching a pastels class at the Durham Arts Council. I’m also currently working on an art project for the town of Henderson, North Carolina, which is where I grew up.