Local Visual Artists Rise to the C-19 Challenge

By Syd Bastos

“Shelter in place is not compatible with procrastination!” says Veronica Levin, co-owner of Hot Flash Pottery. This writer spoke with Veronica, Cindy Krill, Lisa Beams, Karla Piper and Helen Kleczynski to find out how these artists are adapting to COVID-19 related restrictions.

Veronica Levin designs and produces jewelry, paintings and ceramics in her studio. She sells both online and at her studio location, temporarily shuttered. Extra time has allowed Veronica to be more mindful of the environment around her. She’s tackling old projects, both at home and in the studio, with a surprising fearlessness. She feels more fulfilled and is grateful for this reflective time.

Cindy Krill produces ceramics in her studio located in the Prudential Nursery in Vicksburg and paints watercolors in her home. She sells her works at Prudential Nursery, also temporarily shuttered. Too cold to work on ceramics in the studio, Cindy has found time for painting, just finishing a striking piece of her granddaughter, Ella, now three years old, who is sheltering with her family in the Detroit area. The piece will join paintings of other family members adorning the walls in the Krill’s home, awaiting the next family gathering when shelter-in-place orders are lifted.

Lisa Beams participates with South County Fiber Arts (SCFA) and Knit & Stitch 2gether. The first group meets monthly at Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center to work on fiber projects and learn from each other. Knit & Stitch 2gether meets weekly at Windfall Coffee Shop, bringing yarn and stitching projects to work on and share. SCFA also does demonstrations using spinning wheels and other tools to convert animal and plant fibers into yarn. The demonstrations, held in conjunction with local history day events, have been cancelled or postponed. Sadly, there is no easy replacement option for them. But with all gatherings on hold, the two groups have begun to use Zoom, an on-line conferencing tool, for their meetings. It has been a fun way to stay connected.

Karla Piper, owner of Siesta Jewelry, designs and produces silver jewelry. She was selling to retailers and at Quilt and Expo shows around the country as well as on-line. All these sales channels are either shuttered, cancelled or postponed. Her Fordite jewelry was going to be featured in the exhibit Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020 organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, scheduled to open during the Detroit Auto Show in June. Both have been rescheduled to November. As she waits it out, she has found more time to connect remotely with her customers and take webinars to improve her business. And, despite having money tied up in inventory, Piper muses, “At least it doesn’t have an expiration date!”

Helen Kleczynski provides instruction in pastels and watercolor and cultivated a sharing culture in her classroom, The Art House in Vicksburg. Instruction at the studio is now suspended, but she says, “Art is too joyful to set aside.” Helen established a private Facebook group for current students and provides live demonstrations on Facebook. Students can post their works in the Facebook group and get and give feedback and encouragement for each other. Helen also has more time to experiment with techniques learned in workshops over the last few years on her own works.

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) is also adapting. The Tournament of Writers, a local writing competition, opened as planned on April 1, but on-site writing clinics had to be scrubbed and the option to drop off submissions at Vicksburg and Schoolcraft libraries is no longer possible. Submissions can be sent online or by mail. Fees will be waived this year and the deadline for submissions has been extended to May 30. Also, the VCAC just launched an online gallery, Art2Share and periodically is offering free art kits for no-contact pickup at the VCAC at 105 S Main Street in Vicksburg. Readers can find more information about these programs on their website, VicksburgArts.com, and on their Facebook page or by calling (269) 501-1347.

Everyone agrees that things will be different post C-19. “New paths for entrepreneurship will emerge as people re-imagine their workspaces.” says Levin. Karla Piper expects lower attendance at large shows and expos, at least initially. But she also feels that small business owners who supported each other and their suppliers and found ways to stay connected to their customers will emerge stronger. Keeping our minds and hearts open to creative solutions will help us weather this pandemic!

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