Art Builds Community in the Whiteaker

A new feature of this year's Expressions: An Art Benefit for ShelterCare is a live artist demonstration featuring Heather Halpern and Sarah Sedwick. Heather will use pastels to draw a still-life featuring a beautiful cast-iron tea set that was donated by Mountain Rose Herbs. Guests at the event will have a chance to win Heather's finished drawing. We visited Heather at her business, Whiteaker Printmakers, for a tour and to learn more about Heather and her art.

Heather, would you like to introduce yourself?

I am an artist! I used to defer to others for determination that my work qualified as art. Having studied and practiced art for my entire life, I believe I have acquired sufficient knowledge, skills, and experience. I show and sell my work, and I run an art business—“professional artist” seems like a fair assertion.

My husband Paul and I own and operate Whiteaker Printmakers, a community art studio. I share my workspace and specialized equipment with serious artists. I organize events and exhibits, with an emphasis on workshops to educate potential studio members in a variety of printmaking techniques.

What's your background?

I’ve been obsessed with art since early childhood. I’ve taken countless art classes and workshops. I draw and paint in a variety of media (graphite, charcoal, colored pencil, pen & ink, pastel, watercolor, oil, acrylic, encaustic, etc.). I also sculpt (clay, wood, and stone), and create original stained glass pieces. Printmaking is my current passion.

What does "being creative" mean to you?

To me, being creative means exploring and expressing concepts in my own manner; making my own marks to better understand and convey an idea. Being creative is introducing something new, even if it’s just a fresh perspective on something old.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I often doodle, as my mind wanders, to try to capture what’s in my subconscious. Then, I sketch from life to get to know a chosen subject from a certain angle in a specific light.

I prefer to brainstorm in silence—talk and lyrics compete with my thoughts, and music influences my mood. Once I decide how I want to depict what, I enjoy conversation and tunes (preferably, those that complement the mood of my artwork), while I develop the image.

I like to clear a workspace, assemble supplies, and prepare snacks/beverages before starting on a project so I don’t have excuses to walk away from my work.  

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever created?

My daughter! 🙂

I like adventure and challenge so unfamiliar materials are fun for me. I created Reclaimed Gothic (after Grant Wood’s American Gothic) from junk and wax for one of MECCA’s Object Afterlife Art Challenges. It won a prize and sold for $300! I’m also fond of a bust I sculpted of a young woman, whom I mentored in ceramics for OSLP at Clay Space. Apart from the monotype series of my daughter and mezzotint set, addressing the grieving process, I’m most proud of my large monotype, Fern Ridge, which was juried into the 2016 Eugene Biennial at the Karin Clarke Gallery. 

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

My work doesn’t always have important messages to convey, but it is certainly impacted by life experiences that are meaningful to me. It’s powerful and fulfilling when people are impacted by my imagery. Deep connections are made when people can relate. For example, hugs and tears were exchanged with a stranger who lost her daughter to mental illness, as she thanked me for addressing the issue in my recent show at Oregon Art Supply.  

What are your favorite things about this community?

Lane County is full of kind, supportive, creative people! It’s wonderful to see community members collaborating, rather than competing. It’s nice to see neighbors treat each other like family.

What do you see as our community’s biggest challenges?

Clearly, homelessness is a serious issue in our community. Lack of funding for services and facilities for people suffering from mental illness or drug addiction contributes to the problem. Also, poor education restricts employment opportunities and income potential. While we must address the current crisis (temporary housing, recovery, and job training/placement programs), we need to focus on at-risk youth to increase their likelihood of success.  

Our biggest challenge is convincing individuals to invest (time, money, etc.) in the community. People tend to restrict themselves to small circles—comfort zones. We need to recognize that we are all in this together—one community, one world. We rise with those we lift up!

Is there anything about you that others may find surprising?

I had a mysterious “stroke-like event” on March 10th (my birthday), 2006. I was left with permanent autonomic, motor, and sensory neuropathies. Irregular circulation, constant burning pain, and muscle weakness makes every day difficult. Instead of getting frustrated and depressed, and distressing others, I focus on what I can do, and I do it to the best of my ability. I seize opportunities to participate in interesting projects, which keep me motivated, productive, and gratified. 

You recently exhibited some pieces that were inspired by your daughter's struggles with mental illness. Do you feel comfortable sharing anything about that?

I’m still coming to terms with my daughter’s diagnosis. I have seen schizophrenia devastate families. My recent work helped me process some of my terror and heartache. I feel extremely fortunate and relieved that medication is keeping my daughter’s delusions and hallucinations in check, but I worry about her future.

I hope heightening awareness of mental illness and its victims promotes understanding and support. It would be reassuring to know that community members would assist, rather than shun, people who were confused and afraid.

What do you feel is the role of artist in society?

I feel that the role of an artist is, simply, to make art. Ideally, others will appreciate it and respond to it, but I don’t think artists should feel pressured to perform for the public. Some artists just process experiences and emotions through art-making, for their own sanity. Some artists are driven to create shocking images to point out problems, while others want to soothe souls with beautiful visions.

Certainly, art is an important part of understanding societies, and improving them. It is beneficial to appreciate that art, and teach future generations about the ways art is a fundamental part of our selves, both individually and collectively.

Thanks, Heather! We look forward to seeing you in action at Expressions: An Art Benefit for ShelterCare.

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