When I was a child, my parents had a commitment to take us on long road trips to the far reaches of the west coast to see the Redwood National Park and then on another trip to the far reaches of the east coast to see Acadia National Park. As a young adult, I backpacked through Glacier National Park, Grand Tetons, Badlands, Mammoth Cave, Rocky Mountains, and the White Mountain National Forest. As a parent, I have taken my children camping and hiking all along the east coast. It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I understood these experiences in nature were directly informing my art practice. I was seeking experiences in nature not being aware that this was my muse all along. Ever since I have been aligning these two into one practice.
Moving to Charleston, South Carolina has deepened this connection with the land. The ecosystem here from the maritime forest to the marsh to the beach contains a sort of magic I haven’t found other places. It seeps into all the work I currently create.
EDUCATION & BIO
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and Art from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Desiring further training in the arts I enrolled in The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts in Boston, Massachusetts. After a year, I knew that my art practice alone was not enough. I wanted to teach. After seven years of teaching in the public schools of Brookline, MA, I knew my teaching practice alone wasn’t enough. What I wanted to do was bring these two important parts of my life, teacher and artist, into one practice. I enrolled in Goddard College’s self-designed graduate program. This was the experience which changed the course of my career. I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts.
My graduate studies allowed me the time to find my voice in the arts while sparking a new vision for teaching young children. How I work in my studio is how I mentor my students to work in our classroom studio. My art class is choice-based. I mentor children on how to be self-directed, envision ideas, and persist through individual or collaborative project creation. This is in line with a constructivist philosophy of education, which honors children’s ability to construct knowledge for themselves. This flips a traditional model of education from a focus on content delivered to the student, to a focus on the learner making meaning and building relationships with our world. This experience teaching others is directly connected to my growth as an artist. I could not have reached my understanding of what an artist has the potential to create without having to teach others to do the same.
Photo Credit: Katie Charlotte
Today you will find me maintaining a singular and collaborative studio practice, exhibiting my artwork locally and nationally, and giving back to my community through teaching. I currently reside on James Island, South Carolina with my two sons, husband of 23 years, and our adopted greyhound Obi.
“I am not sure what I enjoy more: researching the project, creating the project, or sharing the project with others”.
~Leslie Hirsig (my Grandfather)
MATERIALS & METHODS
My parents are antique dealers so I grew up around fascinating objects hanging from the ceiling and tucked into corners. They still find treasures for me (such as the watch mold in my drawing titled “Passing Time”). My fascination with objects has extended to found objects from nature I gather on local hikes in the woods and paddles in the local waterways. Sometimes a found object is the main subject of the art and other times it is supporting the larger composition. Still other times I don’t use objects at all and prefer a simple pencil to paper.
I am a tinkerer, like my Dad and Grandfather. I enjoy learning new ways of working and combining processes that represent the ideas bouncing around in my mind. From my teaching practice I have a breadth of experience with art materials so I draw on that often, spend lengths of time researching other artists and inventive ways of working with traditional materials. My Dad taught me all I know about tools and woodworking, so he is one I call when I get stumped. I am not afraid to push past what I know and just simply enjoy exploring new paths.
WORKING IN COLLABORATION WITH LAURA GAFFKE
It all started with a humble postcard sent in the mail to one another in 2006. We met during graduate school at Goddard College and wanted to stay in touch in between the on-campus residencies. What followed was a correspondence project of art exchanged through the mail. Through conversations, written letters, and discussing the process of creating art, we charted a course of enriching our understanding of how to live our lives as artists aligned with our true “voices”.
We developed a variety of projects over the years: mail art exchanged weekly, hand crafted visual book, call and response photographs online, an installation piece, and working on the same piece of art collaboratively while visiting one another.
Today we working fully on our own art practices, but continue to talk and discuss art weekly. Perhaps some day soon we will pick up this work again. CLICK HERE to visit our website.
Visit Laura’s website HERE.
Still reading? Well, here are a few Q&A I wrote up to entertain you
Q & A
WHAT CRACKS YOU UP?
Anything with Will Farrell and Tina Fey. If they are both in a movie it is a must-see and probably must-own. Anything Monty Python. One of my most proud moments as a parent is showing my kids Monty Python’s Holy Grail and they cracked up. I can quote almost every line from the movie Tommy Boy. So basically anything ridiculous.
IF YOU COULD HAVE A SUPER POWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I LOVE Marvel movies. I actually like characters like Black Widow who don’t necessarily have a superpower but kick some serious butt with her intelligence and athleticism. Strong female characters get me fired up!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING?
I have been teaching part time and full time for 20+ years. I was a tenured teacher in the Brookline Public School District in Massachusetts for seven years, then moved to Charleston where I wandered looking for the right place open enough explore contemporary art education practices. I have taught at College of Charleston, Trident Technical College, The Cooper School, Murray LaSaine Elementary, and now finally have found my place at Ashley Hall School.
WHAT ARTISTS ARE YOUR TEACHERS?
Yayoi Kusama for her originality and honesty with self and others. Betye Saar for her holding true to the fact that art is about ideas and her unwavering work challenging stereotypes. Aldwyth for her persistence as a working artist for decades despite rejections, not to mention her gorgeous aesthetic and ability to assemble found objects in dynamic ways.
WHAT GENRE OF BOOKS DO YOU READ?
I enjoy a good historical fiction book with strong female characters. Any book where I learn about history from a different viewpoint is always fascinating (I read Howard Zinn when I was young and that changed my thinking on historical events). I also enjoy crime novels that are suspenseful that I can take to beach and read all day.
WHAT IS SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I played roller derby for three years (2011-14) and co-lead our team to the national competition for our division. My derby name was TNTina and I played the jammer position for the Lowcountry Highrollers. I was one of the older players on the team at the time and even surprised myself by what I was able to do on the track.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE?
I recently traveled to Ireland with my husband to celebrate 20 years of marriage. Not only was it a fantastic time together, but also experiencing the landscape moved me greatly. The rugged cliffs falling into the ocean contrasted with the mellow green hills was unlike anything I have seen or felt. Traveling and living in other countries for a few months in the summer is something I would love to do some day.
THE SOUNDTRACK OF YOUR LIFE WOULD INCLUDE WHICH ARTISTS?
Elementary School: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springstein
Middle School: Whitesnake (the 45 record no less), Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, anything I could tape off the radio (hahaaa)
High School: Led Zepplin (box set), Aerosmith, Nirvana, U2, Live, Pearl Jam
College: Black Crows, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins
Adult life: I got into crunchy folk music for a while when I lived in Boston and saw a lot of live music in Cambridge, MA. Recently I have returned to some of my bluesy rock favorites such as Black Keys and Buddy Guy.