Briefly describe the work you do.
“Jane Waggoner Deschner’s photo-collages riff perhaps most clearly on the concept of photographic keepsake. Family photographs, sewn together and topped with exuberant embroidered doodles and messages, celebrate the medium’s home-spun beginnings while poignantly pushing us to look more deeply at the artifacts of our own lives.” ~press release excerpt from The Embroidered Image, Robert Mann Gallery, NYC, 2014
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Disappointing experiences and unmet expectations of “happy family” have zigzagged through my life — eventually leading to my fascination with early and mid-twentieth century everyday photographs. Nan Goldin wrote, “The snapshot (is) the form of photography that is most defined by love. People take them out of love, and they take them to remember — people, places, and times. They’re about creating a history by recording a history.” When I collaborate with another’s photo, I tease out a common humanity not confined by time, place or circumstance. I explore our shared human condition to better understand my own. By asking viewers to look carefully — to react to quotations, decipher symbols and signs, and/or puzzle out juxtapositions — I renew and transform their experience of looking at old photographs. By engaging them with other people’s family photos, I alter the way they see their own. They come to realize, as I did, how universal this form of expression is — and how precious.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
All of my art making and working time is spent in my studio except the stitching which I do 15 feet down the hall from a comfortable chair in front of the TV. Artist residencies are the other part of my studio practice. There I have the time, space and support to concentrate on my work—free from most distractions. When I’m there, I “nest” in my studio—in addition to my computer, printer, scanner and lots of found photographs, I take a chenille bedspread and my pillow. I put down a small throw rug by the door. If a bed or futon isn’t provided, I take an airbed. I sleep there every night.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started, my youngest child was 3 and I was in my 30s. I wanted to go beyond the craftsy things I’d been obsessively making so went back to college and earned a BA in art, one class a quarter for seven years. Now, 30+ years and an MFA later, I’m the kind of artist who handles all aspects of my practice: making, documenting, explaining, designing, collecting, framing, installing, marketing, hauling, crating, teaching, networking. When I began, I gave no thought to all the skills and trades that would be required. I also didn’t realize how much thinking and soul searching would be involved.
As for the artwork itself, I’m now a voyeur indulging in other people’s photographs and a ventriloquist appropriating quotes from famous individuals.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
There is so much more involved in being an artist than just making the art. My typical day follows a specific pattern—this organization helps me keep the various parts of my art life, work life and personal life all moving forward. I get out of bed and walk to the computer in my studio, starting water boiling for tea as I walk by the pot. I respond to emails, read news and art articles, collect quotes, interact on Facebook. Next I do work. It might be something for one of my graphic design or photography clients; it might be working on a residency application or exhibition proposal. Today it’s responding to this 365artists365days request. I run errands mid-day. The afternoon is time to prepare pieces for stitching—sort photos, scan and design the graphics, poke holes. If I have a show coming up, the afternoon is spent matting and framing. After dinner, I sit and stitch for 2–5 hours. If social commitments intervene and I go a night or two without stitching, I become uncentered and cranky. I follow this work pattern basically every day of the week.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I started working with found vernacular photographs in 2001. By 2010 I was well into embroidering quotes into studio portraits and collaged snapshots. Adding a famous person’s words to a vernacular image, I could ventriloquize thoughts my aging, maternal (increasingly opinionated) self wanted to express. A couple of years ago I started adding drawings to illustrate the quote and add another dimension to the work. Most recently I’ve been doing pieces that don’t rely on speaking the English language to understand (see the example from the domino mask series).
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Periods of unhappy family life and the resulting options to grow or stay stuck taught me that one way I can work through distress is through making my art. The “resilience series” helped me process the sudden destruction of my home in 2010 (see example here). The quote on the t-shirt (from the garment series) memorializes an ex-boyfriend who had terminal cancer. He was one of the more devoted Dylan fans around and his light step and the sparkle in his eyes kept him forever boyish.
I’ve also studied the work of Annette Messager, Christian Boltanski and John Baldessari for the fascinating ways they use found photographs as well as their creative ways of installing the work. I learned that how a viewer experiences a piece doesn’t have to end when the frame is put—how it’s displayed also affects understanding.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
My first time through college and grad school I was an urban geographer; I worked at a regional planning agency. Geography is the only spatial social science so it made sense to me. Once I started making art, that became the center of my interests (along with family, of course). When I travel, it’s an art trip or to a residency. When the grandkids come to visit, we make art and go to art exhibits. Volunteer work is art related. My good friends are artists. Art is both my vocation and my avocation.
Jane Waggoner Deschner grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, moving to Montana in 1977. She earned degrees in geography at the University of Kansas and, later, in art at Montana State University–Billings (BA) and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA). She exhibits actively with recent solo shows in Kansas, Missouri, Nevada and Montana. “Face Value: Embroidered Found Photographs” is her solo exhibition at the University of Wyoming Art Museum, January 31–April 25, 2015. Juror Peter Held selected three pieces for the 2015 Missoula Art Museum Triennial. Her work was featured in “The Embroidered Image,” an invitational show at Robert Mann Gallery, Chelsea, NYC, during summer 2014. In the “First Person” department of Surface Design Journal’s winter 2014 issue, she writes about her work and process. She has been featured on numerous blogs including Hand/Eye, American Craft magazine’sWhy I Make, House of Mirth, mr x stitch, Accidental Mysteries and Hand Embroidery Network.
She has been awarded residencies/fellowships at Virginia Center for Creative Arts (including two LEAW Foundation grants), Amherst, VA; Ucross Foundation, Clearmont, WY; The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, CA; Playa, Summer Lake, OR; Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, NM; Jentel Foundation, Banner, WY; Kimmell• Harding•Nelson Center for the Arts, Nebraska City, NE; and Ragdale Foundation, Chicago, IL. Fall 2010 she was a visiting artist at Red Deer College, Red Deer, Alberta. She returns to The Banff Centre in March for the Visual Arts Late Winter BAiR Intensive 2015. Since May 2008 she has served as a Governor’s appointee on the Montana Arts Council.
Her work is in the collections of Federal Reserve Banks in Minneapolis, MN, and Helena, MT; Missoula Art Museum, Missoula, MT; Churchill Arts Council, Fallon, NV; University of Montana; Montana State University–Billings Foundation; Yellowstone Public Radio; Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper, WY; Archie Bray Foundation, Helena, MT; and collectors and artists across the US and in South Korea. She is represented by Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and Catherine Louisa Gallery, Billings, Montana. In addition to being an artist, she works as an exhibition installer, graphic designer, photographer, instructor, curator and picture framer.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.