Stephanie Barenz tells art stories for Gallery Night at the Pfister
Pfister Artist-In-Residence Stephanie Barenz talks about her current projects and working with students in the Our Story Arts program.
Stephanie Barenz won the post of Pfister Artist-In-Residence and moved into her studio space in the storied hotel this past April (see the TCD interview for more about Barenz and her work). Recently, Barenz described the new projects that have emerged from her previous work, dovetailing with her new position.
“When I got the Pfister residency, I was volunteering at St. Marcus, which is my husband’s school, but continuing wouldn’t have worked with my schedule. So I thought we could bring the art students here and then we got thinking of how Zach could get involved. He’s a writing teacher at St. Marcus. We had the idea, from the beginning I think, to give the kids a platform to express themselves. St. Marcus is a very rigorous school with a very rigorous schedule, so often there is not a lot of time for arts.”
“We saw a need with the kids to get their stories out there, and that’s where Our Story Arts came from. Joe Kurth, the former GM, was really enthusiastic about bringing an educational program to the Pfister. Since I have my MFA and had taught for a while it seemed like a good fit as to what I could bring to the program that maybe was a little bit different.”
The skills developed in figure drawing have been integral to their work on the theme of identity. Barenz notes that this age is a pivotal time for young people. She says, “I’m kind of speaking to what I know and for the students, especially in middle school, the theme of identity is so huge. I remember when I was 12 or 13, just trying to figure out where you fit, and we’ve talked about that. That’s the cool part of the program — we’ll be doing a project and these guys will open up.”
The projects the students have been working on in July involved making self-portraits, and during Gallery Night they will have a table set up to show their work, just as Barenz will show hers in her studio. While looking forward to the event, Kayla admits, “I’m going to be nervous.”
Barenz concurs, “I always get nervous. But nerves are maybe kind of good because they motivate you to work. At least for me (laughs). But that was part of our goal, too, to give the kids an experience so they saw what it was like to be a professional artist. I think that’s another mission of the program: to mentor kids one-on-one, especially the ones who are interested in art, to say you can do this if you want to. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of models for that.”
“I asked the kids when they came in ‘what do you want to learn the most,’ and they said ‘we want to learn how to draw people.’ We’ve done gesture drawings, I’ve taken them through the proportions of the face and the figure, and each facial feature. When I was a kid I just wanted to learn how to draw really well, and impress my friends with it!”
As Barenz and her husband work have teamed up in the program, they bring together creativity from visual and linguistic approaches. This will lend itself to some new endeavors in the coming weeks: “In August we’re collaborating with Molly Snyder, who is the current Pfister Narrator, and her husband (artist and writer) Royal Brevväxling. They’re going to teach them how to make zines. The zine making is a really good example of the writing and art coming together.”
This multidisciplinary approach is a foundational aspect of Barenz’s work, and is borne from her own experiences as a student, a perspective she shares with the young people in the program: “I’m a really strong believer in the fact that art works the ‘creative problem solving muscle.’ I know for me personally in school it helped with test-taking, math, language, all those things.”
In addition to work from Our Story Arts and Barenz’s recent paintings inspired by stories of her travels and those of hotel guests, Pfister Narrator Molly Snyder will be in the studio writing haikus and poems for visitors during Gallery Night. A reception will be held beginning at 9 p.m. in The Rouge with artist and writer present.