Watching his grandfather amble around the family farm hunting for bent nails is a memory that’s clung to Chris Sickels.
This regular quest was motivated not by safety or cleanliness but thrift. He was going to use them again. Bent nails. Something most would drop into the category of useless garbage before tossing them into the trash. But after the long day’s work was “done”, the nails would be pulled from his pocket and placed in an anvil for straightening. Chris recalls he’d also perfected a technique for effectively driving them post-anvil that involved spitting on the hammer’s head and rubbing it on his pants to ensure a clean strike.
This inclination to see the possibilities in that which is worn and weary also inhabited Chris’ father. As a dairy farmer living on the edge of success and survival, he had the ability to look at cows that were thin and/or ill and devise a plan to restore them to health. He does the same and more with horses today.
All of this recycling, hard work and perseverance was not lost on Chris. Though it’s been over 20 years since he left that small farm in Indiana for the big city of Cincinnati to attend the AAC, he finds himself on his own quest to reshape reclaimed items. His motivation is a mix of thriftiness, a willingness to try and fail combined with a courageous creativity that allows him to envision and build extraordinary worlds with everyday items. And though he’s back living in another small Indiana town with his wife and four kids, memories from his time at the Art Academy have not only clung to him but played a part in reshaping him as well.
Chris remembers entering his freshman year with an insecurity that sprung from his rural upbringing and what he thought would be his limited art education. But he soon realized that Terri Martin, who was his sole art teacher through both middle and high school, had more than equipped him. Her attention and dedication even set him ahead of the curve. She also went well beyond the obligatory classroom instruction when she helped him put his portfolio together for reviews and drove him to different art schools including the AAC where he ultimately enrolled after accepting a helpful scholarship. And though he was thoroughly versed in the inner workings of farm life including the birthing process of its animal residents, he was unaware of all the options and opportunities that lay before him artistically.
As he listened to and learned from his fellow students and dedicated professors, Chris began to see how the seeds they were planting in his already fertile mind were beginning to take root and produce strange but wonderful fruit. Susan Curtis, an adjunct professor from England, took him under her wing and pushed him out of the nest at the same time. Their trip to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County opened his eyes to new forms and styles of illustrating he wasn’t aware of. She also “locked” him in a room with two VHS tapes with compilations of stop motion animation work by the Quay brothers. Former marine and then AAC student, Sean Wallace, brought him to a magazine stand to show him illustrations of C.F. Payne in Rolling Stone. Checking out the shows of avant-garde puppeteers Mark Fox and Anthony Luensman and experimenting with his own drew out of him the desire to push beyond the two dimensions of illustration and painting into a three dimensional universe with nearly infinite directions.
These experiences and more were opening up borders, allowing Chris to explore and travel without ever leaving Cincinnati. This spirit of exploration is something Chris sees as unique and profoundly helpful about his time at the AAC.
“That’s what the Art Academy afforded me. You could take stone carving, woodworking, etching, printing making and oil painting. You could be a communication design major but you could still go weld. I was hungry to see all that.”
He didn’t know how it would apply to what he wanted to do down the road but he was grateful for the exposure. AAC’s intentional cross-pollination was highlighted when he spent a semester at another well-known art school for an exchange program of sorts.
“I went there to study scientific illustration but I remember trying to use their photography department but you couldn’t go shoot your flat work because you weren’t a photography student. I remember trying to make frames but I couldn’t use the wood shop because I wasn’t an industrial design major.”
The farm boy from Indiana had been given a passport with no travel restrictions and he had no intention of giving that up.
In the years after graduating in 1996, Chris has added more stamps to that passport as he’s ventured into projects ranging from magazine covers, children’s books, short videos, and sculptures which coaxe you from the real into the surreal (visit www.rednosestudio.com). The AAC honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010.
Currently, Chris is busy making new memories with his family as he strives to stay open to all the ways they can inform his work and shape his heart. Combined with those from the farm and the AAC, these new memories are bound to birth creations which cling to those privileged to enjoy his work.
He’s still pushing. Still exploring. Trying and failing.
Always hunting for the next, bent nail.
Sarah Stolar found her creative voice; you can too
Bill Knief, For The Taos News Sep 16, 2016
Sarah Stolar, the newly appointed director of the UNM-Taos art department, has been a practicing artist and art teacher for a good part of her life. Her mother, Merlene Schain, a college professor, holds a master’s degree and owns an art school in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, Stolar started out wanting to be a concert violinist – that is, until the day she came face-to-face with her true calling.
“I was living with my mom in Cincinnati, and one day I was walking through the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati and I saw all of these amazing drawings on the walls and I had an epiphany,” Stolar said. “There was something about the energy of that building, and it kind of hit me all at once that I wanted to be there. I ended up getting my undergraduate degree in painting at the Art Academy and immediately went to grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painting major.” Stolar said that, about halfway through the program, she changed to a new medium — new media, installation, performance and sound art — all mostly considered to be “non-traditional” forms of fine art.
“I’m a traditional painter in some sense, as I work with the landscape and the figure, but I make installations,” she said. “I do video art, sound art — I was a costume designer for a very famous artist named Annis Sprinkle and her equally notable partner Beth Stevens. So you could say I’m interdisciplinary and art has consumed my life.”
The 30th Annual Minumental Exhibiti on & Sale will be held in the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Galleries on Final Friday, February 24, 2017. Original works of art no larger than 2″ x 2″ will be accepted, with up to five (5)individual pieces by one artist.
This exhibition will be open exclusively to Art Academy of Cincinnati alumni, faculty, staff, and students. Artists are required to label each piece with the artist’s name, title of the work, media and sales price. A $10 entry submission (per group of up to five pieces) will be required at the time of the submission. Student submissions are free of charge.
This Exhibition will benefit the Art Academy of Cincinnati Alumni Scholarship Fund, which grants merit scholarships to students currently attending the Art Academy. Donation of proceeds from the sale of artwork to the Alumni Scholarship Fund is encouraged, but not required. The $10 submission fee will be waived for all artwork being donated to this fund.
The drop dead, absolute deadline for submissions is 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1. There will be an initial public preview of the installed artwork on Wednesday, February 22 and Thursday, February 23. Sales will take place on the evening of the Exhibition Reception & Sale on the 24th only, including a live auction for select pieces from distinguished Alumni in the exhibition.
All sales will be finalized and checks mailed to the artists the week of March 13, 2017. All artwork (sold or unsold) must be picked-up at the Art Academy between March 13 – 17. For further details of Submissions Guidelines & Requirements, please go online to: contact Lynn Thompson by telephone at the Art Academy at 513.562.6290 .
My story starts in Toledo, Ohio where I was an ambitious, shy, young art student ready to tackle a life in the arts. At age 18 in 1990, I discovered the Art Academy nestled in Mt. Adams through a friend. I fell in love with the charm of the art buildings, the professors and the European-style neighborhood. I applied and was accepted.My time at the Art Academy opened my eyes in ways that still hold a lasting impression on me and my around the world, full circle journey.
Community was one. To this day, I treasure the friendships I formed in those first years of being on my own. My classmates brought me inspiration, laughter, tears, adventures and always guidence. The quality of the professors was another, from April Foster to Gary Gaffney, to Tony Bachelor, Jay Zumeta, Jay Bolotin, Kal Kowal and others, I was always in good hands as they pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
Under April Foster’s careful eye, printmaking was my area of focus. For the next three years, she guided us quietly yet boldly through the processes of rollers, inks, printing methods, baths of etching acids, the magic of lithography and gorgeous papers that felt like velvet. More importantly, she pushed us to make work that mattered to us as individuals and to make sure the quality of our work was always flawless and first-class.
As an introverted student, this personal and welcoming environment, helped me ease any fears in creating quality work. Work made with meaning and integrity, work that mattered to me, work formed with care and craftsmanship. The AAC experience gave me the confidence and the foundation to take on bigger parts of the world and bigger creative projects which brings me to today.
Quiet yet filled with wanderlust, I left the cozy AAC nest for NYC where I met my husband Moulay Essakalli, joined him in Boston, where we became parents. This led us to going further and jumping the ocean to Morocco where Moulay is from. “We’ll be back in 6 months!” we told everyone. Immersed in beauty, culture,amazing food, three languages, a second child, and our new business, before we knew it, fifteen awesome years flew by.
It’s here, in Marrakech, where we created our first company, Zid Zid Kids. A children’s lifestyle brand inspired by how kids play, we designed and manufactured toys, accessories, furnishings ( full story here ) with passion. Our products were found in 20 countries, received international awards and press, even recognition from President Obama in 2010 at the 1st Global Entrepreneurship Summit. We were proud to build inspiring products and spaces for kids.
But, as things go, it was time for a pivot once again. Even though we loved manufacturing, we became intrigued with the intersection of languages, design and how kids play. We were surrounded with three languages on a daily basis as a family and in the Moroccan culture, where I learned French and Arabic outside of any formal instruction. During teaching creative art classes for French families in Marrakech, parents asked, “please teach our children English during art class!”. With that, Moulay and I tried this crazy approach of blending art and languages through multiple classes and workshops in different countries (Morocco, Bahrain,UAE, Belgium) and it worked. Kids soaked it up, parents were thrilled.
It became learning a language through doing, learning through the arts, learning through creativity, learning through being present, not learning a language through flashcards, memorization or a digital app. This discovery gave us pause. We asked ourselves if this approach had any worth and if it could have a larger reach?
And with that, the new Zid Zid was born. We are an unusual tech company focused on empowering kids to discover world languages with their parents, all through creative play.
We built an alpha in Morocco which tested so well with parents, we were excited. At the same time, my father’s failing health pulled heavily on my Ohio heart-strings. We also then discovered dynamic Wendy Lea and The Brandery. We applied to The Brandery upon Wendy’s recommendation and held our breath, as they are one of the top 10 accelerators in the USA! We hoped, we wished, and were ready to make the leap over the ocean a second time, this time back to the Queen City, if they would have us.
In June, The Brandery welcomed us with open arms. We came ready to build something amazing, all over again.
OTR is not the same as it was in the 90’s when I lived on Main Street during my last year at AAC. The AAC solidly sits now in it’s new (to me!) home right outside my new OTR apartment window. One of my favorite professors Gary Gaffney, took the time to warmly welcome me back with an extensive tour paired with his bright, infectious smile. The amazing Joan Kaup brought us into her community with her contagious energy and willingness to help us feel settled. Beautiful architecture, delightful craft beers, vibrant #StartupCincy energy, Gomez, Union Hall, our Brandery mentors, old best friends, Washington Park has replaced fresh clementines at the market, swaying palm trees, cooing mourning doves, luxurious palaces, our Atelier, Friday couscous, dear friends, an intoxicating Medina, views of two oceans, the magnificent Atlas Mountains and the magic of the Sahara Desert.
Forever filled with wanderlust, I still know where the Heartland is. I am happy to be again in it’s warm embrace of community, drive, excellence in the arts and in always doing your best. Recent Zid Zid highlights include The Big Idea Award from the Cincinnati’s World Class Innovation Tech Summit, an event featuring over 40 of Cincinnati’s best and brightest Startup companies, 50+ vendor and exhibitor booths, with robust speaker/panels focused on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Zid Zid has two upcoming pilots with the YMCA and the CAC. Join us to continue the story!
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