INTERVIEW: Linda Welles

Linda Welles is a funny, multi-talented woman with a long list of friends, a happy marriage, and beautiful home perched along a series of waterfalls. I knew her reputation as a killer cook, and for the artful renovation of a historic colonial house, that can be considered a paradise on earth. We spent an afternoon walking the land, talking about art, life, food, people, our dogs, loves, and need to be always creating. And of course, we laughed a lot, because that’s what you do with Linda. She feeds you food, drink, thoughts to live by and always with a sense of the dark and light side of life’s funny bone. Here she is to tell her story.

How would you describe yourself as an artist? Has it changed over time and where are you now in your creative process?
This was a question I had to think a lot about because I’ve never used that term when I think of myself and whatever I’m creating. The word artist is so subjective, elusive even and society has a precise definition. I’m more of a creative dabbler if that makes sense. For me, it’s more about observing, stopping to listen, to feel, to problem solve. It’s taking what’s inside my head and putting out in the open. It’s an expression of myself and a form of meditation and therapy. I can lose myself for hours in a project. I’m not thinking of the minutiae, but concentrating on what is and what isn’t; how and what I perceive and how best to communicate that perception.

There’s problem-solving involved which I love. Figuring out how to shape and make something coherent out of perception. Again, this process for me is therapeutic and slow. It takes a certain amount of courage to put ideas into a tangible form, but it’s exhilarating when it works!

Beauty, in the eye of the beholder, can evoke a positive (or sometimes negative) response. I embrace all that is beautiful and so try to surround myself with it whenever I can.

How many different modalities of art have you done?
Different modalities of art that I’ve experienced include the following:
Oil painting– as a young teen, my mother and I would attend art classes together. It was a beautiful and rewarding experience. I learned a lot, and it deepened my passion for art.
Pen and ink– in high school this was my medium of choice. I loved the intensity of it. Unfortunately, I have very few examples from that time. I gave them away to friends and lovers.
Acrylic painting– I minored in art in college (thinking that I’d go on to become an art therapist) and for several of the classes, the medium required was acrylic paint.
Weaving– Fabric and basketry-I love clothes and fabric and texture and design. So I played around on a simple loom with my special education students and was intrigued. I’ve taken several weaving courses over the years and even have an eight harness LeClerc loom. Those weaving classes lead me to basketry classes offered privately by a woman in Washington, N.J. We both loved it so much that we started a small business called the Basket Tree. It lasted for several years.
Jewelry– I took several jewelry classes in college, and at an early point in my marriage, Chris got interested in it, and we would make and sell jewelry.
Papercrafts– paper is a fantastic medium, consider the work of Henri Matisse. I’ve engaged in making paper, creating collage pieces, folding intricate origami and making prints on paper and fabric.
Knitting, crochet, and embroidery are all handcrafts that I’ve learned over the years from my mother, grandmothers, great aunts, and friends.
Watercolor painting– This medium is my newest and favorite love. I’ve been at it for about three years and still know I have so much to learn. Three years ago I took a watercolor class, and it was what I needed to reduce stress in my life. I can lose myself for hours when painting. Regarding a medium that’s portable, requires little space and clean up, and is diverse, it’s perfect.

Did you grow up in an artistic family?
Yes! My mother had an excellent eye for art and was in her own right a good artist and craftsperson. She produced some lovely oil paintings which I still have. Her hands were always busy. She was a fabulous knitter and seamstress, creating clothes and blankets and other household items. In later years, she knitted for charity, making many blankets and baby hats for children who were ill. She was the ultimate volunteer. While working at the Hamilton House in Clifton, N.J., she discovered rug hooking and was “hooked.” She produced many beautiful rugs that grace our home today. In addition to her many craft pursuits, she loved to cook and elevated that to an art. My Hungarian and Italian grandmothers were also excellent cooks and to watch them in their kitchens was like observing a ballet.

My father was a Rube Goldberg artist. He was the guy who could create something from nothing, an analytical tinkerer. He always invited me to his workshop and patiently explained his thoughts and methods. I learned a lot from him. My brother is a master carpenter and has been making his living that way since he was in his 20’s.

In addition to my family, I grew up in an ethnically diverse and culturally rich Hungarian environment. The smells of various ethnic cuisines wafted from individual houses as I walked down the block. People planted small garden plots in their backyards and tended ripe red tomatoes and juicy figs. Things were often done the “old-fashioned” way, from scratch. Neighbors invited you in and shared stories, laughter, and food. Being in such environments, surrounded by other cultures, helps to make one see things in a broader more global sense. It piques curiosity and creates questions.
I lived, by bus, 15 minutes from NYC. While I was in high school, at least once a week, I’d hop on that bus and journey into the city to go to the Village, a museum or a dance performance. All of these experiences added to the formation of who I am today.

Your creativity seems to include painting, gardening, cooking, renovating old houses, interior design and fashion. What are your thoughts on these?
Living in an environment that is pleasing is good for the soul. I have a diverse number of interests including, but limited to, art, cooking, antiques, renovation, crafts, indoor and outside gardening. Whenever I’m starting a new project, there’s always a certain amount of research to be done. As it progresses, all of my knowledge of color, creativity, design, and artistry comes into play whether I’m cooking a meal, arranging a bouquet of flowers or rearranging the living room. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort, and other times its innate knowledge. In other words, what you see surrounding me is an extension of who I am.

How do you share your artwork with others?
Lately, I share my art with others mostly by giving it away. When I had a basket weaving business with a colleague, we offered them for sale, but I find it most satisfying and rewarding to create something for someone because I’m inspired to do it. For example, every Valentines Day I make a special card for my husband, Chris. Over the years, I’ve created cards using a variety of techniques. In the past several years, though, I’ve started to paint miniature watercolors for the cards. Creating something with a particular person in mind is what brings me the most satisfaction.

What intrigues you the most about the creative process?
What intrigues me most about the creative process is getting there! I mentioned before that there’s a lot of organization that goes on in my head before I get going on something. I need, in my mind, to feel ready, to feel committed and prepared. Sometimes that’s a slow process. Also a bit of pressure, whether it be from the outside or internal helps to get the juices flowing.

Of course the best part of the creative process, for me, is the end product; even if it’s not what I originally envisioned. And if it’s not, I like to analyze what went wrong and how to make it better next time. The other aspect of the creative process that intrigues me is how expansive it can be, the way that one facet of, say cooking, can lead to another. The possibilities are endless. The learning experience is boundless and will continue throughout my lifetime.

Looking back would you have lived your life differently?
An interesting question and initially I’d say yes, then suddenly change it to an emphatic NO! I think, looking back over one’s life, we all have regrets….” woulda, shoulda, coulda.” But if you live your life with regret, can you ever grow? We all imagine different scenarios if we had done this or that, but if I had done things differently, would I be where I am today?…….. With the knowledge I have today? Knowing and loving the people, animals, places, and plants that are in my world today?

“Be here now” is a mantra that I often repeat.”

So I forge ahead with gratitude for what I have here and now. I am truly blessed in many, many ways. I have been afforded many opportunities in my professional and personal life that have changed me and hopefully, others too. I am no Pollyanna with a Cinderella ending. There’s still lots of work to be done, and as long as I stay open to new experiences, people, information, I can continue to live a fulfilled and satisfying life.

What would you say today to your younger self?
To my younger self, I’d say a lot of things, but most importantly I’d ask her to remember that timing is everything. I’d tell her to be more careful with herself and trust her deep intuitions. And finally to live her life fully with no regrets.

What would you say to young artists coming up in the world?
To young artists coming up in the world- start now! Diversify. Immerse yourself in your art. Seek out every opportunity available, put yourself out there. Find a mentor and suck up every bit of knowledge they can give you. Network. No task is too menial. Think outside the box. Try it and if it doesn’t work, keep trying. Be open. Be free. Work hard. Accept criticism. Be thoughtful. Smile a lot.