Written by Matt Burton
“Let’s see your work!” I say with anticipation. Annie Machotka, of Manahawkin, is walking in the gallery with a box of her handcrafted glass and metal work. This is our first introduction. (As it turns out, we live in the same neighborhood of Ocean Acres.)
Annie carefully removes the bubble wrap from her work. I am able to hold and inspect it. I am looking carefully at the quality of the craftsmanship, and I’m impressed. Clean and well done. Annie is visibly nervous. She confesses she waited a while before calling me for an appointment. The fear of the unknown or worse—rejection—was most likely the reason for her hesitation.
As LBI Arts Council president, it is my job to help point artists in the right direction, and to give encouragement, advice, and maybe a dose of reality. I can help artists find the best place to show their work or reach the client base most likely to buy their art. The best gallery may not be the best market.
Many of our members have benefited from the close network of galleries, artists, and educators associated with the council. Sara Setzer, 33, of Manahawkin, is one such member, and has already traveled the path Annie is about to embark upon. Sara’s business, Sara Setzer Feltworks, originated several years ago when she began to teach herself how to felt, mainly working out of a spare bedroom in her home and selling to family and friends. It was November of 2014 when her business really started to take off.
Sara recently showed her felt works in the “Women in Fiber” show at Wildflowers Too in Barnegat Light. She currently teaches felting workshops at the LBIF in Loveladies. You can find Sara’s felt works at both SwellColors locations in Surf City and Viking Village in Barnegat Light. She was kind enough to take time away from her family and busy teaching schedule to answer some questions for this article. Sara’s story, which she shares in the following interview, illustrates the impact that Arts Council membership can have on artists who are beginning a career in the arts or are new to the area.
Matt: What is the most challenging aspect of being a professional artist?
Sara: Getting started, or knowing HOW to get started, at least for me. It’s hard to navigate the playing field and what opportunities are out there, when you just have no idea how any of it works. I felt kind of lost before I joined up with the Council. The Council has provided me with multiple opportunities that I would have otherwise have missed or would have taken me a long time to figure out on my own.
Matt: What is your process for making your art?
Sara: It depends on what kind of project I am working on or what I am inspired by at the moment. Right now I am into making my big fluffy collars. I find them very dramatic and like to play with volume and texture. So for the collars I go through all my raw fleeces and look for a type of wool that will give me the texture I want. I then have to separate each individual lock to make sure I am getting the best of the best. Then I arrange my locks with other fibers (merino/silks/yarn/fabric, etc.). Once the piece is assembled I like to dye it. It’s a bit of a challenge to dye a finished work, but I like to see what I can pull off.
Matt: What do you enjoy most about your art? Or what’s your favorite part of making your art?
Sara: I think just the process itself. I like experimenting and trying new things. I also like when I have a firm idea for what I want to do, then while I am doing it, the project takes me in an unexpected direction. I am usually most inspired while I am working on a piece—that’s when I get my best ideas for future projects.
Matt: What do you want buyers or collectors to take away from your work? Or what reaction do you hope to achieve from someone who buys your work?
Sara: I want people to feel special and fabulous. I’m not changing the world with my art, but I like when people pick something of mine and when they wear it they light up. Most people never saw felt work before so they are truly taken back by its uniqueness. I love when people pause walking into my booth and just look around in wonder. It makes my day when people start looking and touching my works and asking “Wait, what? How did you do this? I don’t understand what I am looking at!” I’ve learned to bring some materials and tools to events so I can better explain my process.
Matt: How has the LBI Arts Council made a difference in your career? Or how have you benefited from the Council?
Sara: It’s pretty much made my career so far. The guidance I have received and the opportunities I have been exposed to have been paramount in starting my career. Everyone has been so helpful answering questions I have or giving me tips on what art events to do, what ones to avoid, what stores I should talk to, etc. Everyone is just so nice and so willing to help a “‘newbie” like me get off the ground.
Sara’s experience demonstrates that the LBI Arts Council can be a critical launchpad for new artists wishing to get their work in front of the art-loving public, in venues that suit the unique aesthetic of the artist and his or her work.
Getting back to Annie. As our meeting comes to a close, I ask her if she would be interested in being a participating artist in next year’s Summer Art Opener, an annual art market and celebration at my gallery. With renewed energy, she leaves with an Arts Council membership form in hand and expresses confidence in her work and future opportunities. Perhaps Annie will be the next Sara.