As if dealing with sexism in the arts isn’t enough, older women face another ism that gets little attention, ageism. Older women artists continue to be overlooked, ignored or presumed past their prime or ability. Our objective is to bust the stereotypes and showcase the art life of women over 50, women whose passion and exploration in the arts is as vibrant and as exciting as ever.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fun with Ann Bain in Her Scriptorium

Ann says “I love” a lot.  As in “I love writing” “I love to teach kids”  She says things like “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Teachers” to describe calligraphy teachers who came to teach classes to her Calligraphy Guild.  Ann has an infectious enthusiasm for life and a depth of spirit that is a delight to be around.
She's a leap year baby who just turned 21 last year.  She smiles when she says that and tells us that she had her first drink.  Hint:For the rest of us that makes her 85.  Ann was an only child, growing up in Pittsburgh, with supportive parents who took her to concerts, ballets and art galleries. She has a picture of herself at 4 making art.  She grew up taking art classes and went on to major in art at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. (FYI: My mom went there too, loved that beautiful, little college and ended up making her dream come true by becoming the first woman editor of our town paper in Park Ridge, Illinois. While she was still going to college she met my dad.  It was during WWII when there was a shortage of men teachers. She was dragooned to teach a class to high school students who were only a year or two younger than her. He put itch powder on her to get her attention!  But boy could he dance and make her laugh.)
Whoops sorry, back to our fab day interviewing Ann-

We asked Ann why she does art? She replied “I don't do art for any reason, I just do it, like I drink tea, I do art, it's just who I am.  It's like breathing or eating-It's just the way you live your life.”

Ann is a Calligrapher, but she “has tasted drawing, oil painting, water color, linoleum
carving, sculpting, printmaking, paper decorating, needle arts, graphic design, puppetry (both constructing and performing,) and written prose and poetry.  Since the 1980's, she's put it all under the heading of “Letter Arts.”  In 1981 or 2,  Ann helped start the Dayton “Guild of theGolden Quill.” Many “Traveling Teachers, came and taught at the guild. “That was really my education in calligraphy. If you are really serious about Calligraphy you have to practice.”  And all those workshops provided much fuel for Ann's love of writing.
calligraphy pens and brushes

When asked if she had studio hours Ann said, “Only those in which I am awake.” Ann says she loves being older it gives her more free time to do art.  And when asked what she has learned from being an older artist?  She replied “That there is still more to learn!” 

“Calligraphers are into words and books. “ And boy does Ann likes words, I mean she REALLY likes words, both as visual art and as meaning.  For Ann can “get wound up in meaning.”   And then there is reading. A lot
 of her ideas for her art come from literature, Ann smiles and says“I have a wide ranging mind.” Corrine and I had the pleasure to see some of  the places that her mind ranges.  She showed us a very large, very beautiful book that she had made about Leonard Bernstein's “Mass.”  Her book followed the play, it is like being at the theater and seeing the piece.  The curtains slowly open, the scenes play out on each page, with color and words and paper art, envelopes and letters, even a paper celebrant that you can remove from the book. It came through her. She made it in an intense 3 weeks.

Ann makes a lot of books.  She also showed us her Hand Book, a book literally made of hands, which when stood up and stretched out accordion style has little books tucked inside each bend.
Ann was commissioned by the Marian Library, to do all the words of Mary.   It's now a traveling exhibit called “Our Lady Calligraphed.” Ann felt that “It came through me. I didn't generate it, I just executed it.”

Which led us to ask “Is there a spiritual element to your work?” Ann said matter of factly, “The older you get, the more spiritual you get, if you are on the right path.” When asked if she had a favorite inspirational book- she quipped “A?”  Her beloved quote file is written on little scraps of paper and put in a drawer.  So
 every time she wants to find a quote for something she must go through them all. As she reads, it gives her time to muse and let new thoughts come together.
Then Ann surprised me by tagging on “I learned a lot of inner stuff from Tai Chi.”

I asked a question that I was pretty sure I knew how Ann would answer. “What do you think is the importance of kids learning to hand write?” “It's really dangerous for us to lose it. Dangerous for the world.  There is a connection between your hand and your brain that doesn't happen while you are typing or high lighting. It helps you to work out in your own brain what to say.  Writing is important, it's also a lot of fun.” Ann loves writing and has taught a lot of kids to write. She loves to teach kids and comes from a family of teachers. “Around 3rd grade kids are are struggling with ideas. All you need to do is teach the letters. They don't have to write a certain way.  They'll form their own handwriting, legibility, understanding and thought.  Kids will do that at the right time.” Ann makes the physical act of handwriting fun. She gives the kids ink, not markers.  She cuts holes in sponges to set the ink bottles in so there wont be too many oops moments.  Then she tells the kids funny stories about the monks in a scriptorium. One of these is about how the monks would write book curses in the last pages of their exquisite hand drawn books. If the purchaser or borrower damaged the book or failed to return it the monks had particularly diabolical curses to rain down on them.

Ann has thoroughly enjoyed being part of 2 different art co ops. In the first experience,  for 7 years, 7 women artists in Tipp City,  ran a gallery called “Conversation Pieces.” The night before we interviewed her, Ann had been to a reunion with those women. She radiated pleasure from their time together.  “Our association will never end.” she said.
It was a delight to hear about some of their adventures together.  One time for a photo op they all dressed in white painters smocks and stood in a room covered in white sheets as two invited guests flung brightly colored paint at them.  They were being Pollocked.  And another time they made an artists cook book together that included many group pictures of them doing other arty spoofs.
Ann's second co op experience is still going on.  She is a member of the Village Artisans in Yellow Springs.  It's a great place to go see for yourself  Ann's wise and witty and grace filled Letter Arts.    

One of our final questions for Ann was “what advice would you give young artists?” “Oh boy!” she crowed. “ First, really work hard at achieving skills. Don't assume because you like to draw, that you really can. Go to museums and study original art, up close and personal. Forget prints! Take classes-formal or informal; do the work. Talk with practicing professional artists. You may naturally have many superb ideas, but until your skills can match those ideas, you're not there yet.  Don't give up.  It's worth it.” 

You can tell, Ann admires pure skill and the practice that leads to it.

Lastly, we asked Ann if making art was still fun.  Which was probably a completely foolish question to ask Ann.  It shines through in her enthusiastic voice and in her excited eyes, in the every growing, plethora of varied art that fills her studio and floods the Village Artisans and finds it's loving way into other people's homes.

Is it still fun Ann? “YES, ALWAYS”

Interview by Nancy Mellon
Photography by Corrine Bayraktaroglu