As John Hachmeister, this year’s Phoenix Award winner for Exceptional Artistic Achievement, said in so many words that successfully making art entails much more than just making art.
Nomination letters praised Hachmeister and his fellow winners not only for their artistic talent but also the ways they share it with the community. Inspiration, collaboration, community support, patience and help from volunteers is critical.
The annual Phoenix Awards recognize outstanding artistic achievement in the Lawrence community. The Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission will honor the five 2012 winners with a reception, which is free and open to the public, at 2 p.m. today at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.
Since the inception of the Phoenix Awards, more than 100 sculptors, photographers, dancers, musicians, vocalists, educators, writers, administrators and volunteers have been honored.
Meet this year’s honorees.
Lori Norwood’s sculptures writhe, run, leap, fold, dive, lean or simply contemplate. Perfect proportions or just the right tilt of the head bring figures to life whether they’re finished with muscles and faces or left skeletal and abstracted.
Norwood trained to become an artist and a world-class athlete at the same time. But until settling in Lawrence in 2007, the “Army brat,” traveling athlete and medical student’s wife was never an artist with a community she could call home.
“Having moved so much, I think that idea of community is very important to me,” Norwood, 48, says. “To be a part of a larger art community, it means the world to me.”
Fellow artists who nominated her say Norwood, who won this year’s Phoenix Award for Visual Arts, has “immersed” herself in the Lawrence arts community, opening the doors of her North Lawrence studio for collaborations with other artists, participating in Final Fridays and the Lawrence ArtWalk, and volunteering to provide art demonstrations for elementary students.
“Her hard work, community involvement and artistic discipline serves as a model for other aspiring artists,” writes painter Louis Copt. Copt adds that Norwood’s “The All Around Athlete,” created for and displayed at this summer’s Olympics in London, helped bring national and international attention to Lawrence.
The glass and steel sculpture represents the pentathlon — the event in which Norwood won a world championship in 1989. It combines running, swimming, riding, shooting and fencing.
She learned to ride and shoot, then began competing in running and other sports, as a teenager, around the same time she started working with clay. At the University of Texas, Norwood worked on her fine arts degree while competing for the school’s cross country and track teams. She kept her toe in art while competing on the U.S. national team in pentathlon and returned to it full time after she and her husband, Lawrence orthopedist Doug Stull, sent their children off to school.
Norwood says she’s fueled by being around other artists, talking about each other’s work and hearing their critiques. She’s looking toward incorporating more color into her work and trying larger-scale pieces, both endeavors that will benefit from collaboration.
“I just can’t tell you how that has made for a richer life than working in isolation,” she says.
Mary Ann Saunders
The show must go on — and there’s a lot more to it than the people on stage.
Perhaps no one at Theatre Lawrence knows what goes on behind the scenes more than Mary Ann Saunders, a longtime volunteer who’s done everything from pulling all-nighters to finish painting sets to sculpting elaborate 19th-century coifs out of actresses’ hair.
The energetic Saunders, 63, who won this year’s Phoenix Award for Volunteer in the Arts, estimates she spent between 1,000 and 1,500 hours a year, at her peak, volunteering for the theater.
The rush of being part of a production and, admittedly, a sliver of vanity from seeing her work in the spotlight, keeps her going.
“The show becomes a living thing, and unless you are a part of that, you don’t get it,” Saunders says. “Everybody has to keep that thing breathing, and to me it’s a true team sport.”
Saunders’ pre-Lawrence life includes performing with a USO show in Japan, Korea and the Philippines, plus a few years of modeling.
She got involved with community theater while living in Leavenworth and taught a few theater classes at University of St. Mary.
When her husband died in 1991, she and her children moved to Lawrence, where she completed a painting degree at Kansas University.
She got involved with Theatre Lawrence in 1994. Besides painting sets and styling hair and wigs, she’s done makeup, worked the box office, directed shows, ushered, acted, organized props, managed the bar and, fellow volunteer Amber Dickinson writes, provided a shoulder to cry on for anyone in the theater family who needed one.
Saunders also directs the Vintage Players, the theater’s senior troupe that visits elementary schools and nursing homes in the community.
“Their mission statement is, ‘We want to have fun,’” she says, explaining group members have no problem laughing at themselves or their silly material. “It’s nurturing.”
Actor Shawn Trimble, who nominated Saunders, calls her a master of detail, known to haunt the theater at all hours, on all days.
“Theatre Lawrence has a great reputation for quality productions, often despite restricted space and limited resources, and I believe a good deal of the credit goes to Mary Ann Saunders,” Trimble writes. “Without her dedication and her aggressive willingness to take on any task or challenge that is required, the rest of us would shine less brightly.”
For John Hachmeister, teaching isn’t about instant gratification. His biggest reward is seeing his students succeed after graduation.
And that requires a lot more than just being good at art, Hachmeister says.
“It’s not an isolated studio practice. That’s part of it, but the other part of it is you owe the community that you’re in.”
Hachmeister’s own artistic mastery and his work laying foundations to help other artists succeed combined to make him deserving of the Phoenix Award for Exceptional Artistic Achievement, nominators say.
“You don’t have to be around John long to realize that he has a deeply rooted call to serve,” writes friend and artist Grace Peterson.
Hachmeister, 62, a sculptor who lives in Oskaloosa, purchased and arranged for restoration of the Garden of Eden folk art site in Lucas.
He was on the board of directors of the Arts Incubator, which played a role in shaping the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Mo.
In Lawrence, he purchased 313 E. Eighth St. and converted the building into 313 Studios, where local artists can rent space to create and sell their work.
He helped organize the city’s first Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition and directs Kansas University’s annual Ministry of Sculpture iron pours for the public. Through KU, where he is an associate professor of art, Hachmeister’s research includes green foundry techniques, which he is working to imbed at other universities.
Peterson praises the “visceral” quality of Hachmeister’s work, which he has shown nationally and internationally.
“He is always exploring and absorbing new information from the behavior of his materials and the world around him,” she says. “He has the amazing ability to embrace fear of failure and trusts his innate creativity and skills to overcome it.”
Last week, Hachmeister was finishing a 6-foot, 500-pound cast iron figure for an upcoming show in Kansas City. The cross-armed, standing figure was not polished. Its surface was rough, with a straight-from-the-earth feel, and Hachmeister says it will probably stay that way.
He likes working with different materials, feeling their connection to the natural world — even when they are difficult to manipulate.
“Some materials teach you,” he says.
Wayne Propst is outside the Bourgeois Pig on an exceptionally gusty morning, drinking coffee, trying to keep his cigarette lit and describing the artwork he would reveal in his next performance.
The “Savior Cow” is fashioned from bones and strung up on a cross, he explains. The background might be a blown-up snapshot of gun-toting soldiers in Jayhawk T-shirts he tore out of the previous day’s newspaper, and maybe — “Yes!” — the cow will wear a yarmulke.
“Excuse me,” he says, wrestling a palm-sized blue note pad from his pocket. “I cannot forget this.”
Propst finds an empty page and carefully prints: COW YAMACA.
Propst, 66, figures people call him a lunatic, an outsider. But his descriptor of choice is provocateur — one who rocks the system, forces people face truths about conformity, consumerism and other concepts he finds to be social ills.
“I don’t like to make people feel uncomfortable, exactly,” he says. “It’s just that — are we all just supposed to pretend?”
Propst, who won this year’s Phoenix Award for Performance Art, cites his first memorable work as the 1969 Dada-inspired “Vegitable Concert,” during which he and collaborators broke and chewed vegetables into microphones while A.M. radios tuned to different stations crackled in the background.
Outside the Pig, Propst demonstrates his main line by leaning forward, cupping both hands over his mouth and growling, “What will everyone think when all those nuclear bombs go off?”
He’s since shot canons at toilets filled with human waste, amassed 5,000 shoes to display in a cage and engaged the public with his more recent “Painting Machines.”
“Some may view Wayne not as a serious artist, but a prankster, a jokester, a social satirist and/or social critic. He is, in fact, all of them,” writes artist Roger Shimomura in support of Propst’s nomination. “Every healthy art environment needs an alternative force to its mainstream and Lawrence is fortunate to have one of the best.”
In her nomination letter, Kate Dinneen says Propst’s cringe-worthy projects have sparked discussion about the state of the world, war, gun control and current regional politics.
“His art, which can be quirky, scary or offensive and at times gross, is invariably thought-provoking,” Dinneen says, adding, “It’s good to be pricked once in awhile.”
Propst finds fodder in the mundane, like the chrome-trimmed SUV gurgling down Ninth Street.
“Look at that Hummer,” he snorts. “Your vegetable concert was really stupid? Yeah, how stupid is it that there’s such a thing as a Hummer?”
Wrote the Village Voice in a 2004 review of David Ohle’s “The Age of Sinatra”: “Getting your head lopped off by Ohle’s fiction is a strange and unforgettable experience.”
“Sinatra” was Ohle’s second novel — published more than 30 years after his first, a cult-favorite titled “Motorman.” He’s since published additional novels in his language-focused, satirical style, which has been described as everything from steampunk to post-science fiction.
Roger Martin, who nominated Ohle for this year’s Phoenix Award for Literary Arts, says Ohle, 71, is remarkable for “creating a world populated by odd characters and ruled by dire conditions that are more humorous than menacing;” for “conjuring word pictures, through the use of novel diction and startling juxtapositions, that are tantalizingly unfamiliar” and for “persisting in his art for decades, with little reward.”
Since “Sinatra,” Ohle’s published titles include “The Pisstown Chaos” and two novellas, “Boons” and “The Camp” — in which he laced together snippets from a childhood-friend-turned-scientist who wrote about his life and travels in places like South Africa, New Guinea and Thailand. Ohle’s next novel, “The Old Reactor,” is scheduled for publication in 2013.
Ohle has taught freshman English and fiction writing and now teaches screenwriting at Kansas University.
As a teacher, Kyle Jarrard’s letter of support says, Ohle’s manner is reserved but infectious.
“He calls upon you to read everything in sight and then, when writing, to imagine a gallery of the greats seated behind you, commenting one and all on each sentence you produce,” says Jarrard, one of Ohle’s former students.
Ohle himself is not an efficient writer, but a meticulous one.
He might write a single sentence over and over until it feels right, he says, only then moving on to the next.
“It’s more exploring what language can do as opposed to how to appeal to a mass market — which, believe me, I’ve tried,” he says, lamenting that his style never seemed to make the money that best-selling mainstream authors enjoy.
Ohle would tell aspiring writers this: Make yourself extremely respectful of the English language. Know it inside and out before you commit it to the page. And also, don’t give up.