Karen Davis: Describe how your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity? What were your influence and how do you think growing up in Somerset, NJ influenced you as an artist?
Valerie White: I grew up in Somerset New Jersey, then a very rural town in the northern part of New Jersey. We had chickens and ducks, Mom and Dad always had a big garden. It was their love and appreciation for the earth that will always be with me. They valued the opportunity to grow food and we always enjoyed fresh vegetables the entire year. The last series that I did, “Earthworks”, was all about my relationship with soil. The beauty of the root system held a particular fascination for me.
My early memories of trying to make art include attempting to create ceramic bowls from a natural clay deposit that was in the front of our house. I even tried to use our home oven as a kiln.
Sometimes I would gather weeds to fashion a kind of primitive weaving. Recently, I asked my Mother why I didn’t have dolls growing up. Her reply was that I was always drawing or making something and never asked for a doll.
KD: What are some of your memories growing up with art? When did the interest become an engaging one?
VW: My mother sewed Couture garments and practiced exceptional craftsmanship. That made a lasting impression. My early interest in Art was nurtured by some really good teachers. I took all of the courses that were offered in my small town. I received a scholastic gold key award in the 11th grade, that affirmation is all I needed to decide to study Art. I taught Art for 15 years in DC public schools. It was a rewarding experience.
Sun Goddess and Green Leaves, 2008 (c), Valerie C. White
KD: What led you to your choice of medium(s)? What/who were your influences in those mediums? How do they relate one to another, if so? What other mediums have you attempted?
VW: I studied many mediums before arriving at fabric. While at Howard University my second major was ceramics. In my sophomore year I changed that to Graphic Art and Printmaking. My work has some of the sensibilities of strong graphic art imagery. As far as influences in ceramics it was Winnie Owens and Martha Jackson. In Graphic Arts, Winston Kennedy.
I was blessed to study with some of the most important voices of the 20th century. My professors were on the cutting edge of developing and defining the new Black aesthetic to include: Lois Jones, Starmanda Bullock, Ed Love, Wadsworth Jarrel, and Jeff Donaldson.
KD: Describe your daily art making practices. Include how your approach to design.
VW: I try to work everyday. Recently, I hit a dry spot...seemed I could not focus or decide what I wanted to do next. However, I continued to work through it. I’m better now and on to some new work that I’m excited about. I like to begin by doing some research on my theme or subject followed by a small watercolor of the intended piece. That seems to work for me in that way I can work out any problems early in the planning, which doesn’t mean I don’t have any problems in the piece later but the extensive planning does cut down some design issues.
KD: Artistically speaking, what challenges did (do) you face and how did you (plan to) overcome them?
VW: While in my “dry spot” I spent time looking at work of artist that inspire me …Lois Jones, John Biggers and Wadsworth Jarrell. Sketching some really lose ideas and concepts for potential piece. Often I will just turn on the sewing machine and quilt...it frees me and once I get in the zone I might get motivated to see something else.
KD: Do you work in series? Or does each piece stand alone? Share your reasons for either approach.
VW: I really like to work in a series. It sort of directs my thinking and gives me a course of action to follow. I find that a series is an opportunity to explore a topic. Using a variety of techniques can offer new ways to present age old subjects.
Sarah and Bird, (c) by Valerie C. White
KD: Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.
VW: When my work, The Guardian, was selected to be on the cover of “Quilting African American Women’s History: Our Challenges, Creativity, and Champions” written by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi I was thrilled! The book is filled with many wonderful works. I felt proud to be in the book much less to be on the cover.
The exhibit that has meant the most to me was the Quilts for Obama show at the Historical Society in the District of Columbia. The exhibit was created to welcome President Obama and his family to Washington DC. The opening was the weekend prior to the inauguration and the city was alive with hope and pride….it was an electrifying experience and I will never forget it.
KD: Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created. What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?
VW: I’m just now understand how that part of making art works, I had to pay taxes last year on the work I sold. Finding a good accountant that understands how I need to operate has been most helpful,...my advice would be to find a professional.
KD: Which Artists and/or Art Movements hold the widest influence on your art?
VW: My favorites are John Biggers, Lois Jones, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Elizabeth Catlett. I seem to like what was done post Harlem Renaissance and find my self emerged in the African- American experience during that period that would also include the works of writers as well.
KD: You are a member of a critique group. Is this something you would recommend for other artists? Why? Or why not?
VW: I am a part of a very successful group of Quilt Artists that inspire me to challenge my self. We support each other in creating the best work that we have the potential to create .The emphasis is doing your personal best. I think a critique group is good provided the group allows you to create in your authentic voice. The critique group should not be a cookie cutter for making art and should exist to promote the very best work from each of the members. The group I belong to has only 5 members and we find that it works well for us, we meet once a month and on occasion will schedule a play day to explore new techniques.
KD: What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011?
VW: I am working on series that I am most excited about. I will be ready for show and tell soon. I will keep you posted.
Please take the time to view Valerie White's Art at her Gallery of Quilts.