Creating Quiet Spaces

Artists hope fairgoers will react to their work. But when they get to Rose Giacherio’s booth, a surprising number of young people respond to the artist. “Mrs. Giacherio!” they exclaim. “What are you doing here?”

Giacherio has lived in Ann Arbor for more than thirty years, and for most of that time, she was a teacher–she taught second through fifth grade at Eberwhite. But then, “I saw an ad for a metalsmithing class at the art association, and I love art … so I thought what the heck. I’ll try this out. And here I am.”

She took metalsmithing and jewelry classes at the art association (now the Ann Arbor Art Center) and master classes in Tucson and Pittsburgh. Now, she says, “I spend my days hammering, sawing, and drilling. It’s so different than the rest of my years.”

This will be her third year showing her jewelry at the art fair and her second at the South University show. Last year wasn’t much fun, she says, because she was right in front of a construction site on Church St. “The noise and dust did me in.”

She holds no grudge. “It was my first year at South U,” she says. “I’ll pay my dues.” This year she’ll have a better spot by the Brown Jug.

She moved to Ann Arbor in 1982 following her husband, Don, a U-M pathologist. Long before she became an artist herself, the art fair was one of her favorite things about the city. “I’d go to the art fair every day, all four days,” she remembers. “Sometimes by myself, sometimes with family and friends, and South U was always my favorite street.” Even though it’s not the same art fair now as it was then, she’s still happy to be on South U. It’s the space she loves, the place. And now she’s a part of it.

She says she gets the inspiration for many of her pieces in nature–on vacations, hiking through national parks. “A lot of what I do is based on what I see,” she says. “Waterfalls, trees, flowers”–all sawed out of metal. Most are one of a kind: “I tried to make multiples,” she says, “but it got boring.”

That’s why she’s always trying new things. Currently it’s water casting. “You melt your metal and then you drop it in water and see what shape it takes,” she says gleefully. “I experimented with the amount of water, the temperature of the water, how high I drop it from. I got so many beautiful shapes!”

She and Don live in the Dicken neighborhood and have two grown daughters. She often takes walks and uses her cell phone to photograph things that catch her eye–“a lot of times I’ll make necklaces and earrings according to what I see.”

She does other art fairs, but only in Michigan. She says those who buy her work are all ages: “I have teenagers who buy, and people my age, in their sixties, who buy the necklaces–and every [age] in between.”

In her art making, interestingly, she discovered what–besides her students–she loved most about teaching. “It was doing the room,” she says, meaning decorating it, creating a feeling in the classroom space, conducive to learning and feeling safe. “I used lamps; calming colors; no overhead lights. I had music playing. I had a waterfall one year.”

When she retired, she missed having her classroom to set up. “Now I have my booth!” she says.

Fallen fronds

Samuel Yao found his medium through his mother. Now eighty-nine, living in Florida, Joan Yao was an art teacher. Visiting her, he saw fallen palm tree fronds lying on the ground. “I was inspired by my mother’s love of nature and the beauty of the variety of Florida palm trees,” he says. Now, “every winter I go to Florida to get my material.”

He brings the fronds back to his home in Scio Twp. and freezes them until he’s ready to use them. Then he washes them, using soap to make them soft, and weaves them into baskets.

Yao was born in Taiwan but has lived in Ann Arbor for about thirty-five years. “I used to be a social worker,” he says. But once he started making baskets, people started buying and collecting them, “so I quit my job.” Now his full-time job is making baskets and selling them at art fairs.

Yao, sixty-four, exhibits at the State Street District fair because his neighbor, Kathy Krick, used to run it–her daughter and his son went to the same school. (His two sons are grown, and he and his wife have two grandchildren.)

He used to make functional baskets, but now his pieces are sculptural and higher in price. Each is one of a kind, and, as he makes clear, “you don’t use them.”

“A lot of people say my work feels very peaceful,” he says. And why not? The material comes from nature, and his baskets are quiet in color and rhythm and texture, a kind of soothing visual. “Nature is the best,” he says. “It makes you feel peaceful and calm.”

He’s been a fair artist for about thirty years and still loves it. “I like traveling. I like dealing with the people. But it depends on your work,” Yao says.

“If people love your work, it is rewarding. So you keep doing it, and people keep collecting it …”

Shedding light

Kate Tremel started doing art fairs in 1991, then stopped to do other things–like start an art center, go to graduate school, marry, and have kids. Now she’s doing them again, traveling to shows all over the country. But for sheer convenience, none beats the Original art fair around Ingalls Mall.

She mostly works these days with pierced porcelain. She adds lighting to many pieces, making what she calls vessel lamps. “They are vases that are translucent, and I wire them,” she explains. “I like utilitarian objects.” She says people often buy them as wedding presents or thank-you gifts. She also works with several local interior designers.

While studying Spanish and anthropology as an undergrad at Middlebury, Tremel took a ceramics class at a local art center; its teacher, Bob Green, became her first mentor. Then, during a year in Lima, Peru, she studied with master ceramist Jose Luis Yamunaque, whose work is rooted in pre-Columbian traditions.

She went to grad school in ceramics at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, did an artistic residency in Japan, and then moved to Georgia, where she started a clay studio in Athens called Good Dirt. That’s where she met her husband, Joshua Cole, who was teaching at the University of Georgia.

Then Cole got a job with U-M, and they moved to Ann Arbor. She sold Good Dirt and used the money to build a studio in their home near Miller and Seventh so she could be with her kids. She’s fifty-two now, and they’re almost out the door–her son Lucas graduated from high school in June and daughter Ruby will be a junior this fall. In addition to her studio work, she teaches at the U-M’s Stamps School of Art & Design, and this fall she’s covering for Susan Crowell at the Residential College during Crowell’s sabbatical.

The four days of the art fair, while hectic and expensive for out-of-towners, may be a respite for Tremel.

“It’s a hometown show and a chance to see people I already know and people I haven’t seen in a while,” she says–including, this year, her first mentor, Bob Green, who will also be showing at the Original fair this year. His booth will be near hers on Ingalls Mall by Burton Tower.

“It’s hard to wear so many hats,” Tremel admits. But she’s managed to do what few artists have, bridging the worlds of interior design, art fair, and academia. And her vessel lamps continue to shed light.

Self-taught etchings

Jesse Richard shows his work at the Guild of Artists & Artisans’ fair. Though he’s thirty-six and has lived in Ann Arbor for fourteen years, it’s only his third year doing art fairs.

His work, he says, is “traditional copper-plate etching.” What’s that? Well, it’s “creating a copper plate to print an image,” he says, “the same way they did it 500 years ago.” Aside from substituting safer alternatives for “the really bad chemicals,” he says, it’s essentially the method Rembrandt used.

He taught himself to do it. Raised in Ortonville, he ended up in Ann Arbor because “I had some friends going to school at Eastern and U-M and followed them. When it was time for them to move on, I stayed on.”

He tried being a products photographer and then a professional fine art photographer, but “it didn’t go.” He says, “I’m awful at working with people. It’s like I’m working with an inanimate object.” When prodded a little, he refines that statement. “I find I’m pretty good with people, just not in a photograph setting.”

He says printmaking is not one of the most popular art fair categories, so he gets into fairs pretty easily. In fact, the Guild approached him. After he did a Guild show in Royal Oak in 2016, “they asked if I was interested in being a member.”

His booth this year will be on Main St., in front of Shalimar. He says he’s been told that his “booth aesthetic is a little unique … It’s warm oak paneling with fabric runners that run vertically behind the pieces. I also hang work sparsely.”

“I like to treat it more like a gallery or more like a museum presentation,” he says. “Because to me one of the most exciting parts is exposing people to the medium, particularly young people, especially under forty-five years old.” And that’s good, because older than forty-five might need magnifying glasses to see his work. “I have a number of pieces one inch by one inch,” he says. “None of my work is very large. Eight-by-ten is the largest piece.”

Many of his pieces are landscapes or other rural themes: “a couple of fishermen, lake shores, quiet pieces.” He says his customers “tend to have a lot of connections with rural nature and landscape”–but also “tend to be more bookish.”

He likes it when people read into his work. “I want to create a jumping-off point,” he says. “I like the viewer to fill in gaps with their own memories.”

Given the small size, he admits, “hanging is a challenge, because people have to strain to look up or down.” So he frames his pieces the way stamp collectors do, “with a lot of negative space around the image.”

Why does he like to work so small? “I like to say it’s because the margins in textbooks weren’t big enough,” he jokes. In a follow-up email, he explains that he didn’t actually doodle in books or other shared materials–but “I definitely drew in the margins of all my notebooks, homework and handouts.” In small pieces, he adds, “each line becomes more important. When working one inch by one inch, one line might have to represent two objects.”

Richard isn’t making a living with his art yet. “I’m a full-time nanny,” he says. “I work with a family with two kids. The little girl will be one year old soon, and the older, he’s going to be five years old in November. I’ve been with them since the oldest was three months.”

He has no complaints. “I love this community,” he says. “I love seeing locals. I really enjoy being able to show a medium that isn’t as prevalent as oil painting or ceramic. I like feeling like I’m adding something to the art culture.”

Someplace between the edge and home. What better place to be?