Written by Communications Intern Jenna Tobbe
Stephanie Potter believes that everyone in life is on their own journey, winding down paths and traversing landscapes. Her journey started in Frankfort, her hometown.
Her mom still has a sculpture that Stephanie made when she was five years old. That was around the time she started developing an interest in art and drawing.
“I knew in high school that art was my thing,” she says. “Actually, I knew in middle school.”
Her degree from Murray State is a BFA in functional design, and her background was in furniture making. She also took advanced drawing classes in college. The two mediums combined when she had a show called Home Place with all the furniture she had made surrounded by backdrops she had made. After college, she returned to Frankfort and worked with a gallery in Louisville, Zephyr Gallery, for about ten years. Ultimately, though, she was drawn to Louisville because of its art scene. In 2004, she moved into Old Louisville.
A friend gave her a small printing press and this started her wondering what she could do with it. She ended up carving scenes into wood and making prints, which evolved into making themed calendar prints.
Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press, who had a Vandercook printing press, let Stephanie take over his studio at night so she could go in and print calendars all night. She would use his studio from about 6pm to 4am, go home to sleep for a few hours, go to her state job, and do it all over again. She tried to get all of the calendars printed within a week and a half or so because it was such grueling work.
“I had no social life,” she says. “If friends wanted to hang out with me, I made them come work in the studio with me.”
Her final calendar was called Curtain Call because “I knew it was my last one,” she said.
After the calendar phase ended, Stephanie found herself floundering for a couple months not knowing which direction to take her art next. Being a spiritual person, she said a prayer one night asking for guidance. She woke up later that night with an idea about what turned into her Notecards on Society series. These would be huge prints, made from linoleum block, 3 feet by 5 feet. This was a direct comparison to notecards, which are typically 3 inches by 5 inches. These pieces were meant to reflect society on the viewer, which Stephanie says is what artists are supposed to do.
One of the pieces showed a long line of people standing outside the unemployment insurance office, a scene that was inspired by the economic collapse of 2008. Stephanie was working in the unemployment office at that time and she described the scene she saw in the waiting room: heads bowed, an air of defeat, sadness, hopelessness. Another piece she completed shows a couple at dinner, enjoying an expensive bottle of wine, while a homeless man sleeps on a bench outside the restaurant. A third piece depicts a man and woman at an elevator, just doing the daily grind until they can go home.
Eventually, she left her state job to become a Catholic school art teacher. She left that job this year to pursue her dream of being a full-time studio artist. She’s currently working on a series in color that depicts members of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer.
“The idea is, what happens when you disperse all of them?” she says.
She has painted the jack-in-the-box, the pink elephant, and other broken-down toys, but she has given them new opportunities. The toys are placed next to railroad tracks and paths and roads that can take them somewhere they’ll be appreciated, and they can start their own lives.
“I come back to pathways and railroad tracks and roads in my work,” Stephanie says.
The concept is that, while we’re all on our own journeys, there’s nothing that keeps us from changing our paths if we’re unhappy with it. This is a point she has proven after two big career changes, from the state government to teaching and then to full-time artist. She was inspired to follow her dream after witnessing life-changing events happening to people close to her, and this made her realize that tomorrow is not a guarantee. She overcame the terror that accompanies a life change and seized her opportunity.
The future of Potter Art Studio will showcase the experience that Stephanie received while she was teaching as well as more work with color. Her past projects were in black and white but she hopes to combine printmaking with inkwashes and watercolors with her new work.
Stephanie has a show in October 2019 at The Little Loomhouse and maintains her website at www.potterartstudio.com. She is available for workshops for children and adults and also accepts commission requests.