Today, I am honored to introduce Nancy Aten. She is a landscape architect, an artist, and an alumna of the College of Environment & Design at the University of Georgia. She was kind enough to share a little bit of information about herself, her lifestyle, and how she incorporates my artwork into her environment.
I was impressed by Nancy the very first time I met her. She arrived early at the library where I worked at the College of Environment & Design, University of Georgia, asking to see the faculty publications file of articles and books by professors in our college. She was the first potential graduate student that I had seen - in 15 years! - to do research on the professors of our department before classes began. I knew right then that she was serious about her work and focused on her goals.
Once classes began, Nancy continued to impress. She was a mover and a shaker! If something worked for her, she embraced it fully, and if it wasn’t - if she didn’t feel challenged enough - she would politely but effectively communicate with her fellow students, with the director, and with the Dean to see if any changes could be made. She clearly had results in mind - and she got them! Nancy now has her own business, Landscapes of Place, LLC, which focuses on landscape restoration planning and design. She is a printmaker, too - Check out her photography and prints and words on the Landscapes of Place Blog.
Nancy has been a Shoemaker collector from the very beginning! She was there for my first gallery solo exhibit, ethereal spaces. I have been greatly appreciative of her support throughout the years, and I loved having the opportunity to ask her a few questions about what aspects of my art attracted her attention, and what my works mean to her now. Enjoy!
Nancy - tell us a little about you - what your background is, what you are passionate about, and what you are doing these days.
- It’s hard for me to discuss broadly, so let me tell you what my life looks like right now. At the moment, I am sipping coffee from our local roasting company - it’s made with a bit of cocoa from Ghana. Yesterday evening in the warm spring weather I spent a few hours in my wild garden, weeding a bit, transplanting a bit, photographing a bit. During the afternoon I worked pro bono on a visual map for a small nonprofit that is trying to save a monarch migratory habitat here in town - it’s one of the last natural vistas. I know that I could help with visually communicating what’s needed, and was happy to get involved. I sometimes find it hard to reconcile the current me with the Silicon Valley me of my twenties and thirties. It’s easier to relate to the ten-year-old me running around the wild yard where I grew up - climbing trees and hosting impromptu outdoor tea parties for my mother made from bark, pebbles, and leaves.
Tell me about your lifestyle. Are you an indoor or outdoor person?
- I love softly rainy gray days, when I love to sit on the stoop just under the roof and sip coffee or beer, depending on when. So, that is both indoors and outdoors! Others have said that the kind of outdoors you experienced as a child sticks with you… if you grew up in forested mountains, you still like that; if you grew up on open plains, you like that. For me, it is the woods. I had to work a bit to acquire a love for prairies! I am always happiest and never grumpy in the field, and, these days, have come to love being in swamps and wetlands with hip waders on, working physically on habitat restoration. I could also spend days on end inside musty library archives or in museums. Or curled up reading. When I was young, the library limited you to checking out ten books every two weeks (imagine that, too many people checking out books), and I used to get impatient once I’d finished my allotment.
What is it that first attracted you to my artwork?
- That it is all about places, and love for places. I could not stop wandering around your Ethereal Spaces, hung in a warmly textured and aged second floor gallery, to be this beautiful story you told about your home in the woods. I didn’t want to leave. I kept moving through it. And now that memory is tightly intertwined with ones of you making lunch for me at that lovely table at your home, tempeh sandwiches and mocha, and conversations with your family.
What is it about each piece that you bought that spoke to you?
- The color selection… I learned to honor and refine my love of gray from you, and this came hand-in-hand with understanding the beauty of pure clarity of color at the right moment. The unexpected perspective of a place that reminds me to see complexity. The pleasure of the graphic.
What is your favorite use for my artwork?
- I like hanging the large pieces (in front of a window; from the ceiling cove against the limestone of the wall next to the fireplace). I like seeing the two from Ethereal Spaces hanging together. I love wearing your art, and do so frequently… over a suit jacket, on my shoulders, the smaller ones around my head.
What is your own personal art or craft? Tell us about that, and where your inspiration comes from?
- Planting, thinking of patterns. Watercolor sketches in the field (learned from Darrel Morrison and Sarah Pattison - both in Athens, Ga.). Monotype printmaking, which is an infrequent opportunity due to needing to borrow a press… which makes it also feel like a rare gift. I like watercolors because of the magic of colloidal suspension (as Sarah showed me), and I like monotypes because of the magic of lifting the print each time. It is the physical processes of working in each of these that bring the pleasure.
Tell us about your hometown.
- Milwaukee is at the intersection of the tension zone, the south and the north, the forests and the plains, the balance of rainfall and evapotranspiration, the subcontinental divide between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, the middle of the old frontier. A place whose memorable people include a founding scientist and botanist, a socialist mayor, a progressive historian, and whose human history is as complicated and unsatisfying as anywhere. It is graduating young architects and urban planners, some of who said to me last week that they want to figure out how to protect the lovely quirks that we have in the city, and allow them to still happen, as they work.
Tell us about your blog - what inspired you to begin writing a blog?
- This is funny, because I just heard an interview on the radio at Fresh Air with author Gary Shteyngart, where he talked about living in a culture of self-expression… where nobody wants to read, but everybody wants to be a writer, whether it’s publishing, a blog, social media, whatever. (I missed part of of this, but at one point it seemed he was talking about a publisher who requires that anyone who submits a manuscript for review must also submit a receipt for a book that they purchased recently, to help prove they’ve actually read something - a great idea!). The blog is self-indulgent, and I don’t need anyone to read it, but it satisfies me to record thoughts I want to remember, to help keep making me into the person I want to be. However, I love reading a few other people’s blogs… there are gifted storytellers who enrich my life that I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to know.
What are your plans for the future?
- Having friends over for an impromptu al fresco supper very soon… the ferns are unfurling. Working where I’m wanted and can help. Making unsolicited design proposals!
Nancy M. Aten, ASLA
Landscapes of Place, LLC