Leesa Haapapuro, Sculptor

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I recently revisited the studio of Leesa Haapapuro.  It is in the building that houses  K12 Gallery for Young People and  TEJAS (Teen Educational & Joint Adult Studio).  It must be the busiest and most colorful art space in Dayton.  I asked Leesa about the buffalo outside the building, and was disappointed to learn that she didn’t know why it is there.  “It just appeared one day.  I don’t know why.”

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Leesa did know the origin of another of the buildings features, because she was involved.  She sculpted the figures that flank this doorway.

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The first time I visited Leesa, she was working on a project for the Sideshow.  That’s a show run completely by local artists, with lots of live music and food.  Leesa’s project – called “Absence” – created a studio behind a screen of absent butterflies.  She invited participants into the studio to decorate butterflies and then to take milkweed seeds that would create food for the Monarch Butterfly.

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Visiting Leesa’s studio is fun because it has a myriad of sculptures left from previous projects.  Last year I caught this guy peering out at the street through Leesa’s butterfly art.

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Coming back this year, some of the items in the studio were familiar and some were new

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Leesa doesn’t have a large studio, but it is filled with light and she is surrounded by other artists, both students and experienced artists.  I asked her how this work space impacts her art.

” Sometimes the line between the teaching work I do for K12 and the work I do in my studio gets blurry.  To get back here, I need to walk through the classroom-studios and can get distracted by something that needs doing and never make it this far. Or I might plan to work on my own things after I get done teaching a class and end up “finishing up” for those hours. Curator Kay Koeniger once told me that artists need to protect their studio time, and I think she’s right. I do love the vibrancy of this place though, so it’s a balance”.

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What does your typical week look like – how much time is spent working in your studio?

“I run around from job to job snatching studio time when I can, being able to spend more than a few hours at a time making art seems  luxurious.

The K12 space is “centrally located” I can clean up and get to Jays where I wait tables part time after teaching a day class, or stop by for a little while after my Sinclair evening or Saturday classes.

I have a home studio, I like to wake up and have coffee there while I fiddle around, nothing too demanding-or messy-It’s a bare white space with beautiful light where I always intend to practice yoga. I recently set up a small loom there and have been weaving as a sort of “creative meditation”  it’s nice to have that private space since so much of my work is done here in an open studio environment or in group studios. As you know, I work with Zoot puppet Theater over at the Webster street studio. I think we will be starting on a new production soon.

I like working with clay at Sinclair, the sculpture studio has the best view, you should see (it’s room 13306)  It gives me a chance to interact with students as a fellow artist. That’s one of the reasons I love teaching college level. Students are usually interested in seeing what I’m working on”

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What are you working on today?

“Lately I’ve been doing this series of small portraits for a show at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire. I was the sculptor in residence there in 2008.

I’ve asked the park staff to send me reference photos of themselves and I’ve been making  a sort of frieze which I’m going to install in the gallery.”
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I asked Leesa how her work as a teacher affected her work as an artist.

“A lot of artists learn by doing, by making mistakes; I try to encourage experimentation, sometimes the mistakes can be really interesting.  I’m very frugal and hate to see anything go to waste, I sometimes end up using discarded materials, being inspired by their “mistakes. I’ve worked with K12/TEJAS on several public art projects; one for the Job Center used thousands of paper butterflies to unify the faces and hands of residents of St. Vincent’s homeless shelter. I hated throwing away those left-over paper butterfly cut-outs, so I used them to make that last project you photographed, Absence”.

When I finished taking photographs, Leesa walked me out.  Then she stopped to put away some work related to one of her student projects.

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