What makes an artist? Pure talent; access to beautiful things; wonderful teachers-mentors; a plethora of tools and media; hours and hours of creative, free time; a well-organized and amply stocked workshop; or, is an artist fully formed when born – like Athena from the mind of Zeus?
In my opinion, every person is a born artist, expressing themselves through the lens of their preferences, tools and experiences. I really like to challenge people when they say, “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. I can’t draw a straight line.” Well, first, absolutely straight lines are not normal in nature; and second, an artist is a person who creates. Period. Mentors, media, tools, inspiration and time all help develop an artist’s skill, but seeing color, texture, line, and beauty is not limited to a painting. A child’s first Pillsbury biscuit “pizza” is truly a creation, perhaps not at the skill level of Julia Child, but, nonetheless, an effort at self expression.
When my son Del was in second grade at St. Pat’s, the teacher wanted the students to draw an image to illustrate a portion of a prayer. He drew a circle with a little face in it. When I asked him what this represented, he said it was from the Hail Mary, “… blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Wow! His vision was so funny to me and yet, so apt. It conveyed a picture of a concept. This ability is not something that happens when you turn 16, 35, or 80, but part of your genetic make-up.
When I was soliciting donations from my friends for my P.E.O. chapter fundraiser, (we raise money and promote loans, grants and scholarships for post-secondary education for women), my friend Rita gave me a nicely framed piece called Musical Memories – a mixed media collage on glass by local artist Nola V. Tresslar. I recognized her name and told Rita that I liked it. Rita told me to keep it because I enjoyed it. Now, the name was familiar, but I didn’t really know much about her – hence the interview.
Pierce County artist Nola Tresslar was born in Little Italy in the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma. As part of the complete Italian experience, she went to St. Rita’s Church, St. Leo’s elementary for awhile (she started school at age four and felt picked on by the nuns), moved on to Stanley, McCarver J.H. and graduated from Stadium H.S. - the Disney princess castle of Tacoma. Graduation took place just after she turned 17.
Nola was always a performer and an artist, from the first crayon she picked up and her first dramatic emotion. Her aspirations were reflected by her Art Education degree from the University of Puget Sound, where oils were her favorite medium.
The drive to be accepted as the equal in rank, responsibility and pay scale to her competency peers stood her in good stead. She went on to become the first female Pierce County property appraiser and the first female Washington State certified appraiser.
After moving with her family to Colorado, she was again an appraiser again but also branched out into designing gift items, just to get out of her left brain and back to color, texture, line and contrast. The products were manufactured in Taiwan and distributed through mail order catalogs.
Later, when working as the Director of Marketing, one of the eight staff members of the US West Education Foundation. She designed content for leadership training courses that were used in business settings and were adopted by school systems as aids to keep eighth and ninth grade kids in school. The course was aptly called “Choices” and consisted of an intensive two-day program and curriculum for six-months of follow up. It was designed to help make college an achievable goal for kids who may not ever thought that they could aspire to it. While working there, an old customer asked her to come speak about the program at a NEA conference in New York, all expenses paid. After this experience, Nola decided to expand to other fields.
She established a non-profit called “Baby Talk”, a literacy bonding experience based on concepts outlined by prominent child psychologist Dr. T. J. Brazelton, which presented touch-points to encourage parents to read, talk and sing to their children. These verbalizations physically expand and build new nerve pathways in the brain. Tacoma’s St. Joseph’s Hospital thought it could be a vital part of the new parent orientation and education, but at that time, health insurance companies were only allowing mothers and their new-borns to stay at the hospital a maximum of 12 to 24 hours. This was not enough time to inculcate parents with the concepts. The Health Department wanted to use the curriculum in alternative high schools but ultimately the non-profit began to have financial difficulties.The ample funds accumulated at the beginning of the project didn’t last more than three years.
Nola’s next foray into employment was as the director of fund development for the Child Abuse Prevention agency in Pierce County.
A few years later, after she remarried and retired, Nola decided to focus on her artistic goals: experimenting, evaluating and generating adaptations into the next generation of her art.
Noted local Sumi artist Fumiko Kimura was a psychological as well as artistic mentor to Nola. She began to enjoy the meditative grinding of sumi stick ink and the flow of the black on paper. She loved the seemingly simple but more difficult art of seeing various tonalities and flying white of the black ink. Long and short lines, long, short and medium dots were the means of her creation. One of her first teachers told students that they must use “good” paper for their practices. Strokes on poor quality paper will not have the liveliness of ink on paper made for the media.
When Nola first used acrylic paints, she watered it down to emulate sumi techniques. With the availability of metallic elements to float on the papers, she started staining, washing and coating various papers to use in collage. Classes with Patsy Suhr O’Connell helped to develop her staining techniques and Nola began recycling parts and whole pieces of unrealized pieces into new creations. These visions through layers opened new artistic doors for her.
Layering different papers and combining the sensibilities and techniques learned through her years of artistic pursuits, she took her lessons into new pieces. Nola began using copper, crushed papers, recycled CDs, and glass to build up as many as 50 layers. Reverse painting on glass opened her eyes as well. The technique, traditionally used by Czech and Asian artists, began her next step.
Now she works by commission, having recently gone to Hawaii to hang a series of pieces for a new home. Working with home owners and business people to design art for a specific setting has taught her a few important lessons. Nola designs the concept with the input of the clients and site specifics, but she constructs the pieces alone in her workshop. If the clients are involved in the actual construction, it interrupts her flow and attenuates her vision. The artist is the one with the vision and needs to be free to experiment. As Nola said, she can’t create to match the couch upholstery.
With fellow artist Gain James, Nola is currently exhibiting at the Puyallup Art Center on the edge of Pioneer Park. The show is up for three months through the holidays. Come out and see her work. It’s also an artistic endeavor to appreciate others’ work. Come stretch your artistic muscles.
Visit her website at www.nobullart.com.