Feature Stories

Artlink honors top local artists

By Connie Haas Zuber
Bottle with tree design, Richard Tuck
“Life weaving,” Diana Fair
“Intersection,” Michael W. Poorman
“Ball Jars,” Deb Kern
“Earth Dweller,” Greg and B.J. Jordan
Wycamp Lake, MI, Lisa Ransom Smith
“Flights of Friendship,” George Morrison (below the Wright flyer reproduction at Fort Wayne International Airport)
“Carpe Diem,” Stephen Perfect
From “The Legend of the Persian Carpet,” Claire Ewart
Aew pantheon of Fort Wayne area emerging and mid-career artists joins the stellar group of Artlink Visual Arts Awards winners, and Fort Wayne Monthly is proud to take this opportunity to announce them and provide a glimpse of their work and thinking.

Much more than a glimpse will be available to all later this month when Artlink, in the Auer Center for Arts and Culture at 300 E. Main St., presents an exhibition of their work. The opening celebratory reception will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Jan. 25, and the exhibit will be up through Feb. 27. For more information, visit www.artlinkfw.com.

We’ll also enjoy their work every time we go past Artlink’s spacious windows this year, because one of the perks of being an AVA Award winner is an invitation to hang your work in the Main Street windows for a whole year.

The AVA Award program is a perfect example of what Artlink, a non-profit gallery/educational center can bring to a community. When it was first incorporated in 1978, artist-run spaces were rare, yet the idea and the people who ran the organization have not just kept the doors open but expanded and solidified the mission since then. Artlink became a funded member of Arts United in 1991. The 2011 move to the Auer Center in Arts United’s East Main Street arts campus gave Artlink greater visibility and more exhibit and shop space than ever before plus two studio/classrooms.

Fort Wayne has come to count on Artlink, as its mission states, “to showcase work of the highest quality by emerging and mid-career artists and provide educational programs for the community.”

Here are the artists whose “work of the highest quality” is honored this year by the committee of visual arts professionals who reviewed all nominations.

Tuck, a Virginia native who studied at the Fort Wayne Art Institute under Clyde Burt and Hector Garcia, follows AVA Award Ceramics winners Steve Vachon (2010) and George Morrison (2011).

His website, www.rtuck.com, explains:

“Tuck’s work is not a reflection of current trends or angst found today in most art publications. Rather it comes from a spiritual source from within that strives to give the viewer an experience of timeless beauty. Tuck feels a work must persist as an object of contemplation. He does not depict events, but tries to reawaken perception; to restore the magic, to create works that mediate between human being, nature, and the cosmos. He believes art should reach back to its great humane values; to its meditations on the human spirit, and integrate them with the global culture.

“Tuck draws from his imagination and the history of ceramics, sculpture and painting for the work he produces. He does not strive to be uninfluenced by the work of predecessors or contemporaries. Tuck’s work process is to constantly go back to a subject, alter the form and develop it further. A long time may elapse before ideas take form, and then they may occupy him for years.”

Fair, known as a plein air artist, works in graphite and colored pencil, mixed media, pastel, and oils. She follows AVA Award Drawing winners Justin Johnson (2010) and Chris Ganz (2011).

She said she considers not only her own creative direction but also what the viewer will see and think as she draws.

“When I begin a piece, I usually do not have an idea of how it will look. I make shapes and put down images that may seem to not be related. My challenge is to make them work together to describe my feelings of  Time ... Past, Present and Future, all in one. I believe that we are connected to one another and all creation in fascinating ways. Graphite and charcoal allow me to explore images, textures and planes on a flat surface, creating depth and contrasts, without color carrying all the meaning. I want the viewer of my work to stop and think about the technique I use and to perhaps feel what I was thinking about as the piece developed,” she said.

“I have been strengthening my drawing skills for quite a long time, but it has been only recently that I feel confident in my drawing techniques to show my graphite work in juried exhibitions. I am a ‘mid career’ artist, I guess. I find that term amusing since I have been drawing since I was three and have won awards since then. I was a teacher for 40 years, during which time I entered shows as a colored pencilist. Now I am interested in graphite drawing ... so maybe I am in ‘mid-career.’ Who knows what the next 20 years will bring!”

During a lifetime of drawing and painting, Michael Poorman has left and returned to his native city more than once, providing a sustained body of abstract mixed media work that is both instantly recognizable and continually changing. As an AVA Mixed Media Award winner, he follows Eric Tarr (2011). The category was not part of the 2010 awards.

In a 2009 profile in Fort Wayne Monthly, he talked about his painstaking process, his attention to detail and his preference to both emphasize and violate structure in his work. Color and line are his fascination, and he titles his pieces after caring not at all during the creation of them what they mean to anyone but him.

“I can’t anticipate what someone is going to see in a piece, and I can’t really worry about it,” he said. “People tend to want to find things in an abstract painting. I try to discourage that.

“I think people can overcome that and appreciate it for the shape and hue and texture and pattern.”

Deb Kern knows the brain science that describes how important the arts are to teach children to use all their right-brain skills and abilities, not just the reading-writing-arithmetic left-brain ones, and her best moments in the classroom are the ones when children are enjoying “how amazing it is to take something visceral — something that was inside your head — and be able to share it.” As an AVA Visual Arts Educator Award winner she follows Nicole Croy (2010) and Marcy A. Adams (2011).

“I try and model an artistic attitude in my classroom. Students are encouraged to take risks, try new things. One assignment challenges them to do something they have never done, then to write about that experience. For example sleep with their head at the opposite end of the bed. Suddenly they see their room from a fresh, new perspective. Life should be like that,” she said.

“Professionally, I consider myself a painter. I come from a commercial art background of the mid-seventies, the pre-Photoshop days, when product rendering needed to be photographic. I am currently striving to develop a new artistic style that is much freer and uses color as shape. I work fairly large in scale and with acrylic. My work is in private collections in Texas, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut, and in the south of France.”


Greg and B.J. Jordan truly collaborate on their fine art jewelry in silver and brass — plus other materials and techniques, as explained on their website www.JordanFineArtJewelry.com. As AVA Jewelry/Metal Work Award winners, they follow Lydia G. Fast (2010) and Paula N. Rice (2011).

“We have been producing art for sale via juried art fairs since 1982. Jewelry has been our medium for at least 20 years. We are smack in the middle of our career, but we are always excited about trying out different mediums and look forward to finding and developing new creative outlets,” B.J. said.

“Commitment to artistic integrity and craftsmanship have been the two things that guide us in our creative endeavors. The use of polymer clay as an accent and rivets as a means of cold connection are two of our newer techniques. Although we feel we are guided by some sort of ancient creative energy, we are always open to the viewer looking for their own meanings in our work and we encourage anyone who wears one of our pieces to find their own connection to it.”


Lisa Ransom Smith’s watercolors are well recognized around the city, though her chosen medium — pastels — makes her unusual as a painter. As an AVA Painting Award winner, she follows Maurice Papier (2010) and Jay Bastian (2011).

“I am thrilled to be nominated in a category that historically has not been considered as a painting medium. Historically, and even now, if you look at online galleries and shopping venues, pastel is listed under the category of drawing. I even had an artist ask me why I considered my works to be paintings when I was working, in her mind, with a drawing medium. I simply asked her if
my work felt like a drawing or a painting. She agreed that it felt like a painting. So this is very exciting for me to be nominated as an outstanding ‘painter’,” she said.

“Another thing I have learned is that many people don’t know what pastels are. When people ask me what I do, they almost always equate pastels with chalk. Pastels are sticks of pigment that are made with the minimum of binders. Pastels are made of the same pigments that other painting mediums are made from. Chalk is a dyed substance and doesn’t have the durability of pastels. I work in the same medium as Degas did.”

While willing to consider herself a mid-career artist, she also senses some new territory ahead as she considers what work she might exhibit this year at Artlink.

“I would like to do a new body of work,” she said. “I was planning to move in a slightly different direction anyway. I had three exhibits this year and felt that I was ready to explore something else. I am planning to explore the use of symbolism. I also want to do more plein air painting, something that I did more frequently before having children.”


We enjoy a lot of George Morrison with this year’s AVA Awards. He is a 2011 winner for ceramics, and he created this year’s Awards. And he is honored again for his work in sculpture. As an AVA Sculpture Award winner, he follows Mary Klopfer (2010) and Sayaka Ganz (2011).

“If there is a consistent theme in what I’ve been doing, it is to try to express the characteristics of the materials I’m working with. Clay does fascinating things when you extrude, slice, mold or throw it. Metal has properties of tensile strength and the ability to be finely machined. Stone is massive, heavy and load-bearing. If you take advantage of the unique characteristics of materials, you are well on your way to something interesting,” he said.

“I’m sure this attitude derives from my training in architecture and is reminiscent of Louis Kahn’s notorious (and possibly mythical) statement ‘I asked the brick what it wanted to be.’ Apparently the brick told Louis it wanted to be an arch.

“But the need to do something ‘interesting’ and attractive is just one part of the goal. The next level, and probably more important, is to try to insert information or metaphors that aren’t immediately apparent to the viewer. There should be something that allows the viewer to have an ‘ah-ha’ moment when new information is discovered.

“This is not easy to accomplish and is risky since failure to achieve it can leave the viewer feeling cheated.”

Steve Perfect thinks of himself as “mid-career and a little beyond,” which is logical considering he had a 40-year retrospective exhibit in early 2012 at University of Saint Francis. As an AVA Photography Award winner, he follows Cara L. Wade (2010) and Tim Brumbeloe (2011).

His work ranges from abstract to landscape and still life, and his engagement with technique is central.

“I want photographs that evoke a response from the viewer to use their imagination and ask questions like ‘how did he do this’ and ‘is this really photography?’” he said. “In my quest to see ‘what happens if,’ I’m part of a process of discovery, learning and having fun, not necessarily in that order.”

The work we will enjoy at Artlink this year adds an additional element to his quest.

“The exhibited image is a narrative photograph,” he said. “It is fairly recent and has meaning to me, since much of my career has been devoted to craft through historic and non-silver processes.”


With six books she wrote and illustrated, Claire Ewart is in the middle of a tremendous career rooted in her earliest experiences of the transformative joy of combining narrative and art. As an AVA Graphic Art Award winner, she follows Alan Nauts (2010) and Jim Williams (2011).

“This year I have been thrilled to see four of my picture books — ‘One Cold Night,’ ‘The Giant,’ ‘Fossil’ and ‘Sister Yessa’s Story’ — released as interactive apps for the iPad and iPhone through my collaboration with the award-winning publisher Auryn, Inc.,” she said. “Talented local photographer John Gevers deserves great credit for photographing my original art for each book and creating digital files that were the building blocks used by the bright folks at Auryn to make my books come to life. I have also been flattered to have been asked to publish my first e-book ‘Sun Bringer’ with uTales.com as the publishers have christened their new site.

“In addition, I have just begun illustrating a new book, this one written with great delicacy by a skillful author friend Elsa Marston. The story takes place in a village in Lebanon. While I have not traveled to the location of the story, I have lived briefly in Egypt and have visited Morocco, so my experience in those places with Muslim culture, and village life, will inform my work on this touching story.”

Posted: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:46 pm
Last updated: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:45 pm