Born: Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
Adele Henderson is a Living Legacy Artist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Adele Henderson, a native of Nebraska, grew up in a family of painters. She received a BFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1977) and an MFA from Arizona State University (1982). She moved to Buffalo in 1987 to teach printmaking at the University at Buffalo Department of Visual Studies (previously the Department of Art). At UB she served as department chair from 1998-2004 and (as of 2013) is currently head of printmaking and director of graduate studies. Henderson is a board member of the Western New York Book Arts Center and a founding member of Clean Air Coalition of WNY.
Henderson grew up in the Cold War era, with the additional threat of tornados in her home state of Nebraska, and was constantly aware that either she or her family members could potentially die at any minute—an anxiety that influenced her subsequent art practice and activism. “I think at a very young age I became preoccupied with death—not in a negative way, but just sort of trying to figure out how to live my life, how to try to be more aware of each moment, and to be present in the moment. That’s kind of what my work is about; it’s very political in a lot of ways, although it’s not really overtly political. I try to make it beautiful and make it look seductive so that people want to look at it … A lot of my work is influenced by current events, even though a lot of it has a kind of pseudo-antique quality to it.” 
One example of the ways this theme has manifested itself in Henderson’s printmaking, particularly in the post-9/11 era is her series, “Perception of Risk” [2009-present], which the artist says “borrows from the science of Risk Perception by using an x-y axis to map out and visualize perceptions of risk to myself and to others, real and/or imagined. Each charting varies according to when it was made.”  In a similar vein, she notes, “The '72 hour to-go-pack' series consists of items one should have packed and ready to go in case of an attack, according to a government website on terrorism and disaster preparedness. I have modified the list and conflated it with a faux 17th Century script to give it an aura of authority and reverence.”
Henderson’s artwork has been exhibited in over 30 solo exhibitions in venues across the US including the Hewlett Gallery at Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh, Penn.), Anchor Graphics (Columbia College, Chicago), Colgate University (Hamilton, N.Y.), and the Print Center (Philadelphia), and in over 150 group exhibitions in countries including Australia, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, and Slovenia. Her prints and works on paper are in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; National Museum of American Art; New York Public Library; the Kennedy Museum of American Art, and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, among others. Henderson has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (Works on Paper); Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (Printmaking); Artists Projects: New York State Regional Initiative grant; and residency fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, Brandywine, Roswell Museum and Art Center, and Open Studio (Toronto). She was designated one of the Burchfield Penney’s first “Living Legacy” artists in 2012.
Henderson lives and works in Buffalo, N.Y., with her husband, photographer/educator/writer/curator Robert Hirsch, and their two dogs.
For more information on Adele Henderson, visit adelehenderson.com.
 Adele Henderson, audio interview with Heather Gring, Burchfield Penney Art Center, 07/26/2102. (See audio clip at right.)
 Adele Henderson, “Recent works,” artist’s statement on her website, http://www. Smithsonian: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=18420
Listen or read Adele Henderson’s interview with Heather Gring of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, conducted on July 26th, 2012. In their conversation, Henderson discusses the early influence on her of the artists in her family, the teachers she studied with, the impact of Cold War paranoia and its connection to the climate of fear in the "War on Terror," the challenges of her chosen field, and other subjects.
Transcription of the Living Legacy Project interview with Adele Henderson
July 26, 2012
Transcribed by Cassandra Chu
HG: Adele, what inspired you to go into a life in the arts or want to be an artist?
AH: I just always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I grew up In Lincoln, Nebraska. My mother was a painter, and she used to paint in our family room, and so from an early age I watched her struggle with it. She would make a painting, and then she’d paint it out, and then she’d go back in and make a bunch of changes and then she’d paint it out. It was this continual kind of…it was all about the process and about, you know…when she was happy with it, she’d stop. So that was a huge influence, and then my grandmother was also an artist. She went to school at Columbia in New York City, and then taught art at the University of Nebraska. And my great-grandmother was an artist, so I was exposed to it; even though I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, most of the art that I fell in love with were in coffee table books. Although we did have a good gallery in Lincoln called Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, which still has very good curatorial work, you know, we would go there often to see the art shows, so I think I just fell in love with the activity, with the struggle of it and watching something emerge.
HG: Where did you go to school?
AH: I went to undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Worked with Mike Nushag, primarily, and James Eisentrager, so they were a big…I originally wanted to be a painter, and I took a printmaking course just for the fun of it for another elective, and I fell in love with printmaking. I think a lot of it was how challenging it is. I like a good challenge, so that really hooked me, and I also like the social aspects of it. You’re not in your studio alone, working. You’re with other people, and that’s very important.
HG: Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic of creating prints and that sort of thing? You mentioned you work in a group setting, can you talk about that a little more?
AH: Well, yeah, with printmaking, it’s a slow process, usually, so you’re making things in increments, you know. Somewhere from where the idea begins or where the first marks begin until…throughout the whole process, it’s an extended period of time. So there’s lots of time within that to change your mind or to maybe embrace a mistake and keep a record of it, especially when you’re working with color and you have a lot of different states of a print that it goes through. There’s lots of unexpected things that happen, so it’s kind of this…starting out with something very concrete in your head, but then ending up in someplace…often ending up in someplace very different and having the time to think and reflect, and the social aspect, you know…I’m generally a very reclusive person so it’s nice because it brings me out of my shell.
HG: Because you’re sharing your studio…the studio equipment?
AH: Right, you have to cooperate with people, just the joking around, just have fun, you know. It’s just…printmakers are really fun. I really like sculptors for that, too, so most of my artist friends have usually been either printmakers or sculptors, because they’re very social people.
HG: You mentioned you went to the University of Nebraska. Is that the only school you attended?
AH: I also…I did my graduate work at Arizona State University. It was a good experience for me, got me…gave me a lot of confidence and got me out of my shell.
HG: Who were some of your most important influences as you were sort of figuring out the route you wanted to go with your art?
AH: Well, Mike Nushag in Nebraska, I always admired him a lot because he really thought about what he was going to say. He didn’t have like a little routine or pat answers. He was a very insightful person, so I always hoped to be like him. And then when I went to Arizona State, I worked with Rick Woods and it was sort of a similar thing. I’d ask him something, and then three days later he’d answer me. And I drive my students a little bit nuts sometimes because I take my time to think about things and answer like Rick did, and I’m hoping that that will be…you know, that I’m not just talking, that it’s something that is, you know, I’d rather say less and have it be more constructive. That’s kind of my goal.
HG: So you’re a professor now—where do you teach?
AH: I teach at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. I teach printmaking and I’m the director of graduate studies, which is a wonderful job.
HG: Could you talk about your art and what you create, and why you create what you create?
AH: That’s always a difficult question. If you could look at the work, if I could show you the work and talk about each particular series, it would do a lot towards explaining where I’m going with it and why I’m making it. A lot of my work, you know, generally speaking, is influenced perhaps by my experience when I was very young, growing up in Lincoln with the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis in particular. There was an Air Force base in Omaha, about fifty miles away, the strategic air command, and when the Bay of Pigs and all of the nuclear threats, people coming…Bob Hope coming on TV and telling us how to prepare and duck and cover, and all of that, and of course I’m not alone there. The whole baby boomer generation kind of went through this, but my father built the fallout shelter in the basement and it had like, a big lead door to put over it, it had like, two fifty-gallon drums of water, it had an air machine, you know, food…enough food for a couple months. Also, growing up in Nebraska with the threat of tornadoes, I think at a very young age I became kind of acutely aware of…anything could happen at any time and that I could be dead and that I could lose my family, and so forth. So I think at a young age I’ve been kind of preoccupied with death. Not in a negative way, but just sort of trying to figure out, like, how to live my life, and how to maybe try to be more aware of each moment and be present in the moment. So that’s kind of what my work is about. It’s very political in a lot of ways, although it’s not very…it’s not real overtly political. I try to make it beautiful and make it look seductive so that people want to look at it and hopefully I can draw people in. I read the paper every day, that’s very important. I read the New York Times and the Buffalo News at a minimum, and then I read some magazines too, and listen to the radio. So a lot of my work is very influenced by current events, even though a lot of it has a pseudo antique, or maybe seventeenth century kind of quality to it.
HG: Growing up in the Cold War and being very influenced by that compared to where we are now, especially in the US, in this era of homeland security and a kind of high state of tension, again…does that influence your work and do you see it continually growing with the changing threats?
AH: Yeah, I mean I’m quite discouraged in some ways about a lot of things going on in the world—what might happen with Israel and Iran and those kinds of things. I’m also very concerned with environmental things that are going on. I did a lot…I did a number of series that were kind of based on this idea of the one…of Cheney’s one percent doctrine. A lot of people have already forgotten about it, which kind of amazes me cause it really stuck in my head. I was sort of paraphrasing what Cheney had said, and it was, “Even if there’s just a one percent chance of the unimaginable coming true, act as if it’s certainty…it’s not about analysis, as Cheney said, it’s about our response. Justified or not, fact-based or not, it’s our response that matters.” And he was talking…that was before we went into Iran. So the evidence bar was set so low that…
HG: Iran, or?
AH: Yeah about Iran, going into—excuse me, Iraq, I said Iran—that the word almost didn’t apply. I’ve traveled through the Middle East, when I was out of…when I finished my undergraduate work in Lincoln, I wanted to see the world and I went on an adventure alone. And I went to England and then I went overland to India. And I was really most interested in India, although I had hoped to go to Indonesia—I didn’t make it that far—but I was sort of seeking some sort of enlightenment, or I met a lot of gurus and did a lot of that kind of thing. There were a lot of people like me who I met on the road, but on the trip I went through Turkey and Iran—I didn’t go to Iraq—and Afghanistan, and I spent about a month in each, in Iran and Afghanistan, and that experience, it was right before the shah was brought down, so it was a long time ago and I was just like, a twenty-one year old girl with blonde hair and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I’m lucky to be alive, but the thing about when we went into Iran that just made me—it still makes me insanely angry—is if you knew anything about that country, or Afghanistan, you would never fight those people. You know, they’re not giving up, they’re never giving up ever, ever, ever, ever…that’s just, you know, it’s who they are and we’re looking at centuries of this. And to have the kind of…I don’t know, if Bush had traveled, you know, if everyone traveled, it would be a completely different world. You know, I tell my students that, you know, talking about giving advice to students. I tell them to travel, you know, get out of Buffalo. You know, especially these kids that spend their whole life here, it’s crazy.
HG: What do you hope to achieve with your art?
AH: Nothing. No, I mean, a lot of what I hope to achieve, it’s a very selfish kind of…I’m not gonna pretend that it’s not…what’s really wonderful is when people look at it and get it and get a lot out of it and kind of understand what I’m talking about. A lot of my work is kind of tongue and cheek and it’s kind of funny and sad at the same time and kind of, you know, it’s kind of like that old Mexican…you know, like laughing in the face of death, you know, I mean what are you gonna do? You know, it’s nice to have shows, it’s nice to be acknowledged and all that, but it’s really not why I make the work. I make the work cause I enjoy being creative and it’s really difficult, I mean there’s so many times when you just feel like you’re a failure, that your work isn’t any good and that kind of thing, and that’s normal, you know. And so that’s another thing I try to teach my students, is not to be too critical, just to keep making things. And realize nobody cares…if you don’t care, nobody cares. So I mean, it all begins with the artist, you have to care about what you’re doing.
HG: Do you ever feel that you make some of your work to raise awareness about ignorance that we’re experiencing?
AH: Oh yeah. But you know, I don’t want to preach. Nobody’s gonna…I mean, you know, it’s kind of a big club, the art club, you know…so actually, one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me in a long time has been…I did this piece called “Perception of Risk”…well, there’s a number of them, and they all have to do with…well, let me back up a little bit. I was listening to the radio about three or four years ago and I heard somebody talking about the idea of…plotting out how you perceive risk on a two-dimensional field, on an X Y axis, and it stuck with me. It was like, “Wow, that’s such a great idea,” so I started making sketches of trying to plot out risk; either what I perceived as being dangerous to myself, personally, and then mixed in with it is this sort of idea of what’s a danger to people generally in the world. So you know, for example, I might be terrified of falling, I’m gonna fall down the stairs, but you know, then there’s this other sort of global catastrophic thing that might not affect me, but might, you know, wipe out a hundred thousand people in Indonesia or something, so there’s this sort of dual thing going on. So I started making these charts on an X Y axis and you’d have to look at them, there’s a little diagram or kind of key that explains it at the bottom of each chart, and each one is graphed to the day that it’s attached to, what’s going on in current events. So anyhow, this man (name), he’s a professor at University of Pittsburgh, somehow heard about my work—or he’s at Carnegie Mellon—and he does risk analysis, that’s his field. And he somehow heard about my work, I don’t know how, and he contacted me and asked if I’d like to…if he could use my work on the front of one of his books, so I was delighted, of course, of course, so now I’m on this sort of, like, scholarly book cover about risk analysis and human behavior that (name) wrote, and one of his circle of people found out about my work, and they’ve invited me to a conference in Santa Fe this January, all about risk, and it’s people from the humanities, from the sciences—all these people from completely different fields—no artists, I’ll be the only artist there. So to me, this is like, really cool. All my friends are artists, I love artists, but it’s nice to get outside the club, so that should be really interesting.
HG: That sounds totally fascinating. Would you like to talk about some of the different series you’ve created throughout your career?
AH: Well, I made a series of…well, okay, when we went into Iraq—or after 9/11—the government was putting up all these, you know, all these sort of scare tactics to make us all feel very afraid. And so that’s where a lot of this recent work has come from, kind of a reaction to that. One of the things they actually had on the government website was a 72 hour to-go pack. So it’s this idea of, like, “Get everything together that you need to survive for 72 hours, in case the unimaginable happens.” And so I took…I made various lists for the 72 hour to-go pack and changed them a little bit, according to what I might take. But they’re pretty straightforward, and then I just use the words, so I’ve done a number of projects that used just lists of things. And assuming it can be shown on the website, I’m working on a number of series called, “After I’m Dead” that started with a little comment that my husband made to me when I was procrastinating about something. He was like, “Well, why don’t you do that when you’re dead?” And it kind of spurred this whole series of lists that I make of things that I’ll do when I’m dead, like I’d rather…I’d rather procrastinate later. It’s like a reverse bucket list, so I’m working with a lot of text and I’ve done a number of series called, “A Perfect Description of the Celestial Orbs, According to the Most Recent Doctorates of Intelligent Design,” and those kind of refer to the fundamentalists’ religious and political attacks on rational thought. One of the things that…I collect quotes and different…I have these big sketchbooks and I’m always writing things down that stick with me, and one of my favorites is Mark Twain, who said that the trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that just ain’t so, so kind of human folly. I’ve also done a number of series that have to do with this area, with Buffalo—mapping Buffalo and the Niagara region—especially things like Love Canal and I’ve been involved…outside of making art, I’ve been involved with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. I was one of the founding members when we went out and did the first bucket brigades, and when we were doing that, it didn’t feel like anything would ever happen or ever change. So that was pretty neat, to think that I had a hand in that.
HG: And they’re a very strong organization.
AH: They are, they have a wonderful leader now, Erin Heaney, she’s just amazing. Yeah, so that was a really valuable thing, and also working with people that weren’t artists in the community. And a lot of people asked me, “Well, why don’t you make art about that?” But to me, it’s like two separate things and I want to keep them separate. I like keeping them separate. I think political art, most of it just falls flat on its face, unless you’re doing something that’s really radical, you know. Like my colleague, Steve Kurtz, which is a whole different ballgame. And what he does…that can change things, but I don’t feel like my work is that kind of…that’s not my focus. If I was…if my focus was to change things, I’d be more like a community organizer…kind of activity. And I also like to do things, like I’m involved with the WNYBAC, with the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative. And I was there from the beginning, you know, demolishing and helping out here and there, so that’s been a lot of fun too, just even…it’s that kind of, you know, team spirit, you know?
HG: Yeah. It is interesting though, I mean, you talk about how you want to keep these spheres separate, and yet, just in some of your works that I’ve seen, some of your activism and perspective comes through.
AH: Oh, of course. Yeah, I mean, maybe the distinction is that I don’t expect it to change the world. I don’t…but yeah, it’s all political. It’s all about what’s going on now and you know, information overload, and I’m also very interested in design and communication. Like Edward Tufte is this fellow who’s self-published a bunch of books about information design, and I’ve read them all, like, three times. And I just am fascinated about how to make something that is information readable, visually, without clutter, without too much information making it comprehensible and yet dense. You know, like one of the things I did recently, don’t ask me why, but I made—it was inspired by Tufte—a drawing every single day over a period of five years, of weather. So it included the amount of rain we had, if it was cloudy, sunny, partly cloudy, if we had snow, sleet, what the temperature was…and I made it all on a drawing that’s about four feet wide by about two feet high in a chart, in a graph. And I just went to the national weather service site and found what the particular conditions were each day, how much snow we got, how much rain we got, you know, if it was partly cloudy, sunny, whatever, and I made it all. So it’s kind of an interesting thing, because there are certain days when I was doing this chart that I was like, “Oh, I remember that summer. It was really hot and dry and I had to water the garden every day,” you know, so it was kind of…
HG: It’s kind of like a fine art infographic.
AH: And I’m also making a printout of it. You can…it’ll be a letterpress print. A lot of art practice for me is about kind of getting lost in the moment, and trying to…it’s kind of like meditation. It’s like you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, and focus is everything. You can’t slip. You know, a lot of people mistake it for tightness, or for being rigid, but it’s not. It’s a choice to be precise.
HG: As a printmaker, could you talk about some of the different printmaking techniques you’ve utilized throughout your career?
AH: The first printmaking process I’ve ever tried was lithography. You know, it’s still used in commercial printing now…probably not a whole lot longer, when things go digital, but lithography was invented a little over two hundred years ago, and it was originally done on rocks. Marble, calcium carbonate, you know, stones from Bavaria. And basically what it is, is you draw with grease and pigment on this surface, this stone surface, and the greasy elements kind of sink into the surface and stay there, and then you treat the remaining…the non-image areas, so that they’ll retain water. So the way it’s printed is that it’s kept moist—the surface is kept moist—and the greasy marks attract the ink from the roller. So you ink it up with a hand roller and then print it with tremendous pressure on a press, and you can repeat that over and over again to obtain an addition. And if you want to use color, you have to have a different…each color requires a different matrix, so it’s a very…in some ways, a very simple process, and in other ways, extremely complex. It’s something that takes a lot of time and a lot of skill to master, and something that a lot of people don’t know anymore. And we’re still teaching it at UB, and there’s a lot of schools and a lot of artists around the country who are deeply wed to that process. It’s a very central…the surface is…it’s like drawing on this amazing surface. It’s extremely responsive and receptive to every mark that you make, so there’s nothing else like it. It’s not like drawing on paper, it’s different. You just have to kind of experience it. There’s other printmaking processes that I use and teach, including intaglio, or etching as it’s also known; screen printing, or it’s also known as (inaudible); letterpress, book arts…very time consuming, very labor intensive. Lots of times, you can’t do them without the help of other people, which is part of it.
HG: Would you like to talk a little bit—you’ve really expressed your level of community involvement within the region, but connected and not connected with your art—but could you talk a little bit about WNYBAC?
AH: Sure. WNYBAC is the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative. I think the word “collaborative” might be a little bit confusing at times—it’ll probably become more known as the Book Arts Center; a little shorter title, maybe a little bit more precise—but it started out with Rich Kegler, who…Richard Kegler, who’s an artist—amazing, talented guy—and his wife, Carima, they bought this building downtown. They really wanted to be downtown on the behalf of the Book Arts Collaborative, which was already in existence by then, and they gutted the building, renovated it…we still have things to do, we need new windows and an elevator and a few things, but moved in a print collection…a bunch of printing presses, mainly Vandercooks, which are letterpress…proof presses, along with moveable type, both wood and lead, and all sorts of equipment that have to do with the Book Arts. So it was just, I think, three years ago that he bought this—or that they bought this building—and in three short years, they’ve gone from nothing in this dungeon, it was just…when I went in there the first time, I thought Richard lost his mind. The amount of waste that was hauled out of there, I think, filled three dumpsters, big dumpsters. It was moldy in the basement. There was no heat or water in the basement. There still is…well, I think there is some water, finally, and we did get some heat and ventilation, eventually. But it was pretty tough going, and it’s been a labor of love. He’s had hundreds of—or they have had hundreds of volunteers—we now have a new executive director, Jackson Forsberg, and he’s wonderful. So I think that they’re on a good footing now and hopefully at a good time, when Buffalo, downtown, seems to be coming back and there’s more and more people moving to the downtown area, and it’s perfectly poised. And I think it’ll be not just a local, but an international destination.
HG: I totally agree. And just the way they become such a strong, active part of the community with the Book Arts Fair every year, and…what’s coming up this weekend?
AH: This weekend is a steam roller printing. Well, it’s the Book Fest. I think it’s the first time they’ve done this, and there’s gonna be all sorts of demonstrations and events going on, and one of the things…I made a woodcut, one of four artists who were invited to make woodcuts, four foot by four foot that are gonna be printed by hand—inked by hand—and printed using a steam roller. (Name) is heading this project and she’s renting the steam roller, and it was her idea and we’re gonna do it, so that’s gonna be a lot of fun. (Name), (Name), myself…and the woodblock is based on things to do after I’m dead.
HG: That sounds incredible, have such a good time with that this weekend.
AH: Yeah, it’ll be fun.
HG: Can you talk a little bit about your career as a fine artist? You’ve had numerous exhibitions…can you talk a little bit about what you had to do to get where you are in your career now as a professional artist?
AH: As a professional artist, I don’t really feel like I’ve made it. I feel like I’m in a very comfortable and privileged place, primarily because of teaching at the university, which I absolutely love, but you know, I…let’s just say I was very lucky to be able to make a living teaching, and I worked very, very hard through coming up the ladder, you know, to get where I’m at. So it’s not like it’s been a cakewalk. I moved from Lincoln to Seattle to Arizona to New Mexico to Wisconsin, California, and finally, to Buffalo. When I got to Buffalo, I’m like, “That’s it, I’m done moving. I love this place, I wanna stay here, it feels good.” And that’s when I was hired at UB and I wasn’t tenured, it took me, you know, the requisite seven years to come up for tenure and it was really hard, but I showed a lot and I worked my ass off and I became tenured and then I became chair of the department, and I was chair of the department for six years, and that was hell but I also got to meet a lot of really great people. And now I’m just teaching and enjoying it and trying to connect with my students, so for me, exhibiting isn’t a main focus. A main focus is making work, so I haven’t really had any big one-person shows in a long time. And I’m invited to be in a lot of group shows. That’s fine with me.
HG: When you were a younger artist, maybe after Nebraska, maybe after Arizona, when you moved to a new community, how would you get engaged with the art scene there? How would you get engaged with the gallery scene there?
AH: That’s an interesting question. Yeah, I mean that’s a hard thing to do, you have to go to, you know, openings, meet people…it’s really hard to break in. I really love Buffalo for that reason. I had a…I lived in Arizona, in the Phoenix area, for five years, and I had a big show there at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and I thought it was so exciting, it’s like this really premiere, you know, place to have a show, and about twenty people showed up to the opening, and I was horrified.
HG: Can I ask about what decade this was?
AH: This was in ‘85-ish, or ’84, somewhere around there. Then when I came to Buffalo, they had a little welcoming exhibit at ... hall, which used to be part of the south campus, and it was in the art department, and there were maybe two hundred people at the opening, and I had only been in town for two, three months. So it was just like, it’s night and day. You know, Buffalo has a really wonderful arts community, and it sounds like such a cliché, it’s like what you’d tell anyone, but it’s true. People are very supportive here, and there’s not much of a commercial scene, but there’s a lot of community support.
HG: And you know, this is interesting because you’ve lived in so many different places, so it’s not necessarily specific to Buffalo, but can you talk about some of the support you got form the different communities—or maybe needed or didn’t get—as you were a younger and more emerging artist?
AH: Well, the problem with a lot of the places I lived is they were just so big and spread out, so it’s not like you weren’t getting support. There was support everywhere I lived, I think, you just had to find it. But it was more of just sort of the nature of the beast. I think Phoenix is just like LA; there’s artists everywhere, but there’s no, like, central focus of activity.
HG: So having a more centralized arts community here made a big difference?
AH: Yeah, and also just, you know, having a job where you meet a lot of different people in the arts helps. And also getting older, it’s really important to meet people. Like, if you have a show in Philadelphia, you’ve gotta go to the opening, even if it’s a group show, and you know, meet people. I go to t a lot of conferences. I know a lot of artists from all around the country, mainly printmakers, cause I go to these printmaking conferences. And there’s usually a thousand, fifteen hundred people at these things. And they’re ever-changing, young students, you know, young people coming up who are doing amazing work. It’s always very humbling to go to these things and you see some of the amazing work that’s going on out there. I wish I could spread printmaking fever everywhere.
HG: Can I ask a little bit about when…when did you decide you wanted to become a professor? And when you kind of started to figure that out, what did you have to do to kind of find teaching positions?
AH: Okay. Well, I never thought I’d get a job, but I thought I had to try. So you know, what do you do when you go to art school? You teach. I mean that was the sort of idea back then, even though everybody knew it wasn’t necessarily gonna be like that. So I had a professor in Arizona State who actually designed a course to help students there learn how to apply for a job and how to create a resume and how to go through an interview and how to prepare yourself and what questions to ask. And his name was Leonard Laird, and he’s still alive; him and practically all the grads I went to school with who were in this class all got teaching jobs. And at the time, there were more jobs but it wasn’t like they were, you know, plentiful, it was still very competitive. When I applied here for a part-time position at UB, there were over a hundred applications. That was, you know, in ’85 or ’86. ’86. But anyways, I just applied to part-time, sabbatical replacement positions when I started out. And I got one job and then that went fine, and then I kept applying, and I got another job. They were all like, you know, one semester, two semester, and then that just kept happening until I had enough experience under my belt that I could actually qualify for a good job…which my priority was to be at a university, not a private college, and to be somewhere where there was a graduate program was really important to me, and I lucked out…well, actually, when I came here, it was just a part-time position and Harvey Breverman, who hired me, was thinking that, you know, it might turn into full time, cause I replaced a full time person. So actually, I was doing full time work but I was paid part time. But you have to do that, you know, you just have to…it’s not easy. After grad school, I drove a taxi, I delivered pizza, I was a waitress, I worked for…I was an artist assistant…what else did I do…I don’t remember, there were so many little things. But you know, it takes a long time and it doesn’t make any sense, I mean, some people I thought would get hired, you know, get a job, haven’t, and other people I’m just like, “Who got a job?” you know, it just doesn’t make any sense. Some people interview well, other people don’t…
HG: So here’s a question for you, during your time as the director of the graduate program—is that your proper title? Did you create any sort of course like Leonard Laird did about like, how to get a job for artists?
AH: Yeah, I did, and it’s been sort of incorporated into the program now, so it’s not so much a course with a…you know, like, we meet here and here, but we try to incorporate portions of it. For example, bringing people from outside in to talk and (Name) is someone who comes frequently, and he talks to them about, like, how to get his attention as a curator, or how to introduce yourself, and strategies for getting known in the community.
HG: That’s great.
AH: Yeah. Practical things like that, yeah.
HG: So my last and final question is what advice do you have for emerging artists who are starting to build their career?
AH: You have to get out. You have to meet people. You can’t just be alone in your studio. Say yes to everything…you never know where something’s gonna lead. It could just be a minor thing, but you might meet someone that down the road will, you know, connect you to someone else. It’s not about brownnosing, but you have to put a face to it and you can’t look down on it like you’re above it. And you just never know who people are, who might be interested din your work. There’s a market for everybody’s work, I don’t care if you draw bunnies and lollipops, you know, I mean, you have to find…there is a market out there, and I don’t mean so much in a way of, like, selling yourself out, but just stay, you know…no one’s gonna care if you don’t care, so you have to care about your work, you have to do what comes from you, and be yourself and not try to please anyone. And then you’ll find a place for it, you’ll find people who appreciate it.
HG: Adele, thank you so much for coming in today and participating in the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
AH: Thank you!
, “Even if there’s just a one percent chance of the unimaginable coming true, act as if it’s certainty…it’s not about analysis, as Cheney said, it’s about our response. Justified or not, fact-based or not, it’s our response that matters.”