By Aila Boyd
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of articles that will feature all 14 artists that will be participating in the 2019 Open Studios-Botetourt tour on October 26 and 27. Each week leading up to the two-day event, The Herald will feature one artist – highlighting their passion for their chosen artform.
Amy Herzel, a Blue Ridge-based artist, has always liked drawing and crafting. However, her path to becoming an artist wasn’t exactly linear.
When she was young, she enjoyed fashion so much that she sewed her own clothes and even considered pursuing fashion design. Then college rolled around and she decided to pursue an English degree. While pursuing that degree, she took the occasional fine arts class on the side.
After graduating in the early 1990s, she took a job as a secretary due to the fact that the job market was tight. She quickly found that office work wasn’t for her, which led her to a job at the University of Pennsylvania, where she took art classes from a teacher she described as being “really supportive.”
She later applied, and was accepted, to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for painting and printmaking. After graduating, she started a Master of Fine Arts program, but later transferred into the Master of Education program at the Tyler School of Art due to a lack of funding. “That was great because I was able to pay for it as I went with financial aid and going part-time,” she said.
Upon graduating, she accepted a teaching position.
She relocated to Botetourt County from Texas roughly six years ago due to her husband’s work as a forensic scientist. Originally from New York, she said that she considers Philadelphia, Pa. home because she lived there for 20 years.
Her work has been exhibited in Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, Oho, and Pennsylvania.
She currently teaches English-language learners within the Roanoke County Public Schools system. Upon moving to the Roanoke Valley, she said, she found that there weren’t many art teaching positions, so she decided to put her English degree to good use. “It was always something I thought I’d do because English was my first love,” Herzel said of her decision to teach English.
She describes her work as being “abstract, meditative mixed media drawings.” She explained that her work began with small meditative drawings when she was a new mother because the relatively small scale was all that she could manage at the time. “I just wanted something that I could sit with in my lap and meditate on once they were in bed,” she said, comparing it to the needlework that women used to busy themselves with.
“Those drawings evolved into a series. Each one usually revealed some sort of worry or stress or something that was on my mind that wanted to work its way out subconsciously,” she explained. “Each drawing is a story about an experience or something that I struggled with as a new mother, as a wife.”
She noted that she had her first son when she was 37 and had experienced a significant amount of independence prior to his birth. Becoming a mother, she said, was a big change. “I was staying at home and very dependent on my husband’s income,” she said. “I had two children very quickly in a row, so that cut me out of going right back to the job market. That caused a lot of stress, but not atypical for any woman today.”
Her moves have also influenced her work because she’s inspired by the environments that she inhabits.
“For me, my work really is autobiographical in the sense that it tells the stories about my experiences and my struggles. It reflects on my struggles as an Asian American woman in American culture, a mother of biracial children, as a feminist, as the wife of a military contractor,” she said. Because of her husband’s deployment in the Middle East, she has also experienced feelings of single motherhood, which has also made its way into her work.
She explained that she thinks of her works as organisms because she’s heavily influenced by science and microorganisms. “Each of them in some way has become this sort of creature or this organism in my metaphorical vocabulary,” she said. “I use all of these different forms and patterns to talk about all of these different things in a large, narrative way.”
One of her recent works is called Madame Butterfly Sings the Multiverse because it reflects her experience of being adopted by German American parents and being brought to the United States from Korea. “The opera has always been a bittersweet story for me because when I think about all of the implications— the exploitation of Asian women and the taking of the child from Japan to the United States— they are all interwoven in my life in some way,” she said.
She recently received the Mixed Media Award of Highest Distraction at the New River Biennial at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. Her work will be on display there until August 3.
Her work has received awards of recognition by curators such as Rebecca Lawton, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and Jennifer Cassler-Price at The Kimbell Museum of Fine Art. In addition to winning an honorable mention at the 2017 Roanoke Biennial, one of her drawings was later purchased by Beth Rudin DeWoody. Most recently her work was juried into the 10th Annual Drawing Discourse exhibition curated by Claire Gilman of the Drawing Center in New York.
She was a member of the Red Arrow Gallery in Nashville, Tenn. for two years and then became a collaborative member of the Cerulean Arts Gallery in Philadelphia for a year.
Herzel said that she’s looking forward to this year’s Open Studios-Botetourt. She participated in it when she first moved to the county, but due to the fact that she was new, she didn’t receive as many visitors as she would have hoped for. The year after, her husband was preparing to be deployed, which prevented her from participating.
“I’m back this year because it’s clear that I’m going to be staying in Virginia. I’m making a new commitment to finding my place in the art community here,” she said.
In addition to her fine arts drawings, she will also be showing prints and small works, including linoleum prints and digital photographs, during Open Studios-Botetourt.
For more information about Open Studios-Botetourt, visit https://openstudiosbotetourt.com/.