Get to know some of our Carriage Barn members with Membership Manager Jessica Ruhlin.
An Interview with Member, Hooey Wilks
*To see the images of antiques toy skiers in the mountains as well as other photo based contemporary mixed media work by Hooey Wilks, visit her website at hooeymountain.com
Tell me about your background, and what led you to pursuing photography professionally?
This goes way back. From middle school through college, I had a very successful national craft business. I used my first big paycheck from that to buy an SLR camera. (I still have it.) In high school and college, I took many photography classes, but ultimately landed in the corporate world. While this may not have seemed like an important part of my creative journey, it taught me so much that has been vital to running my art business such as the importance of a business plan, budgeting skills, file management, web design etc.
As I approached my empty nesting years, I was determined to run my own business doing something creative. I also really wanted to somehow link it to my love of skiing. I enrolled in classes at FIT as I considered something in textiles. I was looking into surface design and was shooting images possibly to paint for that purpose. All the while I had been collecting antique toy skiers for years and started photographing them in CT. I quickly realized they needed a much bigger stage to really bring the photography concept to life. So, I packed them up and brought them with me out west skiing. Shortly after that I stopped shooting for surface design and focused entirely on the photography.
I love photography, spending time in the mountains and the joy of skiing. The world can always use more joy and happiness, so I am happy to be delivering that.
Your photography series of antique toy skiers on Mountain resorts plays with scale between the vast landscapes and small stature of the human figures. Tell me about the inspiration behind this choice. Where did the figures come from, and do you have names for them?
With these small figurines, the use of perspective, depth of field and framing, creates movement where none exists. It draws you in and makes you question what you are seeing. It is at that moment there is an unfolding of the art as you experience it that I think makes the skiers come alive. I never photoshop the toys into backgrounds. I am constantly exploring the landscape, examining the environment and the details that mimic what I am feeling, but often on a smaller scale. I can be seen laying in the snow usually just off a ski slope, hands freezing, placing the skiers in just the right place to get the shot.
My first two antique toy skiers came from an antique shop in New Canaan about 15-20 years ago as a gift for my husband. We were smitten and kept adding every year. We now have about 150 of them. They do not have names, but one of them I think of as my avatar. The red skier appears quite a bit in my images and on my Instagram account @hooeymountain. Sometimes I think of the Series as a diary of my best days. For each image, I remember exactly where I was, what the weather was like and who I was skiing with that day.
You’ve participated in a range of programs and exhibitions at the Carriage Barn — can you share what you value most about being a member?
I’m really enjoying the guided tours of art exhibits the most. I personally try to see new art at least twice a month and these organized trips help me make that happen. Having a small group guide really helps me understand the artists’ paths, techniques, and inspirations. I’ve also learned about so many more places to see art in this region than I realized existed!
What advice or encouragement would you give to others who are thinking about pursuing their creative interests?
Just start! If you can’t find the time to take a class, just get some materials and try it. YouTube videos are great for some basic knowledge in whatever medium you want to pursue. If you enjoy it you can prioritize the education piece later. We are so lucky to be near so many great places for art education. Don’t be intimidated by what others are doing. It can be just for you. There is no right way. Finally, at some point you need to decide if it is a hobby or a business. Again, there is no right answer, but slightly different approaches.
Who or what inspires you most as an artist and/or personally?
I’m inspired by people with creative talents and really inspired by those you run their own businesses (I love the “How I built this” podcast). I sell a lot of my work through decorators. These (typically) woman owned businesses are just oozing with talent. They work incredibly hard to bring functional solutions and beauty to spaces and I’ve been seeing that up close now since I started Hooey Mountain.
How do you feel having an arts center like the Carriage Barn and/or arts access is important for a community?
The first time you go public with your art is intimidating. Regional arts organizations like the Carriage Barn are a great welcoming space for all skill levels. Dipping your toe in the water that first time can be difficult for someone new to exhibiting, but it is great for immediate feedback. It’s also a great space to meet and interact with other artists and share ideas and resources.
Also, we live in a town that really values its athletes and I think it is great to also show the youth in this town that artists are valued too.