Faith Heitzer is one of many amazing artists in the Nashville Artist Guild, one of the oldest visual arts groups in Nashville, Tennessee. The Guild will be celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. It supports artists of excellence in a variety of visual mediums; always encouraging member artists to express themselves in their particular medium while providing a vibrant supportive community.
One of these special artists is Faith Heitzer. Ms. Heitzer recently wowed those attending a NAG gallery opening at the Nashville Gallery with her mixed-media painting "Here But Not Here". The confusion and loneliness of those afflicted with Alzheimer's is vividly expressed in this wonderful encaustic artwork.
In the following interview, Faith talks about her medium, her volunteer teaching with the aged and disabled, and her philosophy on art.
Faith, what exactly does an encaustic artist do?
"The term 'encaustic' comes from a Greek word meaning 'burned in'. It's a tedious process involving tending a live fire. Heat is the solvent. Beeswax melts at 140-160 degrees F. Any heated implement can be used to start the melting process. The wax is applied to various grounds. Electricity is a modern improvement for an artist in this form and easier than making a campfire! I use an electric skillet, an electric griddle, a crepe maker, and irons of all sizes. Brushes, knives, even teflon kitchen implements for applying the hot wax can be used. If the ground is paper, canvas, or fabric, it will require a backing to prevent any movement such as bending or cracking. Finally, I mat and cover the piece with glass for protection. A caution I give students is to not leave your artwork in a hot car where summer temperatures can cause the image to melt. Another word of caution: If your painting is melting when it is on the wall at home, your house is on fire, get out quickly!"
How did you get started working in this unique art form?
"When I married and had small children, I taught art classes at home. I rarely had an encounter with a medium I could not handle. My kids suggested 'Let's sell hot dogs and sodas at the beach and you can airbrush T-shirts.' So, I signed up for an expensive airbrush class in LA. I was such a failure! I sprayed walls, sprayed the girl in front of me, sprayed everything except the target painting! When I was leaving the event, I was stopped by a man who was not dressed in a paint smock, beret, or paint splattered overalls - just a suit and tie. He asked me to watch him for a moment. Zip! He had a pretty sky done in a swipe of his heated travel iron. Bing! bing! - a mountain range appeared. Zap! Zap!,! - delicate and lovely foreground foliage was created. Dab! Dab! - birds in mid-flight were soaring. He then polished the work and handed me a gleaming, beautiful encaustic painted card. "I can do that!" I yelled and proceeded to purchase my first box of encaustic beeswax colors. I have used beeswax as my dominant medium for 15 years since meeting that man."
Can you tell us more about your volunteer work as a teacher in the medium?
"I have lectured and demonstrated this ancient technique without charge many times for schools, home schoolers, and many other groups who request it. In these settings, each participant will complete at least four art pieces. This is the craft version of encaustic painting. Anyone can do it - kids, adults, elders! I have found folks with Alzheimer's and developmental delays can thrive in this medium. Seniors are especially energetic. There are no self-limiting comments such as 'I can't paint a straight line'. They just begin, follow instructions and proudly display what they have completed. At a senior facility in Hermitage, I was doing a demonstration for some residents. I painted a basket of geraniums on a brick wall. One lady from the Alzheimer's unit was watching intently as I painted commenting excitedly through the process. When I finished, I signed, matted and handed it to her. 'I will keep this rooster forever' she squealed. Well, art IS in the eye of the beholder, but I was sure I had done flowers! When I asked her to show me what part of the rooster she especially liked, sure enough, in one corner of the background there was a most rooster-like form. That experience was a keeper!
Faith, can you tell us about your work that was featured at the Nashville Gallery "Here But Not Here"?
"My own work is cohesive only in its medium of beeswax. Any subject is fair game. I prefer to have multiple layers of meaning. "Here But Not Here" is encaustic and includes pyrography (really burned in!) on wood. The forced perspective is intentionally distracting from the vivid horizon - the usual focus of the perspective. With the ever-narrowing lines of the pale porch, one can feel the manner in which the isolated individual begins to leave "here" and is almost not "here". The involuted body position, the childhood toy and the pointillistic technique for her person all suggest that she is leaving us. The empty rocker also has been left. We do not see the occupant of that chair. But in the woman's mind, perhaps he is there. Placing this scene outside of the familiar walls of home suggests just how uncomfortable an Alzheimer's victim feels as the sparks of connections in her brain go silent one by one - leaving her alone, rocking, clutching, sadly alone... and we are on the other side of the frame, unable to help."