“My philosophy in making art and in living life is to walk softly on the earth.” – Elizabeth Frank
High in her southern Arizona rooftop studio, Elizabeth Frank coaxes whimsical folk art figures from fallen aspen and found objects. Her work has a timeless quality while being refreshingly contemporary. Elizabeth has a spiritual link with each piece as the materials themselves guide her creative inspiration and direction.
Your artistic studies took you to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Did your time spent there directly influence your work? If so, how?
My time in San Miguel was amazing. The people, sights, sounds and flavors influenced my life and especially my artwork. When I was there some of the old structures were restored and some were still weathered by age. I think I found the elegant decay of the weathered buildings the most inspiring with regards to my artwork. The history of those places was evident in the peeling layers of paint and plaster. I was captivated by the city’s architecture, the detail, the hand painted patterns on many of the walls, and the incredible craftsmanship it took to build and maintain the city.
Is there one tool you couldn’t do without?
The only power tool I had to begin with was a little jigsaw. That and a few hand tools. I haven’t thought about that for a long time! Now I’ve got some larger power tools and it’s hard to imagine doing without any of them. My band saw and my foredoom grinder are the two I use the most. They’re both essential for shaping the rough aspen logs. Then there’s the drill press which makes certain steps in my process faster and more precise. Last year I purchased a belt sander and it’s another great shaping tool.
Every year you go to a special place in the mountains of Arizona to collect fallen aspen branches. What is it about this place that draws you there?
My favorite place is in a remote part of northeastern Arizona. Not many people find their way there. The aspen forest is dense. The leaves make a kind of music when the wind rustles through them. They flicker in the light. We camp in the midst of the trees. It’s magical.
What type of found materials do you keep an eye out for and where do you look for them?
I’m really drawn to architectural salvage, vintage hardware, and antique tin. I like materials that seem to come with a story. Sometimes people will give me a fascinating bit of junk that they think I’ll appreciate. That can set me on a quest. It’s as if I’m an archeologist with the job of unlocking secret messages that are buried away in the simplest things. Once I crack the little code in a found object I’ll often build a series around it. When that happens I have to go on a scavenger hunt to find similar items. I look in thrift shops, antique fairs, and on eBay. When I travel I try to visit junk shops or flea markets wherever I am.
Your studio is filled with found things waiting to be incorporated into one of your pieces; what are a few of the most uncommon items?
Some of the unusual things in my studio are art materials and others are objects of inspiration. One of my favorite objects of inspiration is an antique carved saint’s hand that I picked up at a flea market in Santa Fe. It was once coated with plaster and paint but is now chipped and faded. It lives next to one of those articulated wooden hands that they sell at art supply stores as models. Sometimes I come into the studio in the morning and the two hands have their fingers entwined!
How have you seen your work evolve over the years?
I started playing with wood and found objects my last year in college. I didn’t have a background in woodworking and just a little metalsmithing but I was intuitively drawn to the materials. After graduating I didn’t have access to the elaborate sculpture shop I’d used in school so I worked really simply. I continued working with wood and found things and gradually I acquired more tools. My technical skills evolved. I kept two of the first things I ever carved out of wood. They’re really raw. When I look at them it’s like seeing old friends. They have the essence of what I try to express now. I still work in a simple style but now it’s by choice rather than necessity. I have greater control over my materials and am able to express things with more detail.
Elizabeth is a contributing artist to 500 Handmade Dolls.