Interview in Iowa's Mag Pie mag

I took part in this interview right before my decision to move to Milwaukee, but I guess I can technically be considered an Iowa artist for another month or so... Anyway, here's a little short interview with me about my work. In addition to the "fine art" work mostly discussed in the article, you can check out my shop Ultraterrestrial HERE!

Also- read an internet version of Mag Pie mag by clicking HERE!

Virgin Mary grotto, hot tub, and hut in Eagle River, WI

This past summer I was very lucky to have encountered the beautiful work of Debra Ketchum Jircik and her husband Greg Jircik on their property in Eagle River, WI. They were inspired by Howard Finster, Fred Smith, and other folk and outsider artists. Debra is a native of Milwaukee and has worked in a variety of mediums throughout her artistic career. Her current creative focus is in paper making and her practice reflects her interest in minimizing her environmental impact.  You can find out more about her and view her work on her website

Dubuque Democratic Socialist Free School Grotto-Planter Demonstration

Photos from a recent demonstration/workshop at the Dubuque Democratic Socialist Free School at Prescott Elementary in Dubuque. I brought in some old light fixtures rescued by Key City Creative Center, and some awesome kids (especially Iris!) helped me turn these into grotto-inspired planters. 

Grotto-inspired Collage // postcard set

I made these back in the spring. I don't have a purpose for them yet, just getting back into making 2-d collage. Could be a nice postcard set?

Bathtub grotto updates

Doing some major catching up here! I finally have a real studio space at Dubuque's new maker space, Key City Creative Center , and while major life changes have gotten in the way of me being able to put in major time (yet), I have been able to make a good chunk of progress on some of the tubs. I also recently sold one to The Smokestack in Dubuque which is on display in their new "pocket garden". The interior of the tub still needs to be finished, and as per request of the owners, I will be filling the interior with broken mirror pieces, and pennies will cover the archway of the tub. 

Gorgeous Gravestones from Kenel, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, S.D

Last November I took a weekend trip to Standing Rock with a few friends. We donated tons of food, volunteered in kitchen and art tent, helped to organize donations and were witness to 2 long tribal ceremonies- it was an amazing experience and we all wish we could have stayed much longer. On the way to the main camp we stopped at the cemetery in Kenel. I was of course delighted to see these unique, gorgeous homemade stones, especially the grotto ones. I hope you enjoy these photos.  

Rotto Grotto chosen to represent Iowa for the National Christmas Tree display in Washington D.C

I'm a bit late in posting this, but this past holiday season I was very honored to be the chosen artist to represent the state of Iowa on the Pathway of Peace Tree as part of the National Christmas Tree display in between the White House and the Washington Monument. Thank you to the Iowa Arts Council for all of their support. You can read their article here

Rotto grotto VIDEO

I had a short video made about my project which I'm excited to finally share. Big thanks to DreamCatcher Productions in Dubuque for help with filming and editing and Iowa City's Devin Dart for letting me use his music. Also, thanks to everyone who helped with the project, especially: the iowa Arts Council, DubuqueFest, Danielle Stowell, Tracy Ternes, Chuck Isenhart, Ana Kapparos, Julie Schmidt, and everyone who donated materials, participated at the craft table, or lent me words of encouragement. Your support means the world.

Visit with family of Catherine Bastian - Dubuque area "ham can" grotto artist

A few weeks ago on my way driving back from a bathtub-grotto demonstration at the Antique Spectacular Show in Cedar Falls I spotted a stunning construction on the front lawn of an old farm house of Highway 20 while passing through the tiny town of Earlville, Iowa. Somehow I had driven past this house countless times over the past 5 years or so and never noticed it until now. I left a note in the mailbox asking for more information about the grotto and eventually received calls back from the creator's niece and nephew.  They informed me that their aunt Catherine had created 7 large grottoes like the one I saw in addition to 900 small grottoes made from cans of ham!  This was thrilling news to me because I had purchased a ham-can grotto from Goodwill years ago and despite my best efforts had been unable to find any clues about it's origins. In fact, the little grotto was a major catalyst for my project in the first place, and helped me to connect with my project partner, Tracy, who also owned a ham can grotto. (note: I have been unable to find any of the additional large grottoes, and they may not still be in existence. ) I hope to follow up with the family and potentially do a filmed interview.

Sacred Space: Pocket Shrine Workshop with Kristi Norman + Wahlert High Shrine workshop with Sarah Conlon

Since grottoes and shrines have so much in common I wanted to share the results of a recent workshop hosted by Kristi Norman and me at the Abundant Wellness Center in Dubuque- we made tiny personal shrines in altoid tins. Stealing a phrase from the Unarius Academy I like to refer to these as "cosmic brain batteries"- not necessarily a place of deity worship but a small symbolic space of beloved objects, affirmations, fantasy, memories, dreams, an escape- whatever you want to charge yourself in whatever way you desire. I brought over my craft supply stash and some prints of deities, mandalas, etc. Dried moss and vintage fringe/trim were huge hits- and attendees brought some of their own items such as crystals, pebbles, and vials of essential oil. Kristi made small votive candles out of bottle caps. It was really inspiring to see how quickly everyone dove into the project and began experimenting with materials- and of course, every shrine reflected it's makers personality.  Thanks Kristi for the great event idea and everyone who attended! Scroll on below for the results of a second workshop...

I was also invited to attend an altoid-shrine workship in Sarah Conlon's art class at Wahlert High School in Dubuque. I spoke about Rotto Grotto, grottoes in the midwest and my path as an artist. For their shrines, the students were asked to choose a saint, deity, or Greek god/goddess. Many just experimented with materials. I was impressed with their creativity and enthusiasm. Thanks for having me! See the results below:

Antique Spectacular Show & Bathtub Grotto Demo in Cedar Falls

Last month I was invited to do a small bathtub-grotto demonstration at the Antique Spectacular show in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was a 3 day event.  I spent some time exploring the antiques in addition to working on the tub, and I scored some cool Iowa-themed items.

This was my first time doing this live and in front of people which was an interesting experience that came with it's own challenges (mortar dries quickly when you're chatting!). Next time I'll be sure to wrangle some dedicated assistants. The entire week prior to the show - usually last minute preparation crunch time - I found myself suddenly preoccupied with taking an unexpected college course in construction to prepare for my next job in stained glass restoration - completely exciting opportunity but timing was definitely a challenge to prepare properly for this event.

Despite those challenges I did have many enlightening and informative conversations- it was encouraging to meet other artists who were supportive of what I am trying to do. Lots of people asked me what material I use to adhere the items to the bathtubs- hopefully to make their own!- I am using Polymer Modified Mortar which I buy at Menards.

note: this grotto is not finished!

Bathtub Updates!

It's probably about time that I've made a proper update about the progress of the bathtub grottoes.

Through my connection with Danielle Stowell, director of DubuqueFest (our annual art festival in which we will be creating bathtub grottoes live with the public this May) I was connected withTim Hitzler, who is a teacher at a local alternative high school and a reclaimed woodworker. He also happens to be my neighbor, which is pretty darn convenient.

Tim has been helping me by creating wooden stands for the bathtubs and allowing me to use his studio space. We are going to create 3 bathtub grottoes altogether. I plan to complete 1 grotto before DubuqueFest and working on the other two with the help of the public during DubuqueFest. (I'm also planning on doing a grotto demo and donation collection during an Antique Market next month- more details to come!)

After DubuqueFest, the grottoes will stay in the public park for another month or so and then hopefully eventually be moved to local community gardens to be enjoyed by everyone for years to come! I've been getting some pretty amazing donations of items for the grottoes and have also purchased some things from antique stores, flea markets, and thrift shops. This grotto falls somewhere in between a true grotto and a mosaic-  the items have to be fairly light. I'm been lucky enough to get a hold of quite a few Dubuque and tri-state pinback buttons to infuse the bathtubs with as much regional flavor as I can.

Grotto-inspired "sculptures"

These past few months I've been experimenting with making some grotto-inspired sculptures- or as I prefer to call them- '3D collages' with various materials in my home studio. So far, my favorite thing to use is paper mache clay. It's really amazing how strong mulched paper is! I have a lot of pieces in various stages of progression right now. I seem to be unable to work on one piece at a time....One of my goals for this year is to have proper studio space outside of my home. Art has a way of taking up incredible amounts of space! My other goal is to start connecting with galleries.

The challenges of working with extremely heavy materials

I must admit- when I first embarked on this project I had no experience working with concrete, mortar, or bathtubs. I had never picked up a bag of mortar or cement. I had certainly never tried lifting a cast iron bathtub. If i had known how heavy they were, I might have been chickened out.  This is almost embarrassing to write, but I had originally envisioned myself working on the concrete and cast iron grottoes in my second floor apartment studio.  How naive... I thought- what could be so heavy that two grown men can't carry it out? They've carried sofas out!

Oh....How wrong I was...

I thought I would be able to start working on my bathtubs right away- but it became clear as soon as we collected the bathtubs that they were not going upstairs- and since I would be adding hundreds more pounds of weight- it was necessary that I find out where they are going to go before I created a potentially unmovable 700? pound sculpture. I'm used to working on things spontaneously- by myself- wherever I want. This project is very different and I needed to be strategic- I wanted to avoid using my funds to move these objects more often then necessary.

I had always envisioned the bathtub grottoes in Washington Park. It's centrally located downtown between the historical post office and the Dubuque Museum of Art. Washington Park hosts tons of public events throughout the year, including one of Dubuque's biggest arts events, DubuqueFest. I thought maybe this could be a live, public event during DubuqueFest- what better way to ensure tons of visibility and public interaction? Fair-goers could learn about grottoes, donate their own materials to be used in one, and watch one being built- and maybe even help build it. I thought the Dubuque Museum of Art might be a great partner for this project so I approached them with idea and they agreed ! Exciting.

"Washington Park Gazebo Dubuque" by Dirk Hansen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons


Typically bathtub shrines are buried halfway, vertically, into the ground- but we wanted to avoid the trouble of digging giant holes in public property- especially since at this point we don't officially have permission to keep the bathtubs there past DubuqueFest (I am in the process of applying for a permit to display them for at least a few months after the event).

So my next issue was figuring out how to create some kind of stand for the bathtubs- I was eventually connected with woodworker Tim Hitzler, who also happens to be my neighbor. He agreed to help build wooden stands so the bathtubs could be held upright. In fact, in the process of me writing this blog post Tim texted to me to tell me that the first stand for the first bathtub stand is completed! I am going to be headed over there tomorrow morning to experiment grottifying a chunk of bathtub...wish me luck! I will be posting more details on the materials I decided to use and how everything goes. I'll probably bring my GoPro over to take a time-lapse.

My PechaKucha presentation "Rock Solid Dreams"

I did a PechaKucha presentation about my project a few months ago called "Rock Solid Dreams". If you aren't familiar with PechaKucha, it is basically a presentation format that restricts you to twenty slides and 20 seconds to talk about each side. It's amazing how it forces you to be concise!  I did this presentation before I knew where the bathtubs were going to go-I was actually feeling a little lost about the project at the time, but I'm so glad I went ahead with the presentation because I made some important connections there. If you're curious about the origins and inspiration for this project I explain it all here. Some of the slides are missing from the middle here unfortunately but they do come back.

Bathtub progress

Traditionally one would bury a bathtub halfway into the ground before transforming it into a shrine and it would stay in same location permanently. Since our bathtubs grottoes will be moving to a second location after they are transformed, we are building sturdy wooden stands for the tubs so they can be moved without any major excavation. Thankfully I found a local woodworker, Tim Hitzler of Dubuque Reclaimed Woodworks, who was ready to take on the task of building wooden standsto help with the project. On New Years Day my friend Jeff Downs lopped off the end of the first bathtub to make it easier to install onto the wooden base. I took a time-lapse of the bathtub chop.