Topeka is a haven for artists. Some paint using oil or watercolors, while others create with oil pencils, clay, wood, metal, and glass. Meet these local artists who gift a piece of themselves in each work of art.
After retiring from a career at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Karen Voorhees took up oil painting. She eventually decided to market her work so her children wouldn't have to figure out what to do with hundreds of paintings when she dies. "I think that would be cruel, she says with a chuckle. A perfect day for her is spending time in her basement studio painting while listening to audiobooks. She explains, "Having worked in sort of an abstract field, I didn't always see a finished product. When I paint, I have a finished product, and I'm solely responsible for it, good or bad. I'm able to do it the way I wanted." Voorhees's work displays at Milk and Honey Coffee Shop and AMUZED Art Gallery.
A friend asked Phyll Klima to join her at a Lincoln, Nebraska, community college pottery class for moral support. She was hooked and has made pots ever since. "From all the media in art you can work in, clay is one that there's frequently no tool
between you and the medium," she says. "It's very tactile, and I'm a very tactile person. I like to feel things and experience that smoothness of the clay running through my hands at the wheel." Klima also makes her pieces functional. She notes, "The greatest compliment I get from customers is, 'I use your work every day.' They can put it in the dishwasher, microwave, or oven
and understand it will come out just like it went in."
Klima's work is displayed at Fire Me Up Ceramics in Topeka, Gallery 12 in Wichita, Lincoln Art Center in Lincoln, KS, and SNW Gallery in Manhattan, KS. Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/EmmaPPottery
Reclaimed Metal Sculpture
Chances are you've enjoyed one of Ptr Sponseller's metal sculptures without knowing it was his. For example, if you attended the 2021 Topeka Zoo Lights event, he created the metal sculpture frames displayed in the Japanese Garden. "For me, I just want to make sure I don't create anything that looks like anybody else's work," he says. "A lot of my inspiration lately has been Mother Nature. I like taking mechanical stuff and making it look organic. I love making it look like it has movement when it's actually just a bunch of metal welded together."
Sponseller also points out the difference between a handmade piece of art and what's available in a store. He explains, "You're really buying a piece of a person when you buy a handmade piece of art. You're getting a piece of that person for the rest of your life." Sponseller's work can be seen at Glover GEAR Reclaimed Art Studio and Gallery in NOTO (by appointment). Website: www.clovergearnoto.com
Though Stacey Utech loves her work as an interior designer, she loves the process of layering glass pieces, developing a mix of texture and color, and then seeing the result when it comes out of the kiln. She explains the firing process changes the texture and sometimes even the colors of the glass. "It's exciting to see the final product!" Utech feels an innate need to work with her hands. She explains, "Designs and ideas run through my mind constantly, and I just have to get them out! But the fact that others enjoy it enough to buy one of my pieces is still just so amazing to me. I mean, that art piece is a piece of me. It's very personal. It's an amazing feeling, very difficult to describe." Utech's work is shown at Stephen Smith Gallery in downtown Topeka. Website: CopperSnob.com.
MJ King's painting, Resilience, may appeal to Kansans with its majestic sunflower, but the Ukraine war inspired the creation since it's also their national flower. She burned the edges of the paper and the frame to show the damage eating away at the country. Finally, she used forged nails to finish the piece to symbolize the bullets flying around those who only want to go
home. "I am inspired by the unexpected in the world around me," she says. "It might be the message in a sermon, a lone granite pebble on a beach being polished by the waves, or the tiny details found in the blossoms of a Bradford Pear. I want people to see the unexpected and realize there's beauty hiding in plain sight." King's work is shown at the Stephen Smith Gallery in downtown Topeka. stephensmithgallery.com
Sue Mersman discovered the art of marquetry in her early 20s while trying to come up with inexpensive Christmas present ideas. She used the technique of cutting thin wood veneers to create scenes to make wooden belt buckles and inlaid combs. Forty years later, she now works with more than 185 different woods. Her pieces feature only the woods' natural colors—no paints, stains, or dyes. "I enjoy the way people kind of catch their breath when entering my booth and see the beauty of the different woods," she says. "The changing grains and highlights and the variation that comes from tree to tree is what has kept marquetry so interesting for me all these years." Mersman is the featured artist at the Kansas City Plaza art fair in late September. Website: suemersman.com
Though Washburn University art professor Ye Wang works with many mediums, his career started as a watercolorist. In 2019, he created a painting series following in the footsteps of famous impressionist artists. Visiting sites in Europe and China, he painted more than 30 watercolors at the places made famous by the likes of Monet and Van Gough. Wang's early watercolor inspiration came from the Chinese cornfields where he grew up. However, he lost that feeling when he moved first to Canada and then to Kansas. "You need the environment to inspire you," he says. "What is around you motivates you better." In Kansas, Wang became fascinated by the spring prairie burns. He found a way to paint fire with watercolor with better results than with oil paint. Now he teaches his method to his Washburn students and has conducted prairie fire painting workshops for Topeka Art Guild and Mark Arts in Wichita. View Wang's work at Stephen Smith Gallery and Beauchamp Gallery in Topeka, and SNW Gallery in Manhattan, KS. stephensmithgallery.com