While most known for her photography, printmaking, and fiber art, Stephanie Harvey refuses to be tied down by one creative medium or singular form of artistic expression. Fueled by a natural curiosity about the world, she has continually evolved as an artist since her childhood. Defying traditional standards of gender or any other societal label or expectation, Stephanie challenges the status quo via her artistic journey. She also beckons those who view and experience her art to question things and be open to conversations about important issues in our shared communities.
Stephanie’s always fresh and surprising art urges us to love one another and rise above perceived differences. Her quest for social justice and equality drives the meaning behind her diverse portfolio of work. A passionate advocate for public art, Stephanie consistently uses her creativity as a conduit toward being a positive change-agent. While her art may often seem whimsical on the surface, there is often deeper meaning to be discovered. This makes Stephanie’s art approachable, engaging, and refreshing to those in its barrier-breaking wake.
Our Interview with Stephanie
What does “being creative” mean to you?
To me, being creative means being able to see things in a new way. It's manifesting the crazy, funny things in my head into physical, colorful art objects that the viewer can see and ideally, feel the same things I felt when I made that art object. Being creative means being able to figure out a solution to a problem in a way that is unique to your own ways of thinking of the world. Being creative is really just taking ideas and turning them into reality. It isn't always easy, and it manifests itself in different ways, but it is always been a big part of my life. Exercising my creativity is what has helped me get to where I am today.
Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely wanted to do?
I have always been a maker of things. It was when I began school that I was recognized for being "imaginative" and "creative." It is something that has been a constant in my life since i was three or four years old. My creative practices have in many ways, stayed the same through the many years. I still turn to creating as a way to keep my hands busy in order to still my mind to concentrate on what's really going on inside of me. However, I used to only focus on creating things that were pretty, that pleased myself and other people. It wasn't until I was in university, I realized the invaluable role an artist can have in creating change. It was then that I started to understand how I could use my art to create positive change I wanted to see in the community, the world. This helped to ensure that I would continue to create and dedicate much of my life to this. It felt like such an honor, a privilege, to have a voice in how I want the world to be. I would be able to get that peace of mind for myself, create positive change and make money doing it if done correctly. My decision was reinforced as I started a family and married. I was able to work from home while spending time with my children, volunteer in the community and do what I love while still being able to have an income. I am also now able to see that through creating art I was able to compensate for not being "ladylike" enough. I used my creativity to make things, because I was not molding to the traditional female role. I was never one for cooking or possessively making my children's science projects for them, so I think making things was kind of a way to not only fulfill me, try to make change and make money, but also to makeup for my lack of stereotypical maternal qualities and the tradition of keeping a house and cooking up the meals. I have zero desire to make a meatloaf or a pie from scratch, but damn it.... I was making some of my kids' clothing and all of my home decor (among other art pieces). I also made these earrings I am wearing. (I say this 200 times a year. haha) It helped create some security and validity in motherhood and wifery that I craved at the time. Creating things gave me confidence as a young woman, at a time when I only knew one way to be a wife, one way to be a mom, neither of which I conformed to.
That is when I knew I wanted to create, but why I continue to create is because I need to make things. Ugly things and beautiful things. I want to use my hands to create things like my great grandmothers did, but by choice not by expectation of traditions. I also continue creating because "The Creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy because it reminds us that we have power." - Betsy Greer. I also want to breathe life into these old artistic traditional practices that some people think are obsolete by showing how relevant they are. I like the challenge of taking hand embroidery or crochet and display them in galleries and museums instead of only thrown on people's couches or adorning their clothing. I am also driven to keep creating because I want the world I live in to be a wonderful place. I want the world to be full of pleasant surprises. I won't just sit and wait for it to hopefully be that, so I try to start doing it myself by making things that build people up, lift people's spirits, celebrate beautifying the community and continue being an advocate for artists so that we can work together to create this.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I had been doing something subconsciously for awhile without seeing the meaning behind it, and I have continued doing so even after I had the realization that it was, in fact, a ritual- absurd and funny as it is. Some days, after I get my kids off to school and my husband is at work, I crank my favorite pumped jams of the day, shower, put on one of my many floral frocks, maybe even put on make up (lipstick too sometimes!). Once dressed, I head down to my home studio. Before entering the studio there is a row of traditional, lovely, stereotypical girly, brightly colored, fabric aprons. Many of them are "1950's housewife style" aprons: hand sewn by me, my momma or someone else's momma back in the 50s. I select one and enter my studio, ready to create and make. But instead of blueberry muffins and baked chicken with rosemary dressing, it is embroidery hoops and relief blocks. ("I Make Prints. Not Pies." - Kathryn Polk (Please look up this piece of art. It is amazing. I own one of the lithographs. It hangs in my office. I love it every day.) The point is not that I am a modern woman who must resist cooking. Rather, my true point is that I have the freedom to choose exactly what I do after putting on that apron. If this isn't symbolic that times for women are a-changin', but kind of not, I just don't know what is
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever created and why?
My favorite thing I have ever created was my family. I have done a lot of sweet projects and made millions of things, but this family I have been able to build is the thing I am most insanely proud of. I am confident that I have helped to make some really respectful, kind, generous people who will continue creating joy and goodness in the world even long after I am gone.
What are you trying to communicate or express with your art?
Communicating to people through my art is so, so important to me. It is a huge driving force behind WHY I even make things. I try to make with the greater good in mind and help open up conversations about gender, fairness, love and equality. I so badly want to communicate these ideas to people that it often even drives my choice in the media I use and the locations in which I share my art. Galleries and museums are great, and I do participate in that realm of the art world, but my true passion lies in exhibiting in more public spaces... Like schools, libraries and on the street. It makes art more easily accessible to a broader audience. My desire to share messages of love and equality also tend to push me towards specific media. I love the instant gratification of photography and printmaking, but I also rely on them for their ability to quickly reproduce multiples. If I have one large oil painting that relays a message of female empowerment that I have worked on for months, I will hang it in a big gold frame on a big art museum wall, where a small (maybe not as diverse) number of people can walk in and see it. That is wonderful in its own right. It is. But, if I make a relief block that inspires female empowerment and make 50 prints of it (using the same amount of time or less than that big oil painting), leave some on the street for Free Art Friday for passersby to see and keep (especially if they are people who may not have easy access to art and/or this message of female empowerment), frame one for an art museum, donate a few to local libraries, sell a few, roll a few up and mail it to friends out of state to hang in their respective cities and donate one to a local charity. Both methods help you get the word out about what you are passionate about, but which method touched more people directly?
The ideas I want to talk about are not always easy to bring up in everyday conversation. And, even when I am able to bring them up, sometimes, people don't like to hear what I have to say. It's too far away from what they know and have committed to in the past. It is too far away from what their parents did and taught them through example. It can seem confrontational, uncomfortable. But by putting those feelings and ideas into a handcrafted object, I'm able to reach a bigger audience and quietly have those ideas on the forefront. I also rely a lot on my humor, wit and dazzling personality to really break down any walls and make things easier to approach and digest. This is also why I love Grafix shrink plastic. It is easy to be fun, lighthearted, and silly with it, but the plastic art packs a punch. It is small enough to handle and use in a variety of ways, able to be created a little faster and given away or sold at a lower price point to help open the work up to a wider audience. All of these factors help to potentially start conversations instead of silence them before they begin.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Even after formal training during the process of obtaining my BFA from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I have learned so much about technical art making processes and traditional "crafts." I am always learning, taking workshops, asking other artists questions and experimenting with new media. I am most definitely a jack of all trades... but master of none. Some days, I wish I could dedicate myself to just one medium, but I tire of it and enjoy dabbling in several. One thing I have basic knowledge of, but haven't played with much is screen printing. i would love to be able to take some of my drawings and print them on fabric. Of course, I would want to take it one step further and do some sewing or hand embroidery over top.
What’s the best advice you have ever received in relation to your art?
"Ain't nothin' to it but to do it," has been my mantra for the last year or two. There are a million reasons why NOT to do something, why NOT to believe in yourself, how you COULD fail, reasons why you are afraid. But, the number one step in starting any project or life change is just to DO IT. There are so many projects that seem daunting, but the hardest thing is just to start doing it. Get over your fear!
What advice would you give a young or new artist who is just starting out?
I recommend to not rule anything out. When you think of someone you so greatly admire, realize the only difference between that person and you is that they're doing it and you're not. They generally were not born with qualities that automatically made them so much more equipped to achieve success. They worked, they just started doing it. You haven't yet, but you can at any time. You are worthy of success. You deserve good things.
What’s the best thing about being an artist in Northeast Wisconsin?
Being an artist in this area definitely has its challenges. It does sometimes feel like there aren't many opportunities, but many artists trying for them. However, sometimes it is an illusion and an excuse one may use to explain why he or she is not living up to potential. The best thing about being an artist in Northeast Wisconsin is that because it is such a small community, I have been able to meet so many different people and stay connected with them. It also helps to be involved with local groups like Northeast Wisconsin Arts Association (NEWAA), Wisconsin Visual Artists and more. I also believe that over the last few years, there has been more of a resurgence of the idea "community over competition," which I could not agree more with. I believe that helping artists around me only builds, strengthens and elevates our community, making all of us better. I really treasure my Northeast Wisconsin artist and their ability to share opportunities and knowledge. I would love nothing more than for us to really rally around each other for support and to work on continuing educating organizations and businesses of the value of arts education, public community beautification, and more. If we work together, we can individually become better and also create more opportunities for ourselves.