AHA! A House for Arts


Whiting Studio

Visit the Whiting Studio; home to talented artists Robert and Susan Whiting. Motor City Barrels creates unique, handcrafted art pieces & furniture out of old whiskey and wine barrels. Learn about the resident artist program at Lyric Opera of Kansas City with resident artist, Samantha Gossard. Carpenter Jeff Sonksen is an artist who loves to beautify his community and blaze his own trail.

AIRED: August 08, 2019 | 0:26:46

(upbeat music)

- On this episode of AHA.

Visit the The Whiting Studio.

Spirits-inspired furniture making.

Next generation opera singers take to the stage.

A carpenter and artist blazing his own trail.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA.

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include The Leo Cox

Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

- Hi, I'm Matt Rogowicz and this is AHA,

A House for Art, a place for all things creative.

The Whiting Studio in Argyle, New York

is home to two talented artists.

Robert Whiting's oil paintings reflect current themes

while paying tribute to the old masters.

And his wife Susan creates wonderful

plainer landscape painting.

We visited their studio to learn more.

- We were very, very lucky to have found each other

because we do, we spend all day in the studio

and he'll be working on his side

and I'll be working on mine and there's no conversations

which is probably really good for our marriage

but it makes for a very quiet day.

(peaceful music)

I started painting about four years ago

when our first son was being born

and my husband said, "You can't be home doing nothing,"

and he gave me a box of acrylic paints.

And that's where I started, doing kitchen art.

Anything that was in the kitchen.

Anything on the counter got painted.

On canvas.

On canvas.

I started using oil paints and have not gone back.

I love using oils.

I mostly do landscapes.

Recently doing mostly the forest scenes.

I love the line and the texture that you get in it.

My work tends to be a little brushy, more abstract.

If I'm doing a still life,

that tends to get a little tighter,

but mostly it's impressionistic.

If I'm working in studio, I usually tint my canvas

and then take off the tint in order to give me a negative

and from there I apply my paint.

It's usually pretty quick.

I mean, the painting that I started

a couple days ago that's on the easel,

that's like three days of work.

When I paint, all I really wanna do

is to give somebody the suggestion of what's there.

I don't feel as though I need to have

every person that's standing there or every blade of grass.

I want them to put those in there.

I think if I put too much in with as loose

a brush work as I do, it kills it.

Just kills it.

So this is how I clean my brush.

It's a single ply toilet paper and it works the best.

Just because I use so much paint

that the only way to keep from having to use

a mound of paper towels

because it's just right there on my easel

and I can turn it and it just rolls right into the bag.

It works.

What can I say?

Robert's work, it...

It runs a gambit because he is a very formal painter

when he's doing his still lifes, very photo-realistic,

and yet to get get away from that very tight, tight work,

he'll do something very abstract, almost surrealist,

and I think that's his way to loosen up.

He calls me a happy painter

and Bob's a very focused painter.

- I love art.

I especially love going to museums.

I love the old masters.

I just get lost and look at a picture for quite a while

and try to figure out how they did it

along with the story behind it.

But usually, my still lifes are collages,

things I just put together and try to make them

speak to the person who looks at them, I guess.

This is a picture done by William Bougerough.

I want to incorporate it into my picture here

of the niche with the statue in it.

So what I did was first I transferred

the picture using tracing paper,

traced it out, traced the back of it,

put it on the canvas like so, traced it again with a pencil,

picture comes out.

Tape the painting using blue painter tape,

doesn't hurt the painting at all,

put it on and I start my rendering.

- We try very hard not to be critical of each other.

- That's what she says, yeah.

- I'll come around the corner some time

and say you know, "Maybe you could tweak that a little bit?"

and he says, "Maybe not," so,

we're not very critical of each other.

(cheerful music)

A lot of times people ask me what it is

that drives me to paint.

And I say it's kind of like that tickle

that you have in the back of your throat

that you just have to get at.

That's how I feel about painting.

If I'm away from it for three days, I go crazy

because there's something I need to get out.

And it's a release for me to sit at an easel all day long

and just not focus on anything except dinner.

(cheerful music)

- It's a family affair for Motor City Barrels,

a company that created unique hand-crafted art pieces

and furniture out of old whisky and wine barrels.

- I think the rustic, refurbish stuff is big.

You know, people are just drawn to it.

- A lot of people like the look of it,

the darkness, it just kind of, like, pops.

- I think it's a novelty,

there actually is the younger generation,

I've noticed over the past 10, 12 years

that they've gotten into the bourbon and scotch and whisky

and they've gotten away from Bud Lights and Budweiser's.

So I think that's a lot of the customers that we get.

- I was always good with my hands.

Attention to detail, a lot of people tell me

that I always put in the extra effort to make it look nice.

Rob got married and he had a bourbon bar and a cigar bar,

we used the barrels and made tables out of them.

Then we didn't know what to do with them

so we started creating different products.

I thought it was gonna be hobby,

they're all about recycling and reusable products,

so we started getting into that with the whisky barrels,

that was probably maybe six months after we got going,

we said, "There's something here."

Then we were already like, "Wow.

"This is a functioning business now,"

it's just going crazy.

Started out just with two people,

now it's seven people with me and my wife,

my nephew, T's married to my niece,

so everyone's pretty much a family.

- Darrel and Nancy have literally been

my seconds parents since I was about 10.

Darrel's so creative and cool to be around

and you learn so much.

When we started, like, just some of the stuff

we were attempting to make, I was like,

"I don't know how we're gonna do that,"

because working with wood and things that are square

and level and flush and plump,

it's a lot different working with barrels.

Even just getting the right barrel,

making sure the bands are lined up.

Like, some bands, they might be off a half inch

and you want it to line up and be uniform.

- We make an A-frame wine rack

and we take the whisky and we put wine bottle on it.

And then there's bottle openers.

We make a state bottle opener with a magnet

that's behind the opener

so when you open your bottle it sticks.

You can't see it, it's buried underneath the wood

put it sticks to the piece of wood when you open your bottle

so kind of creative.

You know, people really like that.

And we got the half-barrel hideaway

and then we got the hallways table

and we have stave with laser, like,

bourbon made me do it on it and different sayings.

The dog dishes, we can make them any size, any height.

Or if you have a cat, we've made some for cats.

And then we make a half-barrel, quarter-barrel for pet toys.

We've made dog beds.

There's a lot of things, it's never ending.

- We do wedding barrels with the cards

and slit at the top and we make a door on the side.

We made a dancing barrel for, like, Irish dancing

and we put hardwood tops on the barrels

and they danced on top of the barrels and stuff like that.

We made grape crushing barrels.

- We make the wine bottles that the thing

with the glasses fit on it, it's a nice centerpiece

and, like, a lot of women have been buying those

and putting them right in their table.

The best part about working with these products

is it's one-of-a-kind, handmade, there's no patterns.

When you make it, you made that.

And the worst part about it is

it's one-of-a-kind, handmade, there's no pattern.

You know, so it's a catch 22 there.

There's a good process.

- First we take a barrel apart and that's always a mess

so we clean that up and then take it in here

and we mark what we have to make

and how many we have to make of it

and then I usually fill in all the cracks,

like, drilling the holes

and kind of prepping it for the sanding process.

Usually I make the smaller type of products

like the bottle openers and the bottle towers.

- It's a ton of fun, it really is.

Like, when you get done with it,

like, no one else has done that and you take a lot of pride.

You walk out of here with a sense of fulfillment.

- It makes it special to make it and see how it goes

and them telling you that it worked out perfectly

and it just makes everyone happy.

- It's the smiles of the customers.

They come in here and go, "Oh, that's really cool."

That's what I do.

I mean, I love to see that.

People come in here and praise our work,

they love our stuff.

That's the word of mouth, it's powerful, you know?

Or they come round the their house

and see the dog dish and they have to have one,

so it's going good that way.

- We have a lot of fun here.

It's not always a work thing.

There's a lot of laughs and it's fun

to make the products that we make

and the vision that Darrel has for everything,

how organized he is.

Just being around those kind of people

always make you better anyway.

- You feel at home really

and I've known these people pretty much my whole life

so we all wanna make everything as good as it can be.

- When I'm building stuff, I always think,

would I put this in my house?

Like, would this go right by my front door?

And if it wouldn't, then we'll take it apart

and reuse it for something else or try to make it better

and so that's kind of my 100% guarantee

that the customer will be satisfied with their product.

- You know, we all kind of look after each other

and say, "Hey," you know, "Do this, do that,"

or whatever to try to make a better product.

We gotta make it work, you know?

Because you're trying to support everybody

and take care of everybody

so it's something that drives you

because you don't want to fail

and have everybody else fail along with you

so that's the drive right there.

It makes me proud, proud to do this.

Finally after doing a job so long,

this has given me more of an enjoyment.

- The Lyric Opera Company of Kansas City

introduce its first class of a new resident artist program.

It's a chance for young singers to bridge the gap

between their opera schooling and the professional world.

Samantha Gossard is one of four resident artists

and as lyric season gets underway,

she's thrilled by the program's possibilities.

- I remember the first time I saw an opera.

I was in college, actually,

it came to me much later in life

than a lot of people who're in it.

I was just mesmerized, completely.

The spectacle, the sheer sound,

the fact that these voices were carrying

over the orchestra in the great big hall.

(singing scales)

A mezzo-soprano is a lower female voice,

soprano being the highest, mezzo-soprano is the middle

and then there are contraltos.

We has a different tessitura which is the range of voice

where we're most comfortable

singing for long periods of time.

(singing opera)

My teacher always tells me

you have to say hello to your voice everyday.

Even if you're taking ten minutes to vocalize in the shower,

just to see what your voice is doing

because your voice, it's its own organ,

it's its own muscle and it grows and changes

as your body grows and changes

and you have to know what it's doing.

(opera music)

- [Narrator] For nearly every aspiring opera singer,

finding the right teacher is essential.

Like this man, world renowned tenor Vinson Cole.

Samantha worked with him during

her graduate studies in Cleveland,

then followed him to Kansas City

where he now serves on the faculty

of his alma mater, the UMKC Conservatory.

- He's so down to earth and just, very nurturing

and has been such a mentor and friend

to me for the past six years.

I mean, he's really taught me

most of the things that I know.

You don't find many like him.

I mean, he is a master of singing

and he can also teach it.

(Vinson singing opera)

- She's a real joy to teach.

You can't make somebody perfect and you can't do everything

but there are times when there are

different things you can do.

When you have somebody who's as agile as she is,

as an adaptive,

you can kind of mold and say, "Okay,

"try it this way, try it this way."

It's the little refinement things.

When you take a breathe or when you sing a line,

what's behind that?

What's the though behind it?

(Samantha singing opera)

I always tell people, I say,

"You have to make sure that the end of the phrase

"is as good as the beginning of the phrase,"

because what they're gonna hear is the end

and that's what's gonna stick in their ears.

So you wanna make sure that

you've got yourself set up correctly.

- [Narrator] Cole can now add another credit

to his already lengthy resume,

Director of The Lyric's brand new resident artist program,

for which Samantha was selected.

That means she and three of her cohorts,

seen here at the recent Kauffman Bravo celebration,

will play on-stage roles throughout the season

with an opportunity to study others

as part of their professional development.

It's the kind of program that Deborah Sandler believes

will benefit not only young singers

but also the company and the community.

- We're very excited that we have

a wonderful chorus here and they're local

but for the most part,

we bring our principal artists in

through international audition

and so this way if we're at a point in between productions,

we have a group of people who are very comfortable

setting out and we're doing special programs

and we're even starting a new series this year

called the Exploration Series.

- [Narrator] That exploring begins with

an unexpected pairing of the Beatles and Schubert,

then onto music by Elvis Costello

and a trip through the American Art Song

with resident artists and a few guests

doing the bulk of the vocal work.

It's all part of The Lyric's big push

to bring new patrons into the fold.

- It's the people who have never gone

that we want to try to reach to say, "Hey, give it shot.

"Here, let's give you a point of entry

"that may ease your journey."

- [Narrator] These days, opera does pop up

in commercials and on film soundtracks,

productions at the the Met

are streamed live into movie theaters.

It may be centuries old but younger singers

like Samantha Gossard still feel its power.

- The stories we get to tell are so very human.

I often find that the art form

and really, honestly live theater in general

gives people permission to feel and think things

that they wouldn't otherwise feel or think.

Singers in the opera world today are singing actors.

I've been, like, out of breath

running around singing on recent productions.

And I love that, I love that it's so active now.

(opera music)

- You know, since I sing less now,

it's very interesting to do something with young singers.

It's never the top note, it's what sets it up.

- You've been telling me that for years.

- If any singer gets to enjoy what I got to enjoy

all these years, it's the greatest joy of my life.

I want them to have that same kind of feeling

when they get to my age

and they say, "Okay, I feel like

"I've really done something worthwhile,

"something I loved and enjoyed."

(opera singing)

- That's what makes it worth it to me,

it's communicating the story,

it's telling those stories, keeping that music alive.

Putting beauty in a world that really needs it.

When I'm having my really down days

and I'm like, "I don't know how much longer I can do this,

"this is hard," like, getting rejection after rejection

or this music isn't coming easily to me,

I'm on a deadline, you know?

When I'm having my really hard days

and I think I kinda wanna do something else

and then that's where my mind goes blank

and I can't really think of anything else I'd rather do

so I'm like, "Well, let's get back to it."

(opera music)

- Jeff Sonksen is a carpenter by trade

but an artist at heart

who loves to beautify his community

and blaze his own trail, here's his story.

- I always painted.

I think as a kid, I liked to paint and draw.

My parents were real cool, though, growing up.

I remember they, I must have been eight, 10 years old,

they let me paint my room all the way around

just draw all in my room, all on the walls, all four walls.

So they embraced it, they were real cool about it.

Paint the Trail is a bicycle trail,

the Seminole County bicycle trail.

I hung my first painting four years ago.

Back then I was struggling as a carpenter,

cabinet maker, just after the housing bubble burst.

Something I wasn't used to, I had a lot of time on my hands.

I'm a busybody person, I like to stay busy

and I was really frustrated trying to find work.

I don't know how to describe it

but it was sort of a juvenile thing,

I did a couple of paintings on some pickets

and screwed them to the trail as the sun was going down

because I was trying to irritate everybody.

So that's how it started.

And I did that for about four months

until I realized that people liked it

and it wasn't irritating them at all.

I painted Einstein and Yoda,

two different panels that weren't very big.

I remember I have my screw pouch,

I grabbed a panel, I'd look both ways,

I wouldn't hear anything

and I think I'd rundown about 40, 50 feet

and screw the paintings in and got out of there

and I thought it was hysterical.

I pretty much was almost laughing out loud.

I never, ever in my wildest dreams back then

would think that four years later I'd still be doing it.

I was just gonna do four or five of them and that was it.

I think it was sort of a thrill, not getting caught

and then you'd hear people talking about it

like they were trying to figure out who was doing it.

And so that kind of amped me up a little bit, did some more.

I didn't ask permission, I just stuck them out there.

I think I flew under the radar

for like 10 months or something or almost a year

before anybody really knew what

was kind of going on out there.

I got busted by some people

and I remember the first guy that ever saw me,

he stopped on his bike right away

and said, "Hey, are you the one doing these paintings?"

and I said, "Yeah!"

I was like, you know.

And he was like, "I love it!"

The county got ahold of me, Seminole County Cultural Arts

and they awarded me artist of the year for 2013

which I thought was, you know, just not inside me.

I figured I would get the police to come knocking on my door

or something, I didn't expect to get an award.

- I think it makes the trail more interesting, engaging.

There may be people who don't care for it

or who feel that it obstructs some of the nature

but I think the fence itself does that

and this is adding art to a fence.

- I'm gonna paint five miles

and I just kind of said it as a joke.

I've said it so many times that I think

I Jedi mind tricked myself into believing I can do it.

If you look at the artwork out there, it's nothing negative,

I never painted anything that would agitate anybody.

I kept everything upbeat.

Like, positive and inspirational stuff.

Maybe I was trying to uplift myself up or something,

I don't know what I was trying to do,

but that's still the theme out there

because I'm just trying to pass on positive vibe.

That's all my trying to do.

When people go out there and they walk

and they read some of that stuff,

I just want them to walk away in a better mood.

If they see something that could inspire them

or make them feel better

then wherever it is they're going that day,

they're gonna be in a little bit better mood

and the people that they're with are gonna sense that.

- I think it's spectacular to society in general

because any time you can highlight the arts,

the arts are like the whipped cream on dessert.

Dessert isn't even necessary

and if you can add something to make people be aware of it,

I think that just enhances society.

- Since I've been painting the trail out there,

I've really changed my whole way of thinking.

Every once in a while, people will ask me

if I can do this carpentry stuff for them

or cabinet stuff for them and I have no desire.

I love the art.

- And that wraps it up for this edition of AHA.

For more arts and culture, visit wmht.org/aha

where you'll find features about our creative world

in our backyards and across the country.

Until next time, I'm Matt Rogowicz, thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include The Leo Cox

Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That is why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.


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