Laura Caffrey

Location: Austin, Texas.
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How did you become a artist?
Born that way, I suppose. But I grew up in a family where making things was just what one did. My mom gardened, my dad spearheaded all of the home repair stuff. I learned how to sew, we pressed our apples into cider every fall, and went camping every summer, always pitching a tent. So while I was well-versed in making from the beginning, making something that I felt comfortable calling “art” took a while. I began making these assemblages after working in a frame shop for a while, and I figured out that the only reason the clients were “artists” and I wasn’t was because I wasn’t making any art. So I made some.

Where are you from originally?
My maternal great-grandparents were all from Poland, the other side of my family is Irish and Lithuanian. All of my grandparents lived in northeastern Pennsylvania, but my parents moved away briefly during/after college. I grew up in a house in Larksville where my grandmother (Nanny, to me) was born, lived in Wyoming for a few years and moved to Austin in 1994, having visited only once, but feeling very much like it could be “home”.

Who were your main influences growing up?
I don’t think I can point to anyone in particular, as I feel like I was influenced by everyone around me, for good or bad. Is an influence something one can really choose as a child? Don’t we just sort of take it all in? I suppose I could say the house in which I grew up was a major influence: it was filled with all of the bits and pieces left behind by several generations of my thrifty and resourceful ancestors.

Did you go to art school/college or are you self-taught?
While I can’t name a specific school, claiming I am self-taught seems a bit untrue. Always encouraged as a kid to make things, art class throughout school, one studio art class toward my bachelor’s degree, a handful of community college adult education classes (blacksmithing, metalsmithing, upholstery), then a masters program in architecture. I starting making the assemblages in the midst of alI that, so I am not sure how much of the teaching influences/influenced what I do.

Any advice or tips to novice artists?
Make things. All the time. Even stuff you can buy or would have someone else make. Just figure it out, fearlessly. And then you should probably be very generous with it – give it away. You can always make more and you can’t take it with you.

What has been the most rewarding and challenging project you have worked on?
Definitely my house. Is it art? Yes. If I had any idea how difficult the process of getting a free house, moving it, dealing with the city (permits, variances, flood-plain issues, etc.) working with less-than stellar sub-contractors and then finally getting the place livable was going to be, I probably wouldn’t do it. But fortunately, I had no idea, and forged ahead, and someday this place is going to be absolutely fantastic.

What is your favorite portfolio piece? Why?
BULOVA GREEN DIAMONDS. The composition, the color and the combination of different metals make me happy whenever I think about it. Just hung it up in the living room. Ahh.

What art or artist inspires you most?
Joseph Cornell. Even though I feel like I will never be as good as he, whenever I see something of his I get inspired to try. There’s no one else’s work to which I respond so strongly. And it isn’t a particularly cerebral response – feels more like pure ‘lizard brain’ activity. I suspect his studio and my childhood home had a whole lot in common.