Rachel Hayes is a member of the 2017 class of Tulsa Artist Fellows. She and her husband, current TAF Artist Eric Sall, are both working artists, who since obtaining their MFAs from VCU have been following artistic opportunities and residencies around the US. Three cities (NYC, Iowa City, Roswell) and two children (Wyatt, 6 and Shea, 2) later, Rachel and Eric moved to Tulsa when Eric was accepted into TAF’s first class. The Tulsa Artist Fellowship held a strong appeal for Hayes and Sall, as it provided an opportunity to stay in one city for several years and plant some roots for their family.
I met Rachel in a coffee shop, where, over the roar of the lunch crowd and caffeine infused guests, we discussed her new life in Tulsa, her role as an artist and a mother, and how she finds a balance between the two.
Rachel Matthews: I got to see your adjoining studio with Eric a couple weeks ago. That set-up seems to work nicely for your family.
Rachel Hayes: I don’t want to have to tell the kids to be quiet–I don’t want the studio to be that for them. So yes, it is nice to have them connected. The proximity between the studio and apartment is also nice. I do a lot of back and forth between the house and the studio–sometimes it’s hard for me to get down to the studio with two little kids so I work in my house.
RM: Do you think it’s beneficial for your family that you and Eric are both artists?
RH: I remember people always saying, ‘How do you make that work?’ And I thought, it makes it so easy because we both understand what it’s like (to be artists). But then, after having kids I realized how hard it was to balance our schedules and provide for our family. We’ve had to figure out how to divide our time.
RM: It’s interesting that you’ve been focusing on sewing since having children–a traditionally feminine, domestic activity.
RH: What I like about sewing is that it is this feminine, domestic activity that I can make really powerful by changing scale and scenery. When I made my first large piece it was about lifting silk out of the feminine conversation and making it huge, making it masculine.
RM: Absolutely, and changing the context. Eric was telling me about your piece at White Sands, which is gorgeous, by the way. He was saying how heavy it was…100 x 80 feet?
RH: (laughter) Yes, Eric worked hard that day. Shea was so tiny! She basically spent the whole day in and out of sleep in the Ergo. And Wyatt was shoveling sand. It was fun.
RM: Rachel, they’re going to have such great memories.
RH: I hope so. It’s so funny though–we were just in Wichita making this giant installation and it looked so cool and Wyatt came over and he was like, ‘I’m bored.’ And I thought, oh my gosh…you’re getting to hang out under this tree, there’s a creek right over there, and you have fishing poles and sticks…
I started thinking about temporary outdoor installations because of my kids. It is something we can all go do together–it’s an adventure. It’s not in a gallery where someone will give me the stink eye because they’re running around.
RM: What was the installation in Wichita?
RH: It was five fluttering towers, Sun Sails.
I had to sew hundreds of those. And I did them mostly upstairs in our apartment, with the kids playing right next to me.
RM: They’re like a source of inspiration, something that drives your focus towards an idea you wouldn’t have thought to do otherwise.
RH: (pause) Life changes after kids. And I think that’s cool. I don’t want to just go on and pretend like nothing happened. I think a lot of people force their kids to fall in line and get with the program because ‘this is what we do.’ I don’t want to fit my kids into my life; I want to make my art so that it folds into my life. It’s hard, but everything is hard. It’s just a season. There are things that I would like to be doing–stained glass, welding, structures, but it’s not the season for me to be doing that. I don’t have the facility and can’t around my kids, and I’ve decided that that’s okay. They’re going to grow up…I’ll pick it up again in a few years. Life changes, why not go with it?
It has been a challenge for myself to find what is unobtrusive to my life right now, but I am all about trying to be low stress. I don’t want to complicate my life to make my art. For example, I can’t sew right now, so I am working on a weaving to give my body a break.
RM: That’s very smart. I do metalsmithing and drawing, and I injured my hand over a year ago working through the pain. I haven’t been able to use my hand muscles the same way since. So I haven’t been getting that release. I keep telling myself I just need to loosen up, try painting.
RH: Totally. Draw with your fist. There’s always a way. When I was a kid I read this book about a girl who drove off a cliff and broke her neck. She learned how to draw with her mouth. I think, ‘Okay, if I can’t sew anymore what am I going to do? If I can’t build anymore, what am I going to do?’
RM: Have you thought about any spaces in Oklahoma for installations?
RH: I know I want to go to the Great Salt Plains. I’ve been sleuthing–I really want to find a space with red dirt and create a piece thinking of that pallette.
I think I’ll look back on that piece at White Sands as a momentous moment. That was the first time I started looking at these installations as living on in a photograph. It’s a blank canvas out there–I want to keep finding spaces like that. As we were laying it out that first time at White Sands, Eric and I were blown away by how cool it looked. I also want to start thinking of these installations as not only living on in a photograph, but in experience. Say, we’re going to be at the Great Salt Plains for 24 hours. You can come be a part of this if you want to.
RM: You should do it!
RH: I’m going to! I’ll let you know when.
Stay tuned to be a part of Rachel’s next installation experience. We’ll be sure to pass it along.