Gretchen Weber
  • Ames
  • interviewed 3-31-1999
  • artist's books, calligraphy

about the artist

Gretchen Weber was born in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1935. For the most part, she grew up in Jamestown as well, with her three younger siblings. She received her B.A. in English/Humanities from St. Catherine's College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1957. She received her M.A. in Graphic Design/Calligraphy from Iowa State University. She taught at Iowa State for several years. She was married and had four daughters. Her artwork was calligraphic and was often in the form of artist's books. Gretchen died on February 16, 2015.



artwork | audio


My Mother as She Ages (inside) © 1994 Gretchen Weber | All Rights Reserved

Zucchini © Gretchen Weber | All Rights Reserved

Self-Portrait with Mother © Gretchen Weber | All Rights Reserved

Mafia Queen © Gretchen Weber | All Rights Reserved

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Early influences

My mother was pretty fun-loving and fun to be with. She was a painter. She had studied at the Chicago Art Institute, and she'd studied violin in Chicago. So all of these sort of cultural things made me feel that we had something really rich—even though we didn't have a lot of money. Music and art were both a good part of what she shared with us.

We were kind of encouraged always to draw and make things and create. And when we were in high school, we happened to have a very good art teacher who was a nun—Sister Judith Stoughton. She was terrific; she was a college teacher who came. I think she was one of the biggest influences; in fact, she taught me calligraphy in high school, and I remember practicing with a brush on newspapers. She showed us how to do brush letters, which has been my specialty ever since.

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With the children, I would say we always were appreciative of what they were doing and maybe encouraged their art, and let them paint on the walls. And always had art in the house. But I don't think I was expressing myself very much.

Barb [Bruene] and I took a course at The Octagon one summer. And the teacher invited Barb and me to come and take his class at the University. So we both went to Iowa State and started this course with an emphasis in calligraphy. He got us in touch with a marvelous, world-class calligrapher over in Davenport who he knew about, Father Catich. And Catich was the brush letterer who did inscribed letters in all the major buildings around from California to New York. So Father Catich was very instrumental in the quality of work that we were expected to do. Then it was a very serious, very intense, and rather difficult at the time with four little kids at home. I remember having headaches. But I got through it somehow, and enjoyed it pretty much.

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Artist books

I started as a two-dimensional calligrapher, doing wall pieces. When I made my first book, I put it into a traditional book form. And then I found other kinds of book forms that interested me even more—things that come out, or that stretch broadly and become a sort of a two-dimensional screen when they're open, but that they have a life of their own that closes and opens, and reveals and conceals, and all of those kind of issues. So I collect things that I think might become objects for books, and then sometimes try to find the words that will go with that walnut or those leaves or that ribbon or whatever. And then sometimes I find a text that calls for a particular material, and then I struggle to find that thing. Books are definitely my media. I really feel that's where I belong.

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Life vs. art

I get busy with lots of other things, and haven't made it the primary concern to do my art. Teaching and committee work, of course, always goes along with the job, and I'm hoping that just cutting out committee work will help me to become a little more relaxed and get me time in my studio. And I think I'm going to have to schedule myself to do that, and just say that these days are for studio work.

We've gotten a lot of dinner groups going, and it's a lot of fun to be with your friends. Making food is an art form for me, too. So I do enjoy that a lot. But it takes away from making the book and the calligraphy that I really find to be the most satisfying.

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Making art

I feel very happy when I'm making art. I don't know when I'm ever happier than sitting and doing the art. There's always a struggle, but there's so much satisfaction in it. It's like practically nothing else that I know. I think I'm into my deepest self, and in touch with my spirit and sort of intuition more than probably any other thing that I do. It's just very peaceful—I mean, even though the decisions are always a struggle, it's most satisfying to work with the materials. And I love to make letters. It's just a very happy experience of seeing that paint come out of the pen and making a beautiful shape—hopefully it's a beautiful shape!

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Follow your heart. Don't be discouraged. Try a lot of things. Collect things. Bring things together that speak to you. Don't be afraid. Just have fun with it. Enjoy what you're doing, and take time for that, because it's easy to do a thousand other things, but probably the greatest joy is in making. That's what I find.

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