Wanda Ewing: Changes of Scenery are Vital

Wanda Ewing: Changes of Scenery are Vital
The Reader (November 2004)
By Wendy Townley

The state of transition is nothing new to artist Wanda Ewing. Many of her adult years have been spent in a professional purgatory, waiting for the next step to surface. It should come as no surprise, then, that her studio space at the Hot Shops Art Center is a tangible example of that transition. The room is long and narrow, an old alley between the center’s two buildings that were later joined as one. Ewing’s space is the result of that union, a place that the artist said she has been blessed to receive.

“You need a studio space,” said Ewing, reclined in a chair, her shoeless feet propped on a makeshift coffee table on a recent Friday afternoon. “It’s so nice for the first time not living in my work space. I can get away from it. I can walk away.”

The theme of leaving – and returning – has been another constant in the life of this 34-year-old artist who specializes in a form of art known as printmaking. Born and raised in Omaha, Ewing graduated from Benson High School. Like so many students, Ewing ventured west after graduation to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her plans, however, weren’t as precise. Two years into her collegiate career, Ewing dropped out of UN-L and moved to San Francisco.

It was time, Ewing said, that she needed to grow, both as a person and an artist.

For the next eight years, Ewing fine-tuned her craft in the urban setting of San Francisco. In 1997, she earned a bachelor’s degree in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Ewing said she was able to develop and mature her skills as an artist, but a change of scenery was, again, necessary. She moved to Iowa City and attended the University of Iowa, earning a master’s degree in 2001 and an MFA in 2002.

Never in her professional plans did Ewing include a return to Omaha, but it happened. In 2002, Ewing moved back to Omaha and in with her parents. She didn’t have a clue what her next step would be.

“I had no plans,” Ewing said. “I was ambivalent about teaching. Here I was, at my parents’ house. They were great with putting me up, but all my (job) letters came back negative. I thought I was going to move back to California.”

But Ewing did just the opposite. Rather than return to the West Coast, Ewing decided to explore Omaha’s art community a little more. She chaired an art discussion at UN-L, thanks to a former professor who recognized her talent while still a student. While there, Ewing met a faculty member from Metropolitan Community College who offered her an art teaching position.

Ewing also picked up a position at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Working two jobs didn’t afford Ewing much time to focus on her work, but she forged ahead anyway, aware of the determine and skill that reside inside.

Last year, Ewing began renting space at Hot Shops. She didn’t have any professional plans beyond her current employment. But like so many other times in Ewing’s life, coincidence came knocking. While working at the Bemis Center, Ewing met David Helm, chair of the art department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The two discussed Ewing’s future with UNO, which yielded a full-time professor position within the department, which began this fall.

Despite the ongoing changes in Ewing’s life, the one constant has been her art. She discovered printmaking while at UN-L, and has been betrothed to the art form ever since. It’s a tactile craft that involves carving notches out of wood and applying paint to the depressions. Using a hand crank press, the wood and a sheet of paper are rolled through together, so the paint adheres to the paper. These steps are repeated using different colors until the work is complete. It’s a form of art that, Ewing said, gives her something embrace.

“I like the physicality of cutting and gouging out the wood. See, the floors are a mess right now with wood chips,” Ewing said with a smile, gesturing to the cluttered floor of her studio. “I really feel like I’m being really physical with it. The carving is meditative for me.”

The several stops she made around the country were vital to Ewing’s success, she said. Leaving Omaha – and coming back – provided a point of view that, she said, never would’ve surfaced without her departure.

“I had to leave for the success to happen,” Ewing said. “I think that I needed to live a little and experience some things. Before, I couldn’t take healthy criticism. I took it so personally and got so upset that I couldn’t handle it. I was immature and frustrated and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had to leave so I could come back.”

The Reader on the Web: www.thereader.com