The price of starving art

Sep 082011
Authors: Shelby Taylor-Thorn

Peggy Skycraft still remembers the day she boarded the Chicago-bound Greyhound bus in her home state of Oregon to venture to the Art Institute of Chicago. As her father handed over her suitcase, he said, “You don’t have to go.”

“Are you crazy?” she responded. “It was heavenly being away from home.”

In her late twenties, while her boyfriend was reading a book on bookbinding that dated back to the 1800s, she discovered her niche on a single page: the lost art of marbling.

“Most people don’t want to do the work, (and) get past (the) frustration,” Skycraft said.

She is one of the first people in modern society to bring back marbling, the process of floating color on water and then transferring it to paper or other surfaces.

At age 29, Skycraft took her portfolio and “cold- called” up and down the streets of Manhattan, selling her marbled papers and fabrics to interior designers.

“It’s hard to learn to do business as an artist,” Skycraft said. “They don’t teach you in college how to make money.”

But after several subway rides and being sent from store to store, she went from being an artist to an entrepreneur.

“(You have to) learn to be versatile and accomplished,” she said. “No one hands you a silver platter.”

Many art students today are weary of the struggles that come with entering the career world with an art degree. Molly Wilson, a junior art major, chose to study drawing because it’s what she loves.

“It means more to me than anything else,” Wilson said.

But she is currently planning to change her major next semester.

“The job outlooks are so slim, and they wouldn’t sustain the living I want,” she said.

Wilson is not alone. Even students who graduate with the degree fail to pursue art as an income provider. The reason for this, according to Skycraft, is failure to accept art as a lifestyle. American society as a whole is too reliant on material consumer culture for artists to make good livings, she said.
“You are in competition with Target and Walmart,” Skycraft said. “So we have to provide something exceptional and unusual. I’m really serious about this. It’s hard for people to take seriously. The tendency is to buy something stupid that’s made in China.”

Skycraft chooses not to sustain material culture, and is able to live off of her art because of the lifestyle she has chosen.

She and her husband live on a quiet farm at the foot of the Cascades in the timber-town of Estacada, Oregon. She buys secondhand and doesn’t eat factory foods.

“I don’t go out to movies or to dinner,” Skycraft said, stating that she prefers to not live in the extravagance that most Americans do. This is how she is able to live as an artist.
As for her advice to students anxiously entering the career world as artists, she laughed, saying, “Marry someone with money! Find a guy with bucks, then you can make all the art you want.”

In all seriousness, however, Skycraft strongly feels that students can be successful in art. They just have to learn and understand the business, and accept the standard of living.
“Provide your community with something; find a niche, something no one else is doing… It’s a lifestyle choice. Poverty is part. No one wants to be as poor as I was.”

Skycraft’s marbling will be on exhibit at the Avenir Gallery in the UCA building from tonight until Jan. 27.

“(Skycraft’s art) exposes students to a technique that is ancient and very sophisticated,” said Avenir curator Linda Carlson, “It has endless possibilities for design motif. It’s a door not just for students, but a broader audience to really be exposed to a technique with incredible possibility.”

The opening reception is tonight from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a hands-on workshop with Skycraft tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Collegian writer Shelby Taylor-Thorn can be reached at

  • What: Peggy Skycraft exhibit
  • Where: Avenir Museum at the UCA
  • When: Today through Jan. 27
  • Opening reception tonight at 5 p.m. in the Avenir Museum
  • Marbling Workshop with Skycraft Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in the Avenir Museum
 Posted by at 4:56 pm

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