Taylor was one of two artists I interviewed in Sedona, the sculptor John Soderberg was the other. I emailed Julee Norton-Cohen, president of the Sedona Artists Coalition, looking for suggestions of people to interview and she graciously led me to both John and Taylor. She was one of many people who made this project work well. And a reminder that sometimes all you need to do is ask!
Taylor and his partner Thom greeted me when I arrived at their house early in the afternoon. While the three of us sat at their kitchen table getting to know each other, Thom mentioned that he had asked Taylor if he really looked at who I was and if I was for real. It was a fair comment. Along the way I was actually surprised that I wasn’t questioned more about who I was and what I was doing. All of these artists were, after all, inviting me into their homes and studios, sight unseen. After giving more background on myself and my project, Thom seemed assured that I was indeed legitimate and then retreated to his office while Taylor and I got set up for the interview.
As we were getting set up Taylor expressed some nervousness about being recorded. I understood this anxiety very well and know that people get nervous about being recorded and interviewed for many reasons. They don’t like the sound of their voice or worry that they won’t answer questions well. Mostly, I have found it is simply a reflection of wanting to do well and a little nervousness is ok. If we didn’t care then we wouldn’t be nervous.
What he didn’t know is that I was nervous too. In fact, I experienced heightened anxiety the whole time I was in Sedona. I was roughly half way into my project and at the start of the southwest leg of my journey. There was really no going back or bailing out at this stage; I was in it. I worried that I was doing it wrong, that I had no business interviewing these artists, that I was doing a disservice to the discipline of oral history, and I was ridiculous for even trying. Every day I was in Sedona I would wake up and do breathing exercises trying to slow my heart rate and thoughts. The morning of Taylor’s interview I went for a hike in the beautiful red rocks in attempt to calm myself. And it worked, for the most part.
He may have been a bit nervous when we started, but when he spoke of anything related to his creativity or art, he spoke with certainty and clarity. He spoke of his father, an architect, who gave him the foundation to his creativity. Exposure to architecture instilled in him a love of problem-solving and desire to understand how things - everything from furniture to clothing - were constructed.
He learned from an early age that he is a maker at heart. At 5 years old he built furniture for his sister’s dollhouse. When I suggested that she probably loved that - he responded, yes, probably, but he did it more simply because he wanted to. He shared another story about his start as an apparel design student at RISD who didn’t know how to sew. Although the faculty may have been a bit chagrined, they put him through sewing class right away. I thought that it was funny that he would enter an apparel design program without knowing how to sew (even funnier that RISD didn’t think to ask!). When I asked him if he came to enjoy sewing, without skipping a beat he said, “yes, I loved it!” It was how he shared these stories that struck me so much - with clarity, joy, and certainty.
He also told me at one point in our interview that when it comes to art and design that he has never been afraid to try new things or work with new materials, which is clearly represented in his work. In his studio and house I saw his paintings, wood-stained landscapes, sculpture, and dioramas. But wait, there’s more. On his website you will find images of life-sized wood panels, a remodel of an office that looks more like a theater set (I want to work there!), and a “cat room” (yes, you read correctly) that is a labyrinth of nooks and crannies where some very spoiled kitties live.
There was never any question about his passion for the creative world, but when I asked him if as a student, did he know he would be an artist? “No,” he said flat out, “I never thought I could make a living.” After interviewing so many artists I wasn’t surprised to hear him say that. Few artists think they can make a living making their art, and every artist I have interviewed has to overcome this belief before they can make a living. It requires a rare combination of a steel will and a certainty about their own talents and abilities to transcend society’s expectation to live a conventional life. If this oral history project does one thing then I hope it shows that it is possible and that there are many ways to live as an artist.