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Painting Living History: An Interview with Joanne Hardinger

Elizabeth Maske December 22nd, 2023
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Joanne Painting

Joanne Hardinger’s reentry into the art world illustrates the unrelenting call to creatives to seek out connections that inspire. “My background is in arts education, but I worked in the sports world for 40 years. When I got back, I set up a studio and was a hobby painter. I wasn’t an art teacher, but I wanted to be.”

Joanne soon found herself doing just that: “It was my interest in art and my years of working with kiddos in the sports world that brought me to Taliesin again. I had seen [Taliesin Preservation’s Director of Programs] on and off, once at the Stockman House with her boys. I said I’d love to go to Taliesin and help with the camps. So, for the last three years, I was there with the ‘Art is Elementary’ camps.”

Reflecting on her most recent return to Taliesin as a participant in this year’s plein air workshop, Joanne underscores the profound sense of becoming part of Taliesin’s living history. She says, “You know that you’re going into a natural environment that’s built by hand. You’re in this place, connecting with this legacy, and staying in these spaces, and you feel like you’re just woven into that in that moment. It was so first-class in that everything was at its best. It takes a lot of effort, and it all together leaves such an impression. There is so much care and love in what’s there. You feel that. It’s such a magical place. As you leave here, it’s like leaving heaven.”

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Jan Norsetter (Center)

Joanne’s initial encounter with artist Jan Norsetter was both intimidating and inspiring. She acknowledged, “I knew nothing about Jan, and whoa, was I blown away.” For Joanne, Jan’s dedication to her craft was energizing: “Jan is incredibly talented and has dedicated herself to her work, and that is so inspiring because that takes effort. You combine her experience and the way she works and loves what she does; it’s so liberating, and the possibilities are endless.”

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Joanne recalls having initial insecurities yet quickly redirects, emphasizing, “But you have to look at Frank Lloyd Wright. He never shied away from a challenge, so there’s just that spirit of possibility and seeing if you can do it—embracing learning by doing.”

Having attended the same workshop last year, Joanne felt more prepared this time. Reflecting on her previous experience, she explained, “The first time [I took the workshop], I was hoping to set up my easel in advance, taking just what I need and getting the right brushes. I was careful to have what I needed and not too much.” With the mechanics of getting out there no longer new, she noted, “I could focus on painting rather than getting ready to paint.” Joanne also set a personal challenge for herself in deciding to paint parts of the built environment. She elaborated, “I’ve done landscapes without a barn or a building, and it seems like there’s no hint of humanity, just the wild. So, for one of the paintings, I chose a view of a farm building.”

In the relatively new realm of painting en plein air, Joanne grappled with the constraints of time. “The sun kept moving, so I often had to pick up and move. When the sun is on your canvas, it’s bright and intense, and you look at the paint, and the eyes can’t focus, so I couldn’t keep my original position. The thing is, you have to sketch out a composition, but I had to move position, so at the end, I was 30 feet away. I could keep the hills and colors, but the main concern was a tree. Because I was running out of time, I just threw a tree on top of it.”

Despite the constant battles with the changing light, she acknowledged:” You’re supposed to do it quick. It does force you to let go. I needed to loosen up, and it was not easy. I tend to not want to do it once and be done. It takes more knowledge of materials. You also have to know your brush, know your methods, have a trained eye, and be ready. It’s not easy. That’s why I did it. You can’t just talk about it; you have to do it,” adding, “I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t be afraid of it.’” 

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Joanne Painting

This year’s switch to acrylics also helped Joanne conquer the ticking clock. “I was not used to oil, so used acrylic. There is a medium to add to paint to slow down the drying process, so in three hours, the paintings were bone dry. The first year I did this, I went with a paint that didn’t dry fast and was still sticky. I put it under a light, but all the bugs flew onto it, so I had ‘little birds’ in my sky.”

Under Jan’s instruction, Joanne was able to delve further into technicalities, learning tricks to navigate the challenges that can arise when painting outside. “[Jan’s] good about those technical things, all the tricks of the trade, how to block the light, the wind, how to stand, posture.” Even the practicalities of canvas size and transporting the art became an important topic of discussion: “The canvas size was another thing I wasn’t used to with plein air paintings. They’re small, 9×11, 11×12 inches. Much of my paintings are on larger canvases. These are more transportable, so we can take them home. Jan taught all sorts of tricks to build holders to slot paintings into grooves. She told us about her travels on planes with wet paintings, where she builds special cases.

Staying at the Corn Crib, Joanne quickly fell into sync with the natural rhythm of the environment. She recalls, “It doesn’t take but a day to fall in line with the cycle of nature. Having been there before, I knew you were going to get up with the sun. You have your early mornings, and I took some walks and photographs with the sunrise. It’s amazing just being able to do that there. In the evenings, I was pretty much reviewing what I learned and getting ready for the next day.”

She recounts one particular moment of solitary exploration, saying, “I did take a picture early morning Sunday where I watched the sun. Every color came alive, and the pine trees were gorgeous. I nearly dropped my phone. There was a little dot of blue at the center of my photo, and when I blew it up, I saw it was Jan Norsetter out for a walk wearing a blue jacket with her white hair. That was my favorite picture.”

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Joanne (Right) in the Hillside Drafting Studio

Envisioning an extended escape, Joanne expressed her desire for more time. “I can just imagine being there an entire week. I would do that if that was an option. I would go longer. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t go shorter. It leaves you with so many possibilities you just can’t wait to go back.” Joanne’s time at Taliesin not only honed her artistic skills, encouraging her to focus more on the light and dark, composition, and the interplay of elements; she confirms, “It has given me a whole new approach, whether indoors or out…. The timeframe adds a fresher and more in-touch impression of the surroundings.”

Through Joanne’s recollection, we see how, in embracing challenges and surrendering to nature’s rhythms, one finds not just art but a deeper understanding of oneself. Summing up her experience, she says, “It’s an immersive experience; you feel like you’re woven into the legacy, even for a moment. Even being in the Drafting Studio and where Wright takes this massive timber structure and turns its supports on its edge, you just go, ‘There are no boundaries here.’”