Words: Mundi Ross
Photos: Abby Mortenson
I recently spent the afternoon in Florence, a quaint town known as the “Antique Capital of Colorado”. There are several galleries featuring local and national artists juxtaposed between the antique shops, which I found surprising until I took the time to immerse myself in the works. I discovered that this community is full of creative talent. I found Floyd + Finch several months ago and struck up a friendship with owner, Jessica LaCasse. Floyd + Finch has recently shut its doors, but when it was open, it was a thoughtfully curated space featuring her American West-inspired paintings, one-of-a-kind antiques and artifacts, and handmade barn tables built by her father and her. Today, Jessica is off on a grand nomadic adventure and Floyd + Finch may not exist on the streets of Florence, but her fine art continues on and will be featured in galleries in Santa Fe, Manitou Springs and Florence.
Did you grow up in Florence? What drew you back?
I was born in Minnesota and moved to Colorado when I was nine. My mom grew up in a small coal-mining town outside of Florence called Rockvale, and throughout my life I knew Florence through my mother’s and grandparents’ eyes. Our family has a long history in this area, going back six generations. Most of my ancestors came out as coal miners, farm hands, and all down the line they were pretty interesting characters.
I have lived in Colorado and northern New Mexico for the majority of my life. But have also lived in Portland, Oregon, southern France, North Carolina and Bavaria. I initially returned to Colorado to do archaeology. After completing my BA over many years and many changes of major, (I ended up with degrees in Anthropology/Archaeology and European Studies), I was a Chaco Canyon ceramic analyst for the University of New Mexico and a field archaeologist for the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico. In 2008, I came back to Colorado to work for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests in western Colorado where I worked for several years. I also spent a couple years in Colorado Springs. I spent a year renovating a 100-year-old property with my dad, which I just recently sold. When we completed that project, relocating to Fremont County seemed like the right thing to do. I was so in love with the Arkansas River, the walking paths, the slower pace of Fremont County and the proximity to the mountains. There are so many hidden gems around these parts: country roads, wildlife, beautiful vistas, places where you can sit for hours and not hear a car or see another human, every one smiles and waves around here. I just love it.
You are a bit of a renaissance woman in Florence, would you consider yourself that?
Florence is actually quite a hot spot for creatives. The community is full of artists, writers, organic farmers, makers, naturalists and just down-to-earth people who seem to prefer to live away from the hustle and bustle. As far as being a renaissance woman, I have always felt the need to delve into what I am drawn to and I have made a point to focus my life on exploration, expression, education and following my dreams. I love art, archaeology, architecture, writing and design, and as I get older I feel that I must honor these loves through work, creation and giving back.
Floyd and Finch has recently shut its doors but I would love for you share a little about the space and the reason for your departure?
Yes, I did make the decision recently to close Floyd + Finch’s Main Street location. I was feeling that I had my hands in too many pies and wasn't able to give the shop/gallery my full attention. I am simplifying these days, lightening my load. Having the space was a great experience for me. It really served me well. I was able to paint full-time, meet amazing people, and get feedback and exposure for my art. I loved discovering artifacts in junk shops, digging around in hay barns, talking old timers into giving me things they thought of as trash, not realizing their beauty. The shop had a very eclectic, artisan feel--full of handmade, primitive and found objects. So many people loved the shop and it was heartbreaking to close, but I knew I needed to end this chapter for the new one to open. I look forward to a lower profile, to painting out in my studio in my airstream and really giving that my full attention. A lot of my inventory of artifacts and ceramics will be showing up on Etsy (floydandfinch) over the next few months and we are still offering custom furniture through the website (www.floydandfinch.com). I will never stop loving antiques, artifacts and beautiful things, I just don’t have time or space for them in my life anymore.
Can you tell me about your fine arts background?
Basically I’ve done a bit of everything, starting as a teenager in Santa Fe taking classes, apprenticing, modeling, you name it. I went to art school in France at 20 and lived in Europe for two years. Most of my focus in Europe was on installation sculpture in nature: combining materials, limestone with paper mache, wood, metal, wire, and found objects. It worked for me because I lived in small spaces and didn’t have a lot of access to traditional materials, and I was utterly in love with the landscape and wanted to be in it all day. In Colorado in my mid-twenties I apprenticed and worked as a blacksmith and welder. All along I was doing small mixed media works on paper, but I had a huge desire to paint large format. I started working on large pieces around 2001. It wasn’t until maybe 5 years ago that I really felt myself emerge as a fully sentient artist, meaning that I had pretty direct access to my creative force and was at a point where I knew I needed to paint. That need has been getting stronger and stronger ever since.
As a fine artist, do you find inspiration from Florence and the area around you? What influences you as a creative?
My inspiration is definitely very directly attached to geography and place. The landscape of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico is one I have known nearly all my life, and it still blows me away almost daily. The colors, weather phenomena, the sky, the shifting light throughout the day, the seasons and the history that shows up as archaeological and architectural vestige across the landscape. I primarily paint from memory, from the sensation of being in nature, and the bodies of color, and the feeling that my memory holds to. Maybe most strongly, I feel influenced by memory that somehow is not mine, a collective emotional memory, as if I am feeling the souls of others when I am in a certain place or have a place in my mind when I am painting later on. A lot of memories of places and moments and the feeling of them come back to me in my paintings as if from a dream, particularly my years of living in Provence, Bavaria and northern Scotland.
Do you find the new venture ahead inspiring…sky’s the limit, or is there a bit of fear of the unknown?
The future is always inspiring. Somehow I have arrived at the life I have always imagined without really realizing I was arriving. I am turning 40 next year, and, you know, I keep reading and hearing that quote about how life begins at 40, and funny enough, it seems quite accurate. So much falls away, so much of the chaos of youth, of trying to make it all happen, a sort of constant state of concern about the future, dread over the past. For me at least, it feels like it has all just washed away. I get to just be. I am an artist, and always have been, but now I have the maturity and the life experience, the depth to really live it.
And what is this new venture? What's next?
I am planning be more migratory, and really just make art and support the arts. I plan to spend the summers here in Florence. I will be showing my work and working with my good friend Svetlana at her gallery, Studio 108, one block east of Floyd + Finch on Main Street. I will also be doing some gallery work on Canyon Road in Santa Fe in the fall and spring, as well as taking my bi-annual trips to Sonoma County in northern California where I have family. This winter I will be living in a small fishing/surfing village in the state of Nayarit on the west coast of Mexico. I plan to paint, eat loads of avocados, take siestas, and walk on the beach for hours every day. I see myself keeping this nomadic lifestyle going for the long-term. It suits me.
Is there a connection between the process of making art and building furniture for you?
Definitely. It goes both ways: building has always been a part of how I expressed myself as a creative. I spent quite a few years doing sculpture and installation, welding, blacksmithing, which is a lot like building furniture in the 3-dimensional aspect. Building furniture, to me, is the creation of a piece of art, an artifact. I think of my paintings as artifacts as well. What I am trying to get at is an image that shows the patina of time, of age, of experience, of the emotion that created it. Ultimately, to me, all of my creations, whether art, furniture, a vintage trailer renovation, a house, are the product of dust, age, time, tears, love, war, sun, seasons, life's wear and tear, and I want them to reflect that. I have ended up adopting a lot of construction tools as a painter. I also paint on panel so that I can push past the limitations of painting on canvas. I create layers of paint and age with sanding, scrapping, scratching, and rubbing. My goal is to build an image that evokes emotion and tells its history through its color, texture, and patina. Not unlike a primitive farm table built 100 years ago, or a 1500-year-old piece of ceramic, there is nothing better than a well-worn patina, a palpable artifactual essence in a thing--the glow of history, the luminous debris of emotional, natural and historical vestige. I try to honor that through everything I create.
Where did the passion for building come from?
Some of my earliest memories are of spending time in my dad’s workshop. I remember the moment when he gave me my own hammer at about 3 years old. I have always been mesmerized by the act of creating something out of nothing, the art of making an idea into something 3-dimensional. I originally thought I would be a sculptor when I started art school and I went to France specifically to sculpt in limestone. It is an amazing process to turn a block of stone into a female torso, a pile of wood into a table. It will never stop amazing me that we humans have unlimited potential to create. We are all, inherently and at our core, creators. And it is a beautiful and blessed thing.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just a quote by Georgia O’Keefe that I think describes my own take on life…