Meet Alice Sprintzen. She has been creating her entire life inspired by exploring different techniques and materials. Look closely to see what found objects she’s included in each of her pieces.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was a maker since my hands were capable of making. As a child we had little, so making doll clothes with fabric scraps, a needle and thread, or weaving beads on a cigar box loom, or firing copper enamel pins on my treasured tiny Trinket kiln all thrilled me. I was drawn to any activity that involved creating with my hands.
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My mother was a painter and as a small child, I used to pose for her as I watched her paint for long periods of time. Her creativity and our shared time together must have made an impression on me.
How did you get started using found objects in your work?
As a high school art teacher at a small public school on Long Island for many years, I became a technique junky, often learning a craft just a step ahead of my students.
I was mainly self-taught but would occasionally take a workshop at a college or one of the regional craft centers. I experimented with stained glass, fused glass, batik, felting, weaving, clay, wood and stone sculpture, ceramics, papermaking, basketry, jewelry construction and just about anything I could learn in order expose my students to the many creative options. My goal was to find an art form that spoke to each of them.
Personally, I was mainly attracted to traditional jewelry making, aspiring to master the many techniques of fine jewelry. At one point I started combining traditional materials like sterling silver and set stones with less precious materials such as car light plastic, game pieces and buttons.
Gradually I shifted more and more towards integrating found objects. They attracted me because of their interesting textures, colors, and shapes. As part of my living environment, they were right there for the taking. Their patinas and dents told of a history of function and use. My jewelry got larger and larger and at some point I started creating even larger found object sculptures.
What motivates you artistically?
The objects and materials themselves inspire me.
Objects you would never find together in everyday life are often the best partners. Very little gets discarded without careful inspection for possible reuse.
My friends are a great source of materials. I am forever receiving bags containing their discards that they feel I might be able to use. My birthday gifts are things that most would find quite odd.
Recently I was gifted some cobbler’s shoe forms and motorcycle parts. I enjoy the gifter’s delight at seeing one of their finds in a finished piece. I also frequent garage sales and flea markets and find joy in discovering the unexpected.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
My environment is my source of materials. I am always on the lookout for unique objects. A walk or bike ride often yields a find. Anything is fodder for reuse.
When you take the time to look around, there is plenty of valuable discarded material to be had. There is so much potential for what is often thought of as waste and discards are free. For me, these found materials can hold their own against a precious stone. For the sake of my artwork, they are equally valuable and can easily live in harmony together.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Living an hour from Manhattan, I am inspired by the works in the fabulous museums that abound in New York City. The creativity is endless and crafts are finally finding their place in museums. Museums all over the country are waking up to crafts, no longer seeing them as a lesser art form. Of course there were artists like Pablo Picasso and Joseph Cornell who long ago pioneered the use of found objects in art.
In addition to these artists who have achieved prominence, I am fortunate to be a longterm member of the Long Island Craft Guild. My fellow craftspeople are an inspiring and extremely talented group of artists who are generous with their teachings and good companions on an otherwise solitary endeavor.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I rarely plan ahead. Sometimes I spend a lot of time “playing” with materials and objects for hours and come up with nothing. The process is so meaningful to me that I am still satisfied.
Although I do love it when I sell my work, I mostly do it for my own expression and satisfaction and don’t have to worry about “wasting” time. It is a luxury that I am well aware of. I would work very differently if this was my main source of income.
Describe your creative space. How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
My studio is in my home next to my kitchen and I often go in to take a peek and find myself completely engaged many hours later, with time passing imperceptibly. I spent many years working as a teacher with a busy schedule that was often quite demanding. Although I thoroughly enjoyed it, currently I feel quite privileged to be able to work when I am moved to.
There is never enough space for all of my tools, materials and equipment in my small studio but I am organized to a fault and basically know where things can be found.
I keep wooden objects in one large plastic container, metal in another and so on. I utilize a lot of small drawers purchased from a craft store and label them with my labeler by color, material or category so I don’t go insane searching for a particular object. Suffice it to say that there is no space wasted.
To help in making my creations I have a rolling mill, drill press, sander, acetylene torch, table shear, and polishing machine in addition to many hand tools. My studio window looks out to a woods full of plants, trees, and critters.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
In my studio, you will find a crockpot for heating and cleaning metals, a blender for making paper and an electric frying pan for heating wax. Luckily I am not much of a cook. My display items are all repurposed objects. I feel they complement my work and challenge me to make them part of my found object presentation.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I have a small TV and a radio in my studio. I like to put on classical music or watch a program that doesn’t demand much of my attention.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
As I work, shifting around found objects, I often find myself with more than one project emerging. However, I get uneasy working on too many projects at once since my personality does not like to leave projects unfinished for long periods.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
“Diane” is a piece that I created to commemorate an old friend that I grew up with as a child but lost touch with for many years. I met her again at a chance meeting that we both attended and we immediately took up as if never parted. Unfortunately she had late stage cancer but we were able to connect a few times before she died.
At one of our meetings, knowing that I had an affinity for found objects, she handed me a meandering wire form that had been smashed flat, perhaps by a car. That was the inspiration for this piece. Fortunately I was able to show the finished piece to her and she loved it.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I most enjoy culling objects from my rather vast collection and auditioning them to find the perfect combination. This can take quite a bit of time but I am in no hurry. I enjoy the process itself.
The greatest challenge comes in combining materials. If the materials can withstand heat, I can solder them with my jeweler’s torch but most of my materials would be ruined if heated.
My greatest ally is the rivet. It is a cold connection that I make much use of. Wire has also come to my rescue many a time. You can sew, crochet, and tie with wire.
All of my experience working with different materials has taught me many techniques to work with. Techniques commonly used in one type of craft can often be adapted to another.
How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
Some time in the 1970s I was approached to write a book on jewelry making (Jewelry – Basic Techniques and Design). Having never thought of such an endeavor but unwilling to pass up a new challenge, I jumped at the opportunity.
The book was arranged by technique so I was forced to include techniques I was not entirely proficient at. This required experimentation and research so that the book could be as comprehensive as possible. The process photos were also a challenge as was the writing as I didn’t want to leave out any details whose absence might frustrate the reader. I spent a lot of time researching jewelry artists to include as illustrations of each technique. The library at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now called the Museum of Art and Design) was an invaluable resource.
After that book became a successful textbook, I was again approached to write a textbook on crafts (Crafts – Contemporary Design and Technique). This book was arranged by medium, including glass, clay, paper, metal, fiber, and found objects. Again I had to research and experiment with the many materials and techniques that were covered. It was a challenge but one that I truly enjoyed. My third book, The Jeweler’s Art – a Multimedia Approach, again arranged by medium, included the same categories but related to jewelry making.
In addition to writing books, very recently I have been experimenting with fiber techniques including dying and quilting. The quilting was prompted by the dying of so many fabric samples that I needed to do something with them. I enjoy the challenge of a new material. For continuity’s sake, I have been adding small found objects to a few of these works.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
My community of artists helps to keep me motivated. We have shows that present us with a particular challenge. They can require a specific color, size, idea or theme. We meet regularly to discuss our work and share what excites us at the moment. Someone is always there to help with a technique or to give an opinion when asked. We also have outside speakers and demonstrations, sometimes on Zoom if they live at a distance and sometimes in person. It is an important part of my creative life.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
A work can’t be too fussy or too simple. If you can remove an element and it isn’t missed, it should be removed. I take a lot of time to add and subtract, endlessly trying out different materials from my stash.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
The arts have been a lifeline throughout my life. In addition to my art activities, I am an avid tap dancer. Dancing and art have always been an outlet for my emotions. They bring me much joy.
Where can people see your work?
I try to keep my website up to date. You can contact me through it at: https://www.alicesprintzen.com/home
Interview posted January 2024
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