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Artster Oklahoma: A year of searching out local artists and how they do what they do

OKLAHOMA CITY - On market days or weekends, knife maker Justin Voight might get a visitor to his workshop if his doors are open - but, most of the time, his forge is the only light that penetrates the dust.

The only conversations to be had are between hammer, anvil and the occasional stray finger.

"Absolutely," Voight said. "The most inspiration I get is when I smash my finger. I have to show up and go to work to do this. Inspirations comes. Ideas come when I'm working."

Artists and their work - a buyer or critic might only get to see the end result in a gallery or artist statement.

Photographer Michelle LaVasque and another artist Espanta Steppe set out to reveal as much as they could about the process of making that art, even the artists themselves.

"The works stand on their own," Steppe said. "But, so many times, in a museum, you look at the work and you have no idea about the face behind it."

Starting last winter, they called a wide variety of artists in Oklahoma - among them, saddle maker and sculptor John Rule.

They dropped in on a boot maker we know, Lisa Sorrell. Both of them hung out for a while in Joe Slack's big shop.

They watched Christie Hackler make another batch of ceramic butterflies.

LaVasque smiled at their own process of observing.

"Two strangers showing up with cameras and wanting to know what you're doing," LaVasque said.

Over much of 2018, they watched - they traveled.

"We got lost sometimes," Steppe said.

They also gained a unique appreciation for the talent and creativity often hidden behind gallery walls.

One of the artists they observed called their two visitors 'Artsters,' and the name stuck.

"An Artster is a person who sets out to appreciate art and who almost wants to become a collaborator by learning about it," Steppe said.

They stopped with a couple of dozen artists knowing there were lots more but knowing too they had plenty of material for an exhibit at the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and Gaylord Pickens Museum.

LaVasque and Steppe also published a coffee table book called, appropriately, 'Artster.' It is a volume full of creative Oklahomans, their stories and how they do what they do.

The Artster Oklahoma exhibit is on display through mid-May 2019. To learn more about the exhibit, click here.

The first printing of their book sold out, but another print is on the way. To order the book, click here.

You can also find Artster Oklahoma on Facebook and Instagram.

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