We had the good fortune of connecting with Cynthia Wagner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cynthia, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ever since I can remember I’ve been interested in houses. I grew up in a typical, economically designed Mid-Century tri-level house and remember watching the house come to life rising out of the dusty high desert ground onto a concrete foundation and sprouting a wooden skeleton that rose two stories into the clear dry Colorado air that was then capped with gray asphalt shingles and clad in horizontal siding painted yellow. Our family of five moved in just before I started Kindergarten and the sixth member of the family arrived shortly thereafter. The house eventually sheltered ten of us in its ever shrinking and claustrophobic spaces. It was the house in which my mother went mad, and my father escaped from to work twenty-four hours shifts at the fire department and to moonlight at odd jobs on his days off. Ever since then I’ve been interested in what makes people tick individually and collectivity. People and the human experience are central to my work. In my latest work, houses and other building become metaphor for humans, their souls, and their lives.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
What sets me apart from others is that I recognize that others are very much like me and that our stories are so similar and universally human. We all want to be loved and seen, listened to and valued. We have pain and suffering and joy and wonder in our life experience. I know that if I make art that comes from deep inside my personal experiences that it will resonate when another sees themselves in our common experiences. I think an artist’s job is to articulate the human experience.
How I got here professionally – I went back to university/art school in my late thirties when my oldest child was getting ready to head off to collage herself. I’d put off my own education for too long. I spent eight years commuting two hours, five days a week to study fine art and photography at Herron School of Art and Design – part of the Indiana University system. After graduating I started a wedding and portrait photography business and eventually specialized in South Asian/Indian Weddings. Eventually I tired of working weekends and evenings and missing out on family, community and friend events. We then moved south to Huntsville, Alabama and I got a studio in a wonderful old cotton mill building which houses more than 200 artists and other creative spaces. One of the funny things about being an artist outside of the big east and west coast art centers/worlds is that it’s somehow easier to get noticed – at least locally and regionally.
One of the things I’ve learned along the way is to try and not think about what will sell or what others will like but to make art for myself and that will always be enough. I’ve also learned that I don’t make art in a vacuum. It’s important to me to have friends who are artists and who are smart and inspiring and push me to make better work.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Okay, if a friend was visiting me for the first time ever in my town – Huntsville, Alabama for a week here are a few of the highlights I’d want to share with them. The town is growing very fast right now and new and wonderful things are being created all the time. Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment – https://lowemill.art/ – is the largest privately owned arts facility in the southern United States. With a focus on visual arts, this huge historic factory building has been redeveloped into 152 working studios for over 200 artists and makers, 7 galleries, a theatre, community garden, and performance venues.
Campus 805 – The South’s premier Brewery and Entertainment venue – https://campus805.com/ – Speakeasy and micro-breweries, etcetera along with a connecting city park.
Walking tour of Historic Twickenham district of beautiful antebellum homes in downtown Huntsville – https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g30620-d269096-Reviews-Twickenham-Huntsville_Alabama.html
Downtown Huntsville –for coffee at Honest coffee – sitting street side, pizza at Sam and Greg’s a local pizza place with the beautiful Big Spring Park, Huntsville Museum of Art, restaurants Cotton Row, Commerce Kitchen, Purveyors, Rhythm on Monroe – https://www.vonbrauncenter.com/rhythmonmonroe/ – roof top bar and outside seating,
Greene Street Farmer’s Market on Thursday afternoons – http://www.greenestreetmarket.com/
MidCity – https://www.midcitydistrict.com/ – for a visit to REI, Top Golf, Trader
Joes, concerts in the brand-new amphitheater, climbing gym, film festivals, farmers market, drag shows and yoga. https://gardenandgun.com/articles/coming-soon-huntsvilles-new-amphitheater/
Monte Sano State Park – hiking and bike riding – evening picnic at the lookout with pizza or wings with a fabulous sunset lit view the of the Appalachian Mountains. https://www.alapark.com/parks/monte-sano-state-park
Land Trust hikes – https://www.landtrustnal.org/
Boating on the Tennessee river either in speed boats or with a kayak.
Stovehouse for casual outdoor evening fun including live music, drink and food
– family friendly – https://www.stovehouse.com/
Botanical Gardens – https://hsvbg.org/
U.S. Space and Rocket Center – https://www.rocketcenter.com/
Along with a bus tour to see NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – Temporarily suspended due to COVID – https://www.rocketcenter.com/bustour
Space and Rocket Center Beer Garten complete with jagerschnitzel and mustard covered soft pretzels with live music under the Saturn V-5 rocket. – Suspended because of COVID currently
Space Camp – https://www.spacecamp.com/
Concerts at Three Caves – https://www.landtrustnal.org/concerts/
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
• Studio at Lowe Mill – The artistic and creative community there. Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is the largest privately owned arts facility in the southern United States. With a focus on visual arts, this huge historic factory building has been redeveloped into 152 working studios for over 200 artists and makers, 7 galleries, a theatre, community garden, and performance venues. I’ve loved having a studio space and support there.
• ALWCA – Alabama Women’s Caucus for Art – Friends, artists, collaborators, mentors and kindred spirits
• My husband Glen
– Drives truckloads of art to out of town exhibitions
– Carries stuff – He says his job title in general is “Sherpa”
– General all around supporter of my art education and art making process