We had the good fortune of connecting with Joseph Henseler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joseph, why did you pursue a creative career?
From a fairly young age (around 7) I was interested in and found that I had natural talent in music, specifically drums and percussion. While I enjoyed playing very much, at such a young age there was a lot to learn about how music is composed, how to read music, play the rudiments correctly and play in front of others in performances at school. With so much to learn about music in general, I also turned to other creative outlets that interested me that provided a bit more instant gratification without so much theoretical learning. I found joy and comfort in drawing first. I soon realized that within my tiny grade school in a small Pennsylvania town that I had artistic and musical talent. My talents progressed through high school focused mostly on the drumming as a means to survive the entire high school experience, as well as provide a home for emotional expression. Home life was challenging because of mental illness in the family. Staying involved at a high level out in the marching band and drumline world provided a solid focus outside of the sadness and confusion within the home. By the last year of high school, I jumped head-first into art classes while continuing the drumming as well. In school I pursued drawing, painting and technical drafting, and it was simultaneously becoming clear that I had a particularly curious fascination with buildings. I enjoyed going around our town and drawing with increasing detail and sensitivity the homes that interested me. My own passion and fascination with drawing, painting and making things would keep me up very late into the night, and very late for school the next day! I indulged in and shared my artistic talent by drawing portraits and pictures for friends as gifts. Shortly after high school graduation I learned that my high school was interested in purchasing one of my drawings from my time there. Any artist’s first official sale is very impactful and never forgotten. This was a real world validation of my talent. My friends were amazed at my drawing and painting skills, the outside world validated my work and I drew immense personal satisfaction from wielding my talents and producing this work. All together this created the great positivity that allowed me to move through daily life still surrounded by the confusion of mental illness. At this time I was expected to go to college as all of my older siblings had or were working on advanced degrees. As a result of my talents and interests in both the visual arts and technical drawing the more practicaI side prevailed and I chose architecture school rather than art or music school. The US accredited architectural school experience is highly demanding, and requires an all-in attitude. It was this experience that allowed me to be fully engaged in a vast range of interests and experiences including the arts, technical development and understanding, philosophy, transforming ideas into real forms and the physicality of construction of structures on properties. Around my fourth year was the time that I learned about the specific idea of design/build where one both designs the structure and builds it. Around this same time, a close friend showed me a photo of a building one day on the cover of a magazine and told me I should work for this artist. The exchange that day and new awareness of this man’s work determined the course of the rest of my life. I researched everything I could find about this seemingly mythical person living and working in the mountains over 2000 miles away in a very remote part of Southern California. My connection to his work ran deep and profound. The idea that this person existed and was doing this level of work was such a contrast to what I had previously seen, studied and known. It became clear that this experience was only my own, as other friends, family and coworkers did not have the same reaction that I did to this person’s deep and healing work, even going as far as making fun of the work. Even before graduation, the first chance that I got, I bought a plane ticket to San Diego, jumped on that plane and started the adventure. I arrived in San Diego late, slept in the airport, woke up in the morning, rented a car and started heading toward a place called Santa Ysabel with the only address I could find listed as Star Route One. I had planned for a week and stayed just for a week. I met the artist James Hubbell and visited his compound. I camped at a lake and investigated everything, sucking in all of the amazing new environment. James did not remember me or that first meeting, but I made a vow to myself that I would return and live this dream. I returned to school, traveled to Vermont for a week where James was conducting a workshop, returned again to school and built my thesis project as an earthwork in the middle of an Indiana forest. I was becoming drunk on my own ability to manifest what I was envisioning while still satisfying the practicalities of everyday life. It took me seven years of very hard work, dedication and persistence to earn two Bachelors Degrees. By this time of college graduation my mother was beginning to find some healing in her life which helped somewhat ease many many years of anxieties surrounding her own disease, and my place in life. My pursuit of a college degree in architecture was complete, with the next chapter just getting underway. After working in a local artist’s hand made paper making business, I had decided it was finally time to head West and see what was in store for me there. My father allowed me to take his spare car to drive toward destiny. The lovely mountain town of Julian, CA was the destination, working in James’ Hubbell’s studio was the goal. Over the next ten years I lived a life nothing short of a dream within reality. I ultimately made it into James’ studio and worked in every artistic medium imaginable, built things, learned construction, worked in architecture, wrote poetry, travelled, photographed, and made a living as an unknown artist experiencing all that goes along with such a life in a tiny mountain community. All along, while unsure of where this whole lifestyle for a kid from a small town conservative background would lead, my parents remained supportive, and my mother’s disease slowly began to improve. As my mother’s mental health improved, so did my own. I think that my father and mother had equal influence on my life. But it has been my mother’s immortal words at once proclaimed from a place of such deep anguish and desperation as a protest and battle cry against the weight of her own perceived and actual limitations that profoundly impacted me and fueled the journey of my creative life. My greatest fortune has been, and continues to be, living my own creative life that was given as an undeniable priviledge bestowed by the universe as my birthright. This can never be taken away or replaced by any outside force. I have honored this accord with life, fulfilling my own sense of responsibility to create and be creative always, through both successes and failures. Now, this includes the creation and growth of my own family, providing support and encouragement for their dreams. I aspire to help them understand that the pursuit of their own dreams is the only reasonable path. At whatever level, being human is an unfair experience for everyone. You might as well live your dreams to assuage the inevitable and unavoidable suffering of life. For there is beauty in suffering. Go and Do and Be.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think it is very important to exercise our creative side of the brain whenever it is appropriate. I have always tried to add artistic creativity into every project that I take on whether it is actually an art piece or building a deck or designing a kitchen. Within these pursuits, there are three main attributes that have gotten me to where I am today: persistence, patience and zen. Persistence was one of the greatest lessons I needed to learn coming out of college. I thought that having talent would be enough to get me to where I thought I should be, but this is not necessarily the case regarding one’s level of success. By remaining persistent we can achieve much more than we would be able to achieve otherwise. The companion to persistence is patience. Having real patience can allow us to achieve amazing heights that those without can only dream about. Patience is a requirement for attaining our human potential in whatever it is that we are working toward. There are many different ways that patience can be exercised and developed in life. The third attribute, Zen, can be such an elusive quality to embody, and yet this is what makes it zen. One of the understandings of that which aspires to have zen is the realization that achievements come about bit by bit. We do not arrive at a completed project just all of a sudden. A completed work is a series of accomplishments one bit at a time. By persisting with patience in a zen manner, we humans can accomplish truly amazing things.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Mom & Dad Lorena Isabell James and Anne Hubbell Ilan Lael Foundation John Preston Cathy Conheim Hoffman Institute Peter and Vicki Bergstrom
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Duendednc and https://www.facebook.com/Henselerart
Joseph Henseler and Natalia Roberts