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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 26 March 2006

Bear Creek

It's never too late to learn.

That's not something I can remember I've ever heard Leandra Spangler say, but I bet the retired Columbia art teacher wouldn't disagree.  Her own advice to other artists is "Take workshops from people in your field whose work you respect."

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Spangler went from being a relative novice in the fields of papermaking and the book arts to having her work in the Smithsonian.  Granted, it was her Paper Doll Book, and it was the Smithsonian Gift Shop, but nonetheless that is something any artist can take pride in.  It is also a perfect example of how to market your work, and how success in one area can help you in other areas.

In a class I was helping to teach in 1995, Spangler came up with a delightful artist's book which was her take on paper dolls, using as her template the Venus of Willendorf (a paleolithic figurine widely recognized as an artistic icon) as the ultimate anti-Barbie.  Everyone who saw the work loved it, and before long she had come up with a die-cut version which sold like hotcakes.  Not only was this a huge success in its own right, but it gave Leandra press coverage and contacts which helped her get her other artwork before galleries and the public.

What other artwork?  Quite a range, actually, but all involving her highly textured handmade paper.  Some of it is formed into shallow triangular bowls, some into simple lamps, some into wall sculpture.  And then there are her vessels, formed of twined reed like a traditional basket and covered with her paper, finished with a hand-buffed graphite or paint and found objects.  You can see many wonderful examples on her website.

Her initial efforts to get her work before the public took advantage of all the local opportunities:  Art in the Park, Art League exhibitions, Boone County Bank shows, Fall Festival demonstrations, displays in restaurants and businesses.  She moved into showing her work at Mythmaker and Legacy Art before those galleries closed.

But Spangler didn't stop there:  "After being included in a national juried basketry exhibition, I was approached by an out of state gallery.  I have also approached galleries directly by sending them slides/resume/statement/etc."

What about advertising?  For shows at Legacy, we sent out image postcards with Leandra's work on it several times to some 2,500 people.  And with galleries out-of-state "I have been part of coop ads in American Craft magazine when participating in basketry exhibitions at del Mano Gallery in Los Angeles and American Art Company in Tacoma, Washington."

Like Larry Young's experience, Spanger says that having a web site and linking it to web sites of organizations to which she belongs has helped to generate a lot of interest in her work.  Of course, she has the advantage of being married to Peter Anger, one of the top art & commercial photographers in the area, who really knows how to get good images of her three-dimensional work.

When I asked Leandra what advice she would offer other local artists about promoting/marketing their work, this is what she said:  "Take workshops from people in your field whose work you respect.  Keep in touch with them by sending images and postcards as your work progresses.  Enter juried shows that are being juried by people you respect.  Make a promotional postcard of your best piece and send it to galleries/collectors/museums who you want to see your work.  Make sure your contact information and web site are on it.

"Keep excellent records of where your work has been shown.  Photograph every piece you make.  Hire a professional photographer, it is worth the investment.  Have slides and a press kit available to send out immediately when asked.  When you have a solid body of work, begin to propose exhibitions at college, university and other not-for-profit gallery spaces.  Build your exhibition resume.  Become familiar with for-profit galleries that carry work in your field.  Get on their mailing list.  Join a professional organization in your field.  Join Best of Missouri Hands.  Subscribe to journals in your field." You can find Leandra Spangler's work locally at Bluestem.  She is also currently exhibiting work at the Spiva Art Center in Joplin and the Regional Gallery Craft Alliance in St. Louis.  Upcoming shows include del Mano Gallery in Los Angeles and at the Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, WA.

Oh, and remember:  it's never too late to learn, particularly from such a talented artist and experienced teacher worthy of your respect.  Yes, Leandra Spangler does offer a variety of papermaking and book arts workshops at her studio.  Check out her website for the latest information.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
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