Lisa Young, Magnolia Street Artist Books, and the accidental mentor

Screen shot of website: Magnolia Street Artist BooksPlease let me introduce you to Magnolia Street Artist Books. And even if you're not really that much into art, or books even, there's something here for you. Stay with me?

This website, an online portfolio of Greensboro artist Lisa Young, features mixed-media books, prints, postcards and CD covers. The galleries are filled with texture and imagery and humor and challenges to tradition and depth and maybe a little bit of fairy dust. (That last part is all mine: I'm not at all sure that's how Lisa would describe it.) The stories she tells in her pop-up books and carousel books are conveyed through a complex layering of images that hit you differently each time you view them. Kind of like people.

Occasionally you encounter someone who makes you think "You're really amazing." And the discovery strikes you not because this person is "in your face" about their accomplishments or even publicly lauded. These people make you feel you're in the presence of greatness because they seem to handle things with subtlety and balance and strength.

The day Lisa Young walked into the ceramics studio at Guilford College and introduced herself to our class, I met just such a person. It took a while before I would be able to articulate why exactly I was so drawn to her. All I knew was that even if she was sitting at a wheel, throwing pots with seeming effortlessness, just talking in her really quite awesome, rich, not-quite-husky voice, I didn't want to leave that space and go do anything else. It was much better to watch and listen and enjoy, then go do my own thing later on when she was finished.

Image from book at Magnolia Street Artist BooksThere was often an underlying sense of humor to Lisa's teaching and creativity that stayed with me. Not always, of course - sometimes the details of life are heavy and can't be handled with humor. But there was  perspective that conveyed balance and insight. The messages always seemed to arrive filtered through an objective, straightforward bent. These are qualities I admire, and so the class became one of my favorites, even when I was personally struggling with the clay.

Lisa left Guilford's Art Department, then she put her clay away, after 30 years, and became a NICU chaplain. Such a position takes a heavy emotional toll, and Lisa later returned to art. When we reconnected, several years after we'd both left Guilford, she had all these amazing books to show me. Again I sat enthralled to hear this calming voice speak to me of texture and images and dimension. I was sucked into her books, from the whimsical Anna Featherina, a pop up romance, and Aliens Have Taken Over My Body, a smart, funny book about menopause, to the delightfully macabre The Holbein Circus Comes to Town.

Now, more than a year after I first saw her artist books, Lisa Young is finishing the manuscript that will be a book about what happens to you when you go from being a college teacher to being a chaplain in the NICU. I really want to read this book.

Image from a book at Magnolia Street Artist BooksIt's very popular to hire people to mentor us these days. Frequently, though, the kind of mentoring that happens in life often occurs much more organically. Even accidentally, with no formal arrangements or labels attached. Sometimes our mentors don't just teach us how to improve (or even do) our art. Instead they teach us even more important lessons, lessons about how it's okay - even vital - to find our own way through the labyrinth that is "being a creative person." Lisa Young has been this kind of "accidental" mentor to me. It's not an agreement we made. We don't check in frequently. In fact, our time together is intermittent and infrequent. But today, having enjoyed a morning talk with her, I'm left with a satisfying reminder from an artist I so admire and respect. The personal impressions linger in my mind, just like the layers of her books, prints, and postcards. Those impressions are of perserverance, of giving ourselves permission to follow the creative impulse wherever it leads us, of honoring our unique paths.

We need more undeclared, unintentional mentors like this. Mentors who teach without a classroom, just by being authentic and following their own paths.

Go visit Magnolia Street Artist Books. Who knows? Maybe you'll find yourself inspired, too!