“One of my goals is to engage students directly in the work of professional artists, whether as studio assistants, researchers, or design team members.”
When asked about her life outside the Transylvania campus, Zoé Strecker really wanted to talk about laundry.
“All the little decisions I make about everyday life are similar to the decisions I make in artwork and teaching. Laundry is a great example. Even hanging my clothes on the clothesline is visual. My Greek grandmother, who was a seamstress—self-taught and visually a genius, taught me how to hang clothes so you can get the most in the least amount of space. In her Greek village they would position their clothes on the line so their more intimate garments were hidden. I still hang my things that way, even though I live out in the middle of nowhere. It’s efficient and I use fewer pins.
“Process matters. Technique matters. That’s what I’m constantly teaching in the classroom. It does matter how you join two things together.”
Strecker grew up in a family of artists. Her mother raised her two daughters on the income she made as a functional potter. The family lived above her studio. “I mixed glazes and mowed grass as a kid,” explained Strecker. “Studio techniques were just part of my everyday life.”
Her sister, Erika, is a sculptor, and her husband, Mike Frasca, is a potter, with whom she has collaborated on several installations.
Strecker’s interest in environmental issues and living sustainably influences her artistic work, her volunteer work, and how she manages her family farm. At home, she grows vegetables, keeps bees for honey, and raises chickens for their eggs as well as for their help controlling pests.
“We move the chickens around the farm so they can have fresh pasture. In the early spring we move them to the fruit orchard, where they eat the bugs before they make their way up the trunks and damage the fruit.”
She also helps out at the nearby Mother Ann Lee hydroelectric plant, which was retrofitted from an old coal-burning power plant. “I’ve been involved with that project from the beginning. I take people on tours. I try to help communicate what they do through film or photos. I’ll go out and check the generators, pump grease into bearings. Because I was there filming, the engineers felt comfortable teaching me how to do those things.”
When Strecker decided to go to graduate school in upstate New York, she wanted to build a portable house to take with her. She bought an undercarriage with a heavy-duty suspension system and constructed a timber-framed 8-foot-wide by 22-foot-long house on top of it. Strecker cut cedar trees from her farm, hauled them to a mill in nearby Salvisa, Ky., and then used pegs to create the traditional mortise and tenon joints. In New York, she was able to park her house on a farm near a spring that provided water for her shower and a dairy barn that provided access to electricity.
“I had a gas heater. It’s cold up there and all my insulation paid off. I built a porch on it and planted a garden. It was my miniature world. When I was finished at graduate school, I hitched it back up and hauled it home. Now I use it as a writing studio.”
When working with students in an academic setting, Strecker believes in a lively blend of making work, studying the art of others, critically conversing with supportive peers, and absorbing cultural energy in local communities and around the world.
"It's always exciting when students begin to amaze themselves. This happens frequently, especially in introductory ceramics and sculpture classes, because most people have not had a chance to work in three dimensions. It can be more daunting than learning a foreign language.
"The thrill of opening a kiln or pulling a sculpture out of its mold is addictive, in the most positive sense. When intense engagement with materials and processes is combined with serious conceptual investigation, real art begins to happen."