Lori Wilson: I was 4. I was at home watching my brother. He was helping me in a coloring book, and I knew I wanted to color as good as he did.
Mark: How was that nurtured in school? You’ve grown up right here in the New Berlin area, right?
Lori: Yes. From seventh grade forward, I got some special attention and a lot of encouragement. My high school art teacher, Carl Houghton, went to Syracuse University and started teaching me about composition and color theory in eighth grade. He introduced me to encaustics, oil paint and then of course we had acrylic as Golden Artist Colors was just up the road and so we would get Seconds paint! The only acrylic I’ve ever painted with is GOLDEN.
Mark: When I see your work and how very sophisticated it is, it really shows you’ve had great mentors. I know your primary medium for many years has been glass. What was your attraction?
Lori: I was a junior in college and my best friend needed a glassblowing partner so I agreed to take the class. I didn’t enjoy it the first couple of weeks because all we tried to do, was blow a bubble and turn that into a cup. It was so frustrating. Soon a visiting glass artist came and started sculpting with glass on a punty rod. Instead of blowing air, it’s an additive process, which really got me excited.
Mark: After college you continued art studies.
Lori: Yes. While I was working, I got accepted to the University of Manchester for a master’s degree in the history of art, focusing on glass, but I needed to work for a little bit and won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, then completed my one-year master’s program.
Mark: Your career at GOLDEN started pretty early. Could you describe how it began?
Lori: I was hired part-time in 1994 to paint color charts and fill containers. I couldn’t believe that it was so much fun working in a factory, though I really was terrible at painting color charts. I couldn’t get into the swing fast enough, so I was left in filling, which was fine. In the fall of ’95, I was hired full-time. I left the following summer to complete my master’s and when I came back, several managers gave me the choice of working in their departments.
Mark: While you were working at GOLDEN in various capacities, were you able to maintain your art career and/or studies?
Lori: At the beginning, yes, I was only part-time here and working two other part-time jobs so I had time in the glass studio that year. After I got hired full-time I didn’t maintain it as well as I would have liked, but I’ve balanced that out now.
Mark: When you finished school, you moved back to New Berlin. Living in a small community, how easy was it to find a community of artists after graduation?
Lori: It was impossible at first. As GOLDEN has grown, we’ve employed more artists which has added value to my life. In my job, I get to meet very interesting, engaging painters and that is also personally fulfilling.
Mark: Your career changed dramatically in 2000 – from the Assistant for Operations to something more closely connected to your arts background and supporting our applications group. Tell me about that change and how meaningful that was for you.
Lori: In ’94 when I first started, I was in the Gallery while Diane Rich was reviewing some paint techniques.
I sat down to look at the applications with her and told her she had the coolest job.
At that time, I had no idea that the decorative painting industry existed. More college students, particularly painting students, should be aware of privately owned painting businesses and scenic shops as places they could be creatively employed and maintain their own studio practices. There are many more options than getting your MFA and teaching. I’ve interviewed painters from the heads of major scenic shops, to a third generation European decorative craftsmen, to exhibiting fine artists making their livings in decorative painting in NYC – it’s all the same creative challenge. It’s problem solving with materials or lighting (a room) to create some form of expression.
As an Applications Specialist, I’ve gained the opportunity to work with the technical group here. Some of my favorite time each week is spent at our weekly Technical Forum meeting. It’s inspiring to participate and watch in amazement, the brain power around the table and how much energy we put into looking at paint on a level that I think probably most of the world doesn’t even realize.
Mark: It is an inspiring group. Lori, share a bit about the projects you’ve been involved with at GOLDEN since joining the Applications group.
Lori: One of my favorite weeks of the year is when I get to work on the Color Trends presentation. It’s the “Olympics of the Mind” in paint. It’s thinking beyond yourself, your knowledge of the materials, and discovering what future capabilities may be possible.
Mark: It’s an exhausting time for you.
Lori: It is. I have to close the doors, cocoon myself. I need to get lost in thought without interruption.
Mark: One of the things you’ve done in being able to support artists calling up for either fine arts or decorative arts, is you’ve actually gone out into the field and provided assistance or worked alongside some of these incredible artists. Can you share some of those?
Lori: Those experiences are when I also appreciate what I’ve gained and what GOLDEN is about, putting into practice how we help painters. Each of those projects was career and life altering, for example, being on Pierre Finkelstein’s team.
Mark: Where was that?
Lori: Pierre had a job in London, England painting a palace down the street from Kensington Palace. It sounds glamorous, but it was painter’s boot camp. It was like a Marine Corps class for decorative painters, and for me, it was another production job. We met at 7:15 am and were on the job at 7:30. You had a ten-minute break and a half-hour lunch, and then you worked until you had to stop. We painted and prepped and sanded and taped and cleaned and repaired. The third wealthiest family in the world had just purchased it. Pierre designed some techniques like dragging (striae) and French patina, and it was actually part of the project where we were finalizing formulas for our new Proceed line. It was on-the-job application testing.
Mark: So a lot of that has been incredibly meaningful in your ability to then support other artists in the field. One of these jobs had you going to China.
Lori: Yes. That came after working with Pierre and it was because of my experience with him that I saw how to set up an onsite studio. I replicated that in China. When I was in Shanghai I worked with a company to create a decorative painting market in China because they don’t have it. What they have in their tradition is very, very different than Western culture. The Chinese are looking to the West for inspiration.
They want it now, but need training, so we started with color mixing, understanding the tools and basic materials and then moved into more technical questions about higher quality materials. They actually got a job while I was there and needed me to stay an extra week. It was great! My career has built itself one block of experience after another.
Mark: I know that folks who call you are so appreciative that not only do you have technical knowledge of the materials, but also real experience working professionally with the materials. I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to talk about your support of the community. I want to give you a chance to talk about your other passion, about giving back.
Lori: There are many, many great organizations from Relay for Life to the American Red Cross. I think I have connected most significantly with the United Way. It’s a great organization that supports a broad spectrum of individuals who are our neighbors.
Mark: Lori, you’ve also been involved in seminars instructing both college students and young women looking to careers in the future, Can you talk about some of those initiatives that you’ve been a part of?
Lori: I participated in an event, Women Helping Girls Make Decisions, where local schools offer 12-year olds the chance to visit someone locally in a career they’re interested in (bankers, artists, vets) to participate in a hands-on activity and talk about the different areas that they will have to study.
Math is always emphasized. I’ve given exercises to demonstrate a day in the life of Tech Support at GOLDEN and it’s really fun. Obviously, they’re interested people at the age of 12 to give up a Saturday to get on a bus and go to a local college and meet with these strangers. I think if I had that opportunity when I was 12, I would have made different choices.
Mark: Lori, you’ve also made it an objective of yours to conduct classes and workshops for staff to understand some of the things that excite you about decorative painting materials. Can you talk about that?
Lori: I think it’s important for the rest of the staff, and they’ve said this, to know what these materials they make – actually do. I’ve organized hands-on events so people could touch the paint. Some of the most enjoyable conversations were with paint makers. They had never seen Crackle Paste cracking – they only see it in the wet state. They never understood why it’s so cool and they shared with me how it’s different from the formula side. It was a great exchange of information.
Mark: Lori, you’ve almost always been teaching art in various capacities. You support professional artists and decorative artists. You’re an application specialist now for GOLDEN, but beyond teaching art, you’ve also personally made it your goal to teach about the work environment. In 2009, you were selected as ESOP Employee Owner of the Year for all of New York and Pennsylvania.
You’ve also been involved in many community groups, serving on boards and participating in volunteer functions both here, in the local community and for the arts community. Just reading about these activities, I’m exhausted, but for you it all seems to be incredibly invigorating. With all that you are doing, knowing that your art career has had to be put to the side, how do all these things seem to be so uplifting to you?
Lori: I think it’s about energy and I get charged by it. It’s doing good things. I get to interact with people in really fun ways, gaining knowledge and experience. I have a creative career and I get to have my own studio practice. Everything feeds into everything else, I feel blessed!