Creating distinctive art requires a combination of ability and instinct. Artists often work alone, until the vision in their head translates into the reality in their hands.
That was the story for married artists Amy Arnold and Kelsey Sauber Olds. He made wooden furniture and she created felted dolls. “I was making fine furniture, very interested in everything being just so,” says Sauber Olds. “But Amy’s work is more raw and visceral.”
They had briefly collaborated on a project for an art show, but otherwise worked apart, until Arnold’s vision suddenly included Kelsey. “I was like, hey I’ve got an idea. This is what we should do.”
Now they are known for one-of-a-kind carved wooden sculptures. “What we do is a little finer than folk art, but it has a folky kind of element to it.”
The process starts in a sketchbook, then moves to wood. Unfinished projects can be traded back and forth, with each partner picking up a new step in the process. “It’s still a dance. It’s still new for us,” says Sauber Olds. “Like how do we get both of our voices into that piece?”
“Each way of working and being is like a kind of reflection of who we are,” says Amy Arnold.
“Amy’s like “It’s just got to be done,” says Kelsey Sauber Olds. “Or sometimes I’ll say, hey, we got to clean up this little edge here.”
“What comes out in the end is like this little child,” says Amy Arnold.
That back and forth collaboration extends beyond the workshop, into the house where they are homeschooling their three boys. In educating their kids, the couple rely less on formulas and curriculum and more on what has worked for them in the art world, “Trusting our instincts and how we want things to be.”
“The parallel between the school and our work is that we just sort of are watching it and present with it,” says Amy Arnold, “And just kind of… it unfolds as it unfolds.”
The boys have a natural curiosity, fueled by their environment in the driftless region outside of Viroqua. Amy Arnold and Kelsey Sauber Olds moved here from Madison while their family was expanding. “One of the things that attracted us to one another was this, I think, vision for wanting a rural… to live a rural life,” says Kelsey Sauber Olds.
“Just have quiet to sort of see the sun come up and the sun go down,” says Amy Arnold.
Like their location, Amy Arnold likes to leave their art in a natural state. “I like the roughness of it.”
And like raising children, it’s rewarding to see something amazing take form. “When you’re making something with wood you’re taking it away and revealing something,” says Amy Arnold.