Tuesday, July 5, 2022

An interview with artist, writer, and musician Sheila Foley


Hello! Here we have an interview conducted via email with artist, musician, writer, Sheila Foley.

Sheila is the founder of the Stoneham Writers Group. Full disclosure I am a member.

Without further ado here we go:

 You work across multiple artistic disciplines, which is your favorite? Which is the most challenging and why?

First, thanks for considering my work blog-worthy.  Yes, I practice a number of art forms, or dabble in some of them. Visual art became my career. From teaching the subject to illustrating books and magazines, to creating commissioned fine art and live painting at weddings and events, art has been my bread and butter.  I'd love more time to actually paint what I want rather than try to please a client, but it's always helpful to be compensated for your work.

What artistic genre appeals to me most?  I think it depends on the day, my mood, and what I want or need to say.  Some things are best expressed visually.  Others need words or music to speak their truth.

Why do I feel the need to do “art”?  I could probably write a book to answer that question.  And still not explain it sufficiently.  I guess it boils down to the fact that the arts are the only way to go deep. To express thought, make other people think or feel or question. Inspire, amuse.  A million reasons. And in sharing this “art” I discover more about myself as well.  What makes me tick and possibly why.

When and why did you first start writing? What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?

I started writing in junior high school (in the dark ages before middle school was invented).  I had two good English teachers. They taught me to appreciate poetry and literature.  In eighth grade I was that kid who loved writing assignments and looked forward to feedback.  We were rare. In high school I  had another great English teacher who called songwriters poets. Now we're talkin'.  

Since being a visual artist was almost born in me, I had never thought of being a writer.  One February in the early 80s, I was upset that I didn't have a date for Valentine’s Day.  Even worse, that holiday was so overblown in magazine ads and on TV.  Just to get my anger out, I put pen to paper. For fun I sent the few sad paragraphs to the Boston Globe.  The gall!

I had no idea how to submit a piece of writing. No surprise, it was rejected outright. Then I tried the Boston Herald.  They replied that it would be published on the Op-Ed page.  I didn't know what Op-Ed meant, but sure. Imagine my surprise, and delight!  People even responded to my piece by writing letters to the editor. Weird.

Shortly after that, I started writing short stories and even a novel (unfinished still).  I joined writers groups, wrote articles for magazines and newspapers.  Small time local stuff. Minimal pay, but I enjoyed it.

When and why did you begin playing music?

As for music, I took guitar lessons as a teen.  I learned to read music and to play basic chords. My teacher told me I'd be the next Joan Baez, probably because I had long straight hair, not as dark as hers though.  I didn't keep up with the guitar much after college but I discovered the penny whistle or tin whistle.  It's an incredibly easy instrument.  And so portable.  I played it for my own amusement back then, never with anyone else.  I took up violin in 2002. Much too old! I was working (volunteering) at an arts center and the violin instructor needed one more student for her class to run. Oh my, was that a difficult instrument!  It still is, but definitely worth the effort. I'm still a hack but I discovered Celtic music and there's no turning back. I'm addicted.

Whistler is your favorite painter. Who are some of your other favorites? How do you think they influenced you?

My artistic influences are numerous.

Visual art:  James McNeill Whistler is my art hero.  Then there's John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth. I tend to learn from any art I see, but these were the top influencers.

Writers/Poets: Robert Frost is far ahead of the pack here. He says so much with few words. Henry David Thoreau is also wonderful but I discovered him later. I've been a Frost fan since high school. Hmm, maybe locals who write about nature and deeper truths are my faves.  I like F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially Gatsby, but I can't say his writing has influenced or informed mine.

Musicians: Too many to mention but my fiddle hero is Jay Ungar. I still think Joan Baez has a compelling female voice. My first guitar love was Glen Campbell.  I saw him in concert way back when he had a TV show.  Great performer. So yes, folk music, rootsy stuff, historical, Celtic. Anything you can get together with people and play.  Music is more communal than the other art forms. I LOVE playing music with people.  It's my absolute favorite thing to do.

What's next for Sheila Foley?

What's next?  We shall see. Whatever it is probably won't be too grandiose. I've turned into a less is more type.

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