April 2017

by Cassie Stephens

Art Teacher

Johnson Elementary

What would it be like to have a passion that is so strong it is woven into your fiber? That, in addition to eating and breathing, the pursuit of your passion is a necessary part of your survival, your existence. We all have things that we like to do. I enjoy sewing a crazy outfit or painting something fun for a blank spot in the living room. But such ventures are not a part of my every day. In fact, it’s a rare individual who eats and breathes to create. And I think that person is Mark Sloniker.

The King of the Weedle Birds with Mark Sloniker in the background

I met Mark a couple of years ago when he was leading a hat-making workshop at the Frist. I knew I was going to like Mark right away when I first spotted the hats he’d created as inspiration for the workshop. There was a tray- of-cupcakes hat, a giant ice cream cone, a huge lollypop, to name a few. Not only that but there were a half dozen giant tubs brimming with fun hat-making supplies: pompoms, feathers, and fabrics galore. We were all so inspired by Mark, and everyone created the most beautiful of hats. That workshop was one of my all-time favorites.

I’ve recently started approaching artists of all kinds to ask if they’d be interested in my Field Trip video series. As an art teacher, I long to introduce my students to working artists of all kinds: mural painters, printmakers, book illustrators, and folk artists. Remembering what a fun time I had at the Frist, I decided to reach out to Mark to see if he would be interested. He graciously agreed, giving up a Saturday morning to allow my art teacher buddy Jennifer and me to come to his home studio with our cameras and tripod.

Walking into Mark’s home was like going into a museum of curiosities. There were crystals that he’d grown and used in delicate tabletop sculptures. Adorning the walls were works of art both two-dimensional and three. There was even a footstool made to look like a tree stump! I did several 360 turns in that room alone just to take it all in.

“Walking into Mark’s home was like going into a museum of curiosities.”

The Lillavae, 2015, Polymer clay, metal, fabric, foam, plastic, 15” x 8” x 6”

When Mark took us back to his studio, the breadth of his creativity became more clear. On his drafting table were the illustrations for a children’s book; hanging up were large hot-pink moth sculptures; next to that was fabric Mark had created by snapping photos of his pink moths. I was astonished that this artist, who works full time at Animax Designs in Nashville, continues to create almost the moment he gets home. When I asked him about this, he said he sometimes has to remind himself to stop creating, to spend time with his husband, to unplug.

When Jennifer and I left Mark’s home studio we couldn’t stop talking about his boundless creativity. We’ve all heard the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Well, Mark debunked that theory. He was a master artist with nearly every medium conceivable, like he had a magical artistic touch. It was such a pleasure to film his many creative processes. I know my students will be thrilled and inspired.

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