Risk-takers Make Better Artists

Is risk-taking a genetic or learned personality trait? Is it beneficial or harmful? You’re probably already thinking, these questions are flawed. Risk-taking encompasses both nurture and nature, and often results in positive change. Cultures endure and develop because they are composed of the risk-taker and the cautious. Moreover, we often think chancy behavior is linked to gender and age. Like old women who need their chocolate (dark), young men seem to crave stimulation. But, risk-taking is broader than just desiring to engage in near-death experiences on a moving objects. It’s also climbing out of your comfort burrow to try pursuits that threaten failure.


As I was exploring the booths lining Whitewoman Street during Roscoe Village’s Old Tyme Music Festival, I came across Sally Emslie’s booth. I met Sally nearly fifteen years ago when she was making mixed media art. Several years later she had moved on to creating contemporary art quilts. Her need to create and experiment has recently redirected her interests once again. Now Sally’s making lamp work beads. What a jump in technique from textile to glass.

Sally has focused her creative energy into making visual art, following her inquisitive mind’s lead. She knew she wanted to be an artist in grade school, but her fire wasn’t lit until she moved to Coshocton County in 1973. The beauty of the county—its dense foliage, winding roads, farming and gardening culture and general tranquility still feeds her creative spirit.

Sally began her art quest in Roscoe Village at the pottery. After learning the basics from Becky Lowe, Sally built a kiln in her garage and began making her own pottery. Then she took a watercolor class at the Zanesville Arts Center. She cleaned the clay off of her hands to take up the paintbrush. After spending years developing her watercolor skills, Sally began adding three-dimensional objects to her paintings. These were her assemblage (3-D box pictures) years. Next, someone asked her to go to Athens to see the Quilt National show. Textiles became her challenge and passion. The natural next step for Sally was to begin embellishing her quilts like she had done to her paintings. This time she used beads and eventually was introduced to hand-made beads, her current infatuation. Sally assured me that she doesn’t leave one art method for another until she has thoroughly explored it.

Making lamp work beads is the most technically demanding art process Sally has ever tried. She uses a torch and glass rods to form beads on a mandrel (iron rod). Her husband, Don, once again helped her retool her studio at their farm in West Lafayette. This new adventure is different from the others in that Sally’s twin sister, Sue Quinn, is at her side, making beads and working craft festivals together.

After retiring from her job in Cincinnati a year ago, Sue moved to the area to start a new life. This is the first time she has actually worked at creating something. After sitting behind the torch for three months watching Sally make beads, Sue sucked up the nerve to try her hand at it. Now Sally gives her lessons each week. They have several shows lined up—Zoar on August 7 and 8, and Apple Butter Festival in Roscoe Village in October. Now that Sue has her own beads for sale at the booth, the shows are more fun and gratifying.

Both Sally and Sue followed their interests into an unknown space. They weren’t taking risks that might result in dreadful consequences but in ones that could yield failure, loss of investment capital and physical pain. Often the fear of failure alone can keep the wary from jumping into a new enterprise. For artists, it’s the stretching of boundaries, the innovative seeing of the world that distinguishes the good from the mediocre. Like Sally and Sue, risk-takers make better artists.

Johnson Humrickhouse Museum
300 N. Whitewoman Street
Coshocton, OH 43812
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