“I’ve been an artist since kindergarten,” says artist Ginny Piech Street, commenting on her lifelong love affair with art.
“I came from a creative family. My mother painted, and my father was a musician. I have two siblings. All of us were creative in some way, which my parents encouraged,” says Street, adding that her parents knew from her early childhood that she would one day be an artist.
She initiated the first art club at her high school and was its first president. Later, she attended Murray State University in Western Kentucky, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art, with a focus on printmaking. While there, she received the President’s Award, the highest honor bestowed on an art student.
After graduating, she taught elementary art before heading back to college, where she earned a master’s degree in environmental education.
Despite the change in degree topics, she again began to focus more on her art career. The one difficulty was that by then she was living on a sailboat, which did vie for the amount of time she could spend on her creative exploits.
“Sailing and art have competed with each other my whole life. I learned to be an artist before I learned to sail. If I couldn’t do art, I’d sail,” Street says.
Fortunately, she was able to balance the two during the years she, her husband and their first child lived aboard a sailboat in Key West. Given the limited confines of their 28-foot boat, she says she could only work with the types of media conducive to the space, so she concentrated on knot works, collages and smaller craft items.
“I sold little nautical things, friendship bracelets, sailors’ bracelets and key rings at sunset,” she explains.
When they decided to leave Key West, they headed north and dropped anchor at Vero Beach, opting to stay south of the freeze line.
She was a regularly featured artist at the A.E. Backus Gallery in Fort Pierce before it transitioned into a museum. She was also part owner of the Peacock Clay Collaborative and co-founded the Art Mundo Center for Creative Expression in Fort Pierce.
After a fire in an adjacent shop caused a great deal of smoke damage to the Peacock Clay Collaborative, Street got involved with a group of pottery artists in Vero Beach who wanted to create a membership-based clay studio, which eventually opened as Indian River Clay.
“I was the first manager at Indian River Clay,” says Street, who currently teaches basic hand-building and intermediate skill level classes there.
“I enjoy teaching here. Indian River Clay is part of my heart. When I teach the classes, I tell the participants it’s not the product that is important. If you end up with a product that you like, great. The process is the most important thing,” says Street.
She imparts to her students what she herself learned over the years as she expanded her own artistic skills. “There are no mistakes. There are no rules. Perfection is highly overrated. And the process of creating art is what matters.”
She adds she enjoys teaching as well as creating, but for different reasons.
“I love teaching because I constantly learn from the people in my class. I love to create but creating is a lot scarier than teaching. Trying to support yourself with your art is a very courageous thing.”
Street shares that the biggest problem the majority of her students have is deciding what they want to make.
“The solution to that issue is to just start making something. Just get your hands in there, and the ideas will start to come. The more you make, the more ideas you have. You’ll end up with so many ideas that you won’t be able to make all of them in a lifetime.”
Street says that, for her, working with clay is meditative, noting, “I love the tactile nature of clay. There’s so much to learn with clay.”
Some might say her work is “for the birds,” based on the number of feathered creatures that seem to creep their way into much of her work.
“The birds have been good to me. If I just made all the birds that I’ve made collages of, I would have more birds than I could possibly make for the rest of my life,” Street says.
Pointing out the details in a small, black and white clay figure – a rare choice as Street is generally drawn toward bold colors – she comments that her printmaking background comes through in the contrasting textures of the feathers and the bird’s spotted underbelly.
“I like a little quirkiness. I like for things to be a little edgy and different. I like functional things that are weird,” says Street.
Sharing that she has used a baby doll head on wine glasses and a butter dish, she admits, “They’re a little creepy.”
Street has worked in a wide variety of artistic media, from her first pinch pot in kindergarten to her quirky clay creations and vibrant collages.
Although she finds it much easier to turn an idea into a three-dimensional piece than it is to put it on paper, she adds, “I have a love affair with paper, too. I have a paper studio and a clay studio at home.”
In fact, well before her clay days, Street had used her printmaking skills to paint her own paper, cut it and create collage images. She explains that she enjoys collage making as it gives her the freedom to “move and play with the parts” until the arrangement feels right.
Explaining her creative process, she says she conjures images in her head and then draws them in a sketchbook.
“I think people should sketch a little bit every day,” Street says.
However, she admits that the actual piece evolves once she begins to work on it.
“The sketch is a jumping-off place. That is the gate that opens so I can get into the idea. From there, whatever happens, happens.”
While most of her clay pieces are small-scale, she has three large-scale public art installations in Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County and would like to continue working on bigger pieces.
Outside of Vero, her work has been exhibited in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and the LeMoyne Art Foundation in Tallahassee, and is currently on view at the Peacock Clay Collaborative and in the Backus Museum gift shop.
Photos by Joshua Kodis