Words by Tui Snider
Photography by Righteous Photography
While browsing along Granbury’s town square, shopkeepers asked what brought me to town. “I’m here to interview Elise Techentine,” I told them.
“Oh, the artist gal!” one exclaimed. “You’re going to love her.”
“She keeps the arts scene fresh and friendly,” said another. “Not snooty, like some places.” And so it went. Everyone on the square seemed to know Elise Techentine and feel grateful for her presence in the local arts community.
I first met this creative dynamo last summer when I spent a couple weeks in Granbury as Writer-in-Residence for Tarleton State University’s Langdon Review. Even then, her reputation preceded her. “Have you met Elise?” people kept asking. “You need to meet Elise!”
So just who is Elise Techentine and how has she kept Granbury’s arts scene “fresh and friendly”? We recently met at Paradise Bistro for a lively conversation about her art and life.
While not a native Texas, Elise Techentine’s Granbury roots stretch back to 1991 when she moved here with her husband, George, and their two young children. Despite having a nursing degree, once in Granbury she never sought a career in that field. Her husband’s job at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant allowed her to pursue creative endeavors while being a full-time mom. According to Techentine, “I often say that George is the best artist patron ever.”
Even so, Techentine never set out to “become an artist.” She didn’t need to. Creativity is integral to her being; it just bubbles up naturally. Nor is her creative spirit limited to her art work. For Techentine, every aspect of life is better when imbued with creativity, from dressing, to cooking, to raising kids, to life in general. “To me, there’s no ‘being an artist.’ It’s just living a creative life,” she explained. “It’s what I do.”
Case in point: when I complimented her beautiful shirt, Elise quickly related how she used rust to create the batik-like print, before adding sparkly antique buttons, and topping it off with a hand-stitched trim. “This shirt is going to change over time,” she continued, “just like a person. I love that. Rust is a living thing.”
Techentine credits her parents for her hands-on approach to life and art. Her appreciation for antiques comes from her father, while her mother’s practicality taught her how to put those items to use. “Dad likes the history of an old thing. He’s always bringing them home. Mom knows how to make old things useful, so between the two of them, I learned.”
Techentine grew up steeped in history, and feels a deep connection to the legacy of places and objects. “I’m the only one in my family living west of the Mississippi,” she says. “The rest are in South Carolina. Our family there goes back 400 years.”
“Sometimes, I use whatever I have lying around to weigh down the metal pieces so they make better contact with the fabric. Sometimes they pick up rust prints too, which gives me more ideas!
In contrast to her tactile approach to life, Elise’s husband, an engineer, is quite methodical. “If you ask us to do the same thing, George can spend 10 hours planning, and then get it right the first time. I spend those exact same 10 hours doing it wrong 100 times,” she said with a laugh, “but I have fun and learn new things along the way.”
Although she started off making pottery, Elise Techentine is best-known for her assemblage, sculptures created by combining, and in many cases altering, various found items. “Assemblage is like collage, but using objects instead of paper,” she explained. “I didn’t even know what it was when I started,” she added with a laugh. “It was just the best way to tell my stories, visually.”
Each one of these assemblage pieces has a story behind it, a theme from her own life. While she doesn’t make the details of these stories public, Elise often shares them with her little sister during video phone calls. Because her work is her autobiography, Elise is meticulous about having her pieces professionally photographed. “There’s a story behind each one,” she says. “They’re all me.”
Elise completes roughly one piece per month, and as the work progresses, she often feels a creative high, especially towards the end. “I can get obsessed,” she explains. “Even if I want to go home and have dinner, sometimes the piece just has to get done, so I stay late at my studio.”
While Techentine’s pieces are highly personal, she doesn’t expect viewers to respond or connect to them in a specific way. “It’s sometimes hard for people to see what I do as art,” she said. “But I do hope it makes people see ordinary objects differently.”
Techentine enjoys being a “fly on the wall” at gallery openings, so she rarely wears a nametag. “If they know I’m the artist, it often stifles viewers,” she said. “Honest feelings are better than polite remarks.” She wants people to feel comfortable enough to say what they really think and feel. “Even if it’s simply, ‘That’s weird!’ or ‘That’s creepy!’ at least it’s an honest reaction.”
In 1997, Elise rented an old building in Granbury to showcase her assemblage. It was an impulsive move but, “It was time to get out there,” Techentine explained. “I believe it’s not really art until people see it.”
It didn’t take long for Techentine’s following to grow, and in ’99 or 2000 (she’s not sure which) she got a fateful phone call from fellow artist, Carol McKay, who said, “I hear you do assemblage.”
This was news to Techentine. “Carol is the one who let me know my stuff has an actual name,” she said with a laugh. Even better, McKay invited Elise to take part in a group show at Gallery 206. Things took off from there.
After closing her store in 2002, Elise participated in Texas Antiques Week in Round Top/Warrenton, Texas. Under the pseudonym “purplegoat,” Techentine gained a loyal following at that twice yearly mega flea market.
In 2014, Elise curated a pop-up gallery space for the Granbury Theatre Company and the City of Granbury. There, she used her “mindful hoarding” expertise to create a thriving space for both established and emerging regional artists. Plus, proceeds from the art sales generated much-needed revenue for the local theater group.
From 2014 through 2016, Techentine served as director for Granbury’s Harvest Moon Festival of the Arts. When Elise took the helm, this annual event had strayed from its original intent of showcasing handmade items and regional art. Techentine’s invitation came with a directive to steer the event back to its roots. Now in its 39th year, the Harvest Moon Festival is thriving once again as a juried arts event featuring fine art and contemporary craft.
From 2014 through 2015, Techentine served as art coordinator for another popular annual celebration, the Granbury Wine Walk. In 2015, she was the featured artist in Coleman, Texas at an event where she gave a talk and, in true Techentine-style, led a hands-on workshop.
Along the way, Techentine earned numerous accolades and awards, including the Spirit of Texas Brownwood Sculpture award in both 2015 and 2017. In 2016, she earned two Best of Show awards, one at Brownwood’s Spirit of Texas show, and another at Rio Brazos in Granbury.
Recently, however, Techentine felt a creative shift. Just as in 1997, when she felt compelled to open a store, in 2017 Techentine’s creative spirit urged her to scale back. “As a mom, wife, art advocate, and someone who sees potential in the community, I said ‘yes’ to everything for a very long time,” she said. “I felt like this was my year to say ‘no’ to everything – so I did.”
While Techentine found it liberating to say ‘no,’ she was surprised when the art world responded by saying ‘no’ right back. After a steady rhythm of participating in 8 to 10 juried shows each year, “This year, I had six show rejections in a row,” Techentine said. As any artist knows, rejection comes with the territory. “I’m OK with rejections,” she added. “But six in a row? It made me question myself.”
The experience caused Techentine to take a hard look at each piece she submitted, after which she concluded that she would not have done anything differently. So while this string of rejections wasn’t exactly fun, the experience helped reaffirm her artistic integrity.
All this free time led to a joyous summer for Techentine. “Each day felt just like when the kids were little and out of school.” Participating in fewer gallery shows means she can hop down creative rabbit trails without worrying about deadlines. Her creativity is thriving as she explores new methods and techniques without the pressure of strict timelines.
While she isn’t sure exactly where it will take her, Techentine is feeling another creative shift. Her most recent pieces explore balance, with the stories behind them related to her many roles in life, especially as wife, mother, and art advocate. This September, for instance, she has a solo exhibit at Raw 1899 in San Angelo called “Finding Balance in the Unknown.”
So what’s next for Elise Techentine? Will 2018 be another year of saying ‘no’?
Techentine’s not sure but she did reveal that, “The other night, I had crazy dreams about teapots.” When I asked how those teapots would translate into her art, she replied, “What it represents to me, those teapots: is a pouring out and a receiving. I think I’m ready for that. I think I’m ready for a cup of tea.”