Dolls Exploring the Experience of Motherhood: Interview with Nicole Havekost

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By Alicia Puig

Nicole Havekost is an artist living in Rochester, Minnesota. Her own work is varied in media and technique but linked by her interest in material and process. Recently, Nicole was both a 2018 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant recipient and Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council Advancing Artist Grant recipient. She has recently exhibited work in New Orleans, Dallas, and Tasmania, Australia. Nicole earned her BFA in Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA in Printmaking from the University of New Mexico. 

I make figures that are doll-like in form. I began making these figures when my son was small. I expected these figures would teach my son about my world, but instead, this work has been a way to teach me about his. These figures are observers, thoughtful participants in the process of discovery. They nurture and protect, yet they are neither beast nor human. These animals are my evolving experience of motherhood; the profound change of body, heart, and desire I never expected and couldn’t control in a new world rich with possibility.

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How did you first become interested in art, and can you explain a bit of how it led you to the work you create today?

I've always loved to draw. I didn't know a person could be an artist, and the only art form I was familiar with was the newspaper comics. So I wanted to be a cartoonist. That interest later turned to fashion design, but after my foundation year at RISD, I realized there were so many other possibilities. I graduated as a printmaker but began making sculptural objects during my senior year. I haven't stopped since.

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Tell us about the inspiration behind your artwork or a specific series that you're currently working on.

I currently have two different bodies of work in progress, but they both come from the same place. I am deeply interested in exploring what it feels like to be in a body. The animal dolls that are published in Create! Magazine reference my transition to motherhood and how it felt to nurture another soul in this world. The other work includes mixed media sculpture exploring my bodily experience of sickness, pregnancy, aging, and recently, perimenopause.

Can you talk about some of your favorite works, and what makes them special to you?

My favorite works are often the ones I make at the beginning of a series. I don't yet know what the work will look like, but I can tell we will be the best of friends once it is complete. Often as the work progresses, there are stronger pieces, but that first one always holds a special place. It was there before I saw it, and then I made it. I love creating doll-like forms; my "Candy Lady" series of figures with candy innards are some of my favorites.

What is your process like? Do you do a lot of sketching or make work more intuitively?

I work intuitively. Mostly I keep a list of descriptors related to the series I am working on. I am terrible at planning at planning my work; I get too tight. I like to have to problem solve my way through the process. Natural consequences make the work pretty interesting.

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Do your works often undergo a lot of changes before you consider them complete? How long does a piece take?

My work does change as I make it, but that's because I am responding to the process as I work instead of altering original plans. Because I do so much hand stitching in my work, progress is slower than I would like. But the process is deeply meditative and brings me much joy while I am doing it. I haven't paid attention to actual hours, but I can account for the time in episodic television. Some works take the length of several seasons of a Netflix binge, while other processes are a couple of stand up specials. I can't watch anything I really have to pay attention to when I am stitching, but I can keep track of large narratives. It is the best way to work.

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Are there any exciting exhibitions, projects, or collaborations going on this year that you're currently working on or will be soon?

I am excited to be shipping work to the Southbend Museum of Art Biennial 30 next month as well as the exhibition "Modern Archetypes" at Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City, Michigan. I will be participating in RISDCraft 2019 in Providence, Rhode Island in October and teaching the workshop "The Doll as Storyteller" at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in November.

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