Local Artists Share What Moves Them
A young son can leave quite a mark on his mom. Kaleen Wolfe experiences her son’s mark every time she goes to work.
Wolfe is a jewelry artist and owner of Kaleen Wolfe Designs. It all started in 2009 when she made little silver charms with her son’s fingerprint as gifts for family. Like most proud artists, Wolfe shared a photo on social media, which triggered a flood of requests – especially from first-time moms. From there, her Etsy – or e-commerce business – was born.
“My first client was this amazing woman in Kentucky who had just given birth to her son at 25 weeks,” Wolfe recalled. “She commissioned me to make dozens of pieces for her son’s NICU staff.”
Wolfe specializes in personalized jewelry, largely centered on fingerprint, pet print, baby print, and other keepsake styles. She has a passion for her craft. All artists do.
In this month of February, as we enjoy Valentine’s Day and celebrate the great loves in our life, local artists are sharing their love and passion for their amazing work and offering a glimpse into what motivates their remarkable effort.
Wolfe’s zeal is apparent as she recounted her experience with that new mother in Kentucky.
“It was incredible – both to be sharing in a part of this family’s narrative and to be creating something so special,” she stated. “And this was it! A baby who didn’t even weigh two pounds irrevocably altered my life’s journey.”
Because almost every piece of Wolfe’s work is custom-made, she enjoys working closely with her clients and getting to know their stories.
“I’m honored to get a glimpse of their love, and I try to turn this around and put it right back into each piece I create,” she said. “This is my motivation and my love and passion for my work.”
Roy Stiffey, a freelance comic and fantasy artist, has designed ads for local magazines and educational institutions as well as posters and logo work for various companies.
“As an illustrator, my passion for art comes from the ability to tell a story in a picture,” he said. “From paintings to sculptures, I’m always putting in details that can tell a story to the viewer.
If it’s a place, I’ll leave little details – objects and people – to show that something is going on in the picture. If it’s a person, maybe it’s their expression that can tell you something about them. Perhaps it’s wrinkles or scars that can give you a hint at what kind of life the subject had.
That’s what fascinates me the most about what I do. I’m an artist who tells stories.
Art has been part of Stiffey’s life for as long as he can remember. The same is true for Brandis Ajay, who is starring in the Altoona Community Theatre production, Romeo and Juliet – currently on the Mishler Theatre stage.
“Some of my earliest memories are of my dad singing various Frank Sinatra songs to me when I was really little,” Ajay mentioned. “Fast forward about 17 years or so, and you’ll see that my life practically revolves around the arts.”
Besides rehearsing for Romeo and Juliet and auditioning for as many shows as possible, Ajay is studying to become an opera singer and is involved in three choirs. She plays the violin occasionally and loves writing her own music when she has the time.
“It’s definitely a lot, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said. “I think that the best part of being so heavily involved in the arts is that I get to meet and work with so many talented people who all love performing as much as I do. There’s a certain kind of bond that I share with these people that I don’t have with anyone else, and I consider them my family just as much as I do with my parents and siblings.”
Bob Long has personal and professional roots in Blair County. The former Music Director at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona and current Director of the Academy of Sacred Music in Altoona recently recorded a new song, We Can Be Kind.
“My primary joy and intention as a choral conductor is bringing people together to create harmony, literally and figuratively,” commented Long, who also served as Music Director at Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York and currently is the Music Director at a parish in Chatham, New Jersey.
Long plays the piano and sings in We Can Be Kind – a song once performed by the late Nancy LaMott. It is available for listening on YouTube or purchasing on iTunes.
“The thread of music – that I know of – in my family goes back to two immigrants who brought music with them from Europe,” he explained. “I like the idea that music has been passed down through generations of my family and continues with my children.”
Said Oprah Winfrey: “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
Local artists exemplify that spirit every day, and their best is no doubt yet to come.
“I want to grow, I want to learn, I want to improve, but most of all, I want to always do my best,” stressed Ajay. “If that’s not motivation, then I don’t know what is!”