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Life and Work with Maureen Hearty

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maureen Hearty.

Maureen, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the fifth child from a rambunctious lot of seven freckle-faced, sunburnt kids who overran the streets of our Littleton neighborhood with kickball games and bike races.

 My folks had moved to Colorado in the early 1970s, relocating from their family-filled Manhattan Irish neighborhood as part of my Dad’s job. Finding themselves alone in Denver, they tried to keep us kids connected to our roots: a family of Irish immigrants and blue-collar workers. It was important to my parents that my siblings and I focus on: God, family, country, education, service, and our Irish history.

 I’m proud to say that I’ve retained at least three of those six virtues.

 My mom worked full-time as a night nurse at Craig Hospital, caring for paraplegic and brain-injured patients. In addition to her to job, she taught CCD (Catholic classes), made our meals, and drove us to soccer and Irish dance practice. She also made much of our clothing, all of our Halloween costumes, and was our hairdresser. We would’ve gladly fired her from those duties, though; her efforts in fashion and hair design, as valiant as they were, all too often resulted in outfits, haircuts, and perms that left us mistaken as little boys or homeless fairies.

In hindsight, my mother’s hand-crafted fearlessness–a combination of creativity and necessity–along with her sense of service, were some of my greatest influences.

As kids, we were expected to pitch in as soon as we could walk. My sisters and I were given the traditional female inside chores while the majority of the outside care, specifically chores involving machines and power tools, were left to my brothers. I remember washing dishes, jealously looking out the window at my brothers pushing the lawnmower.

When my parents hosted parties, I was expected to be in the kitchen, with my sisters and the other women, prepping food, serving it, and then cleaning up while the men stood around chatting, drinking and laughing, I always thought, “This is bullshit!” Ever since, I’ve attempted to break away from any blueprint that expected “normal, girl behavior”. This is where I part from my mother’s influence.

With seven kids, there was a solid mixture of fun and fighting growing up. I often sought hiding places to get away from all the chaos. Tucked behind the giant juniper beside the house, I would stare at the clouds for an entire afternoon. I was a spacey daydreamer who dreamt of doing everything differently than my mom. No house. No husband. No kids. No way.

I discovered out later that was not entirely the case.

I had always been artistic as a kid, and I would have loved to have studied it in college. But my family would have laughed me out of the house had I gone that route. Instead, I followed my other passions, majoring in sociology and criminal justice. This led to a career of helping vulnerable populations navigate a complicated and inequitable system. Throughout my work in the social sector, my rebellious side always blended alongside my love affair with art; exploring outsider ways to exist with excursions into the world of travel, art and music.

Has it been a smooth road?
In high school, I was hit with an overabundance of self-loathing and fear, making me hide away my love for art, along with many other things. Instead, I stayed within the family norm of playing sports, while at the same time pursuing my career as a notable goofball.

 I was awkward in my own body; full of angst about my freckles, frizzy hair, and weight. Lucky for me, I’ve been blessed with some kick-ass mental health and a sense of humor. With these tools, I’ve made great friends, sustained healthy relationships, found and kept jobs, and maintained solid footing in reality. Through my relationships, travel, and work experiences I’ve been empowered to go beyond the small-minded issues that can interfere with our sense of selves. I’ve been able to take inventory on the skills I do have and find path I’m comfortable in and good at. I knew I was good with people so it was easy to pursue social service. Less easy was giving myself permission to call my self an artist.

 But that changed once I met a group of creatives while working in Palawan, Philippines. This group of playful outsiders helped me blossom past fear and find my voice. As I was floundering around with jewelry-making, photography, and tap dancing, I fell in love with the most creative person I’ve ever met, whom I later married. With his encouragement and our growing network of creatives, I found metal fabrication as a means to build sculptures and I discovered a rock and roll drummer hiding within me. That metamorphosis transformed me into a confident and fearless artist, musician and community change-maker.

Tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I transform objects, space, and community.

I work primarily with reclaimed steel; fashioning industrial junk into items with spunk. Art is, for me, a tool for action, education, and opportunity. In addition to designing and installing commissioned works of public and private art, I’ve shown professionally in various venues. As a community organizer, I’ve organized several art, music, and educational programs in settings that range from the Colorado prairie to a high school in Lima, Peru, and plenty of points in between.

I’m particularly proud to have started the West High School Mural Club. In 2006, I recruited students, most of whom had gotten into trouble for graffiti, into a school-sponsored mural club in which we painted murals in the school and for the public. We were met with much resistance (this was before Denver was hip to the graffiti mural scene), but thanks to some resiliency and support we found success. So much so that two of the main mural club students are among Denver’s most cherished mural artists today.

 After fifteen years in public health, food justice, and creative community-building in Denver, the majority of my community-based work is now on the eastern plains of Colorado, the most sparsely populated area in the United States. I’m working with the community to activate space using art, music, and the collection of story. I received the 2016 Governor’s Creative Leadership Award for my work on the high plains. My colleague, Kristin Stoltz, and I were just awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a Prairie Seas: Farming Fluxus design project in Yuma County for 2020.

 I am blessed with a perfect balance of collaborative and solo work. While I love the social aspect of the community work, I’m always ready to get back to my studio, where I feel like my true self. I love the physicality of sculpture, the forgiveness and malleability of junk steel, and the beauty of turning non-biodegradable garbage into art.

 And when I really need to blow off steam, I play rock ‘n roll drums with my husband Gregory. We’ve been in several bands together, starting with The Babysitters, currently with Manotaur, and, once a month, in a country jam night at the Grassroots Community Center in Joes, Colorado.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
We’ve got access to it all, it’s just a matter of grabbing, doing, and owning it. Obstacles and contrary myths are inevitable, and we are fed distracting bullshit about needing to be gentle, pretty, kind, patient and subservient. Don’t eat this crap. Sure, be pretty and kind and gentle and patient; those are great things. But be those things because you choose to, not because it’s expected of you. And please, add to your menu of options: strong, focused, ambitious, assertive, aggressive, opinionated, loud, technical, dirty, profane, sexual, intellectual, bossy, and wild. It’s your world, make it work for you.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Stevie Jones – Maux on drums
The rest are Maureen Hearty

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