photo by Daniel E. Johnson
Linda LaFontsee has been an important figure in the movement propelling Grand Rapids onto the national arts and culture map over the past 25 years. She has come to wear many hats in her journey, so I asked her how she would answer a stranger on a plane what she does? Linda is a gallery owner with her husband Scott, a framer, an artist, and a connector. What exactly is a connector? This title addresses her life long passion to “connect” people who value the joy of living with art with creators. “Creations can’t just sit there,” she shares, “they have to be experienced.” With that a smile creeps across her face, a look of contented joy and fulfillment. She goes on to explain that getting people excited about living with art is what motivated her in the beginning and remains a passion 25 years later.“To me, art is everything; it makes me tick, it’s the air that I breathe.” Art has indeed enriched her life deeper than she could have imagined as a young girl. Art’s impact goes beyond the joy of the beautiful pieces hanging in her gallery and includes the people who have come into her life as a result.
When we begin to talk about her own art, another smile of joy emerges. “I get inspiration everywhere,” she says. “Color, patterns, repetition, textures, and layering; I see these things all day long and write my impressions down, sketch them, and photograph them to remember later.” In her studio, her process is all about these memories and the history. Her images resonate a sense of peace and calm, like little meditations on canvas. When she connects with her collectors, the greatest compliment to her is when they feel this “stillness” in her work. She shares with me a few lovely little examples, beautiful paintings of circles and ovals. I asked about the her inspiration and she describes her trip to Italy this past spring with her husband where she was so taken with the pattern and repetition of the stones she saw — which create for her and hopefully to her viewers, a sense of serenity.
Great female artists like Mary Cassatt, Frieda Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Joan Mitchell, and a handful more made an impact. We recognize that so many more made great art, but history did not always secure a place for them. This hopefully is changing rapidly and prompts me to ask Linda about the women artists she represents. Her eyes dance as she looks around and points out all the female talent surrounding us. “I’m so glad things for women in the arts is changing,” Linda explains. “What we have to say in our art, our music, and our writings is so rich; it’s our experiences and that makes up the human experience, our history.”
As I pack up to leave the Douglas location of LaFontsee Gallery, the peaceful, contented smile I saw on Linda’s face over the couple of hours we have talked spreads over my own. The place itself is like one of Linda’s works of art; serene and calming, a “good-feeling” place. I ask her about it. “We can’t do it any other way. It’s like when I work in the studio and something isn’t quite right. You keep working at it until it is right, and it’s the same with our galleries!”
I invite you to stop by and see for yourself. Linda and Scott LaFontsee have two galleries, one located in Grand Rapids at 833 Lake Drive SE, and the other in Douglas, Michigan at 150 Center St. You will feel what I’m talking about. If you see Linda, be sure to ask to see her art; maybe you’ll be lucky and she can show you herself. She means business, and she does it well.
Stephanie Schlatter is a full time working artist. She is the founder of Art Aid for Tesfa, providing art education to children in Ethiopia. You can currently find her On the Michigan Wine Trail exploring the relationship between art and wine. For more information, visit www.stephanieschlatterart.com