Getting Personal: Catherine Wiesener

Getting Personal: Catherine Wiesener

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, CATHERINE WIESENER of Mahomet, who recently had a child at 42, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. She is a lecturer at the University of Illinois. She's also a ceramics artist and a good cook.

You have a long list of places where you grew up.

I was born in upstate New York and briefly lived in Clayton near the Thousand Islands, before moving to Black Mountain, N.C., and then to Brevard, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent most of my childhood there. Around middle school, we moved to Gettysburg, Penn., then to Shippensburg, Penn., and finally to Danville, Ky.

Your father is an artist. Was that why you traveled so much?

My dad is a talented artist and it's the only "job" he's ever had since college. He still makes art to support himself. As kids, we got asked why we moved so much — and we joked that it was because my dad was a grifter who owed people money. But the real reason was to be closer to his markets and galleries as they expanded.

You studied at University of the South, then transferred to the University of Cincinnati. Do you have a favorite part of the country?

The University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn., is on the Cumberland Plateau and is a stunningly beautiful domain. I left it because I changed my major from anthropology to art, and the program there was too small. I think that all of Western North Carolina/Eastern Tennessee is my favorite part of the country. It's a temperate rainforest and you can't throw a rock without hitting a waterfall or some cool species of fungi.

How does Mahomet rank?

I've found my little patch of this area that most closely and affordably reminds me of western Carolina. There's a curve and a hill on my road! And lots of trees and the river is close enough.

Tell us about your artwork.

My ceramic work is always changing. I find inspiration in exploring the material and what it can do and then following that lead. My current work involves taking porcelain clay and thinning it out and adding paper pulp and colored stain to create layers of colored clay almost like strata in the earth, and building landscapes out of these paper thin layers of porcelain. All of my work for a long time has dealt with man/nature conflict in some way.

Have you done a lot of exhibitions?

I have tried to do a couple a year for the last 20 plus years.

Do you enjoy teaching at the UI?

I love teaching at the UI. The Unit One program in Allen Hall is my main gig, and the people are supportive and collaborative, and the students are active learners. The School of Art and Design has an amazing program as well, and the facilities like the wood shop, 3D lab and digital output labs are incredible.

Tell us about your family.

My partner is also a creative, and in helping his business succeed, he taught me how to fabricate guitar speaker and amplifier cases out of wood (minus the wiring). I was also able to design and build some new products for him, as well as too many coffee tables for myself. Someday we hope to have a home shop and design and build together. This plan includes the little one as we hope to have her safely outfitted to start building as soon as she can swing a hammer.

Is it a challenge being a first-time mother at age 42?

I wouldn't know if it's more or less challenging for a younger person, but I can safely bet that we are all sufficiently sleep-deprived, zapped of energy and achey all the time.

Your daughter is just 6 months old. What's your favorite thing about her?

The first six months go by in a blur, but my favorite thing about her is watching that look in her eye when her brain makes a new connection ... you can almost hear the neurons firing like crazy. And she's into a clucking sound now.How will you handle the workload of a baby, an art career and teaching duties?

I have no idea yet. Hopefully, with a supportive partner, I can do all of these things. Being a mom is definitely the hardest job. Hats off to all moms and especially single moms.

What else do you wish I'd asked you?

I wish you'd asked about what I'm most looking forward to in the future. The answer would be traveling with a child and hopefully learning a new language together.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

My guilty pleasure is dark chocolate chips, meaning eating them by the handfuls, and even putting some in my bathrobe pocket to eat while I'm just hanging around the house and require immediate chocolate.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I just finished Margaret Atwood's semi-autobiographical novel, "Cat's Eye."

What would you order for your last meal?

I find this question interestingand studied it for a while. Forexample, I can tell you off the top of my head that Timothy McVeigh ordered two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Personally, most likely something heaped with cheese and something heaped with chocolate.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Probably Jacques Cousteau.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I painted large "Star Wars" murals for a comic bookstore in return for free pizza and Elvis trading cards before I was old enough to legally work. When I was legal, I believe it was $2.13 an hour plus tips waiting tables.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I'm early.