Despite its size, Tipp City has become a powerful artistic force in the Miami Valley. At the very center of this emanating force, you can find our Daytonian of the Week.
For decades, Rusty Harden has been creating art and teaching others how to find their own hidden artistic potential, no matter their skill level. And, since 2014, Harden has been able to teach and create art simultaneously at the Rusty Harden Studio on North Fourth Street in downtown Tipp City.
In my interview with Harden, we discuss the creative community within Tipp City, the art of inspiration and what it means to be present in one’s work.
Tell us about your background. What has led you to this point in your career?
I can remember a landmark moment in my childhood of painting of a little girl and a tree. The painting was essentially done, but I wasn’t done painting so I gave her chicken pox. Since that day, I have listened to that voice inside of me that has sought to express my inner soul in as many different ways as possible using as many different mediums as I can find. During that journey, I have met many people who have both fostered my evolution as well as impacted it by sharing their own love of art expression and those who have used me as a conduit through which they were able to find their own unique expression.
When did you open up your studio and why? What is unique about owning an art studio in Tipp City, Ohio?
I opened by first studio in 2014. My studio has experienced its own evolution parallel to my own. Throughout the years, I have utilized my studio to sell, demonstrate, teach, counsel and share space with artists of all abilities and styles that have allowed me to impart what I know onto others who would receive it as well as take in what others have to teach and guide me.
Can you tell us more about the art community in Tipp City? What makes it so special?
The art community in Tipp City is a close-knit group of people who stick together and support one another all while being open and inviting to anyone who is looking for a place to fit in, as well as be unique in who they are as artists, which is also what makes it so special.
How did you make the transition from doing to teaching?
There really has been no transition from doing to teaching. I believe that I have always done both simultaneously. To transition suggests that I started with one, added the other and gradually allowed the first to disappear. I still do and I teach at the same time in addition to learning from what my students have to offer. As I explored my own art expression, I met other people who became a part of my artist family.
Can you tell us more about your “sun art?” How did it feel to have your work on CBS Sunday Morning?
I submitted sun art for the first time about 10 or more years ago. The first of my submissions to be aired on the program was the “Cheshire Cat” and it followed a piece on Isabella Rossellini. I can remember feeling such a sense of disbelief and then excitement that led me to run around the house. I couldn’t believe that I was watching a television show that millions of other people were also watching. Since then, I’ve had about a half dozen “sun art” submissions air on the show and several of them have popped up more than once. At some point, I invited my students to submit their own sun art along with mine and several of my students have experienced the same joy of seeing their work on the television screen.
Where do you find the inspiration to create your work?
I find the inspiration for my work in absolutely everything. Many artists say that, and it is so true. I think that the strongest impact on my work comes from my emotional evolution as a person. I find that the more I learn about myself, the more honest my work becomes. I take more risks and am less critical of what appears in front of me. My art stories are profound and emotional and I find that my stories often help others find their own voice having shared a similar experience or a page in history.
What advice would you give to emerging artists in Tipp City and the surrounding areas?
If there were a person standing in front of me telling me that they have been thinking about taking a class or picking up the brush again or that they used to “do art” in high school and they miss it, I would say, “You need to just do it.” Art doesn’t have to be about having your work displayed for all the world to see or making thousands of dollars selling it. Art is whatever you want it to be whether your goal is to earn a living doing it or if you simply want it to be how you spend your “you time.” Whatever it is, don’t wait.
Beyond your business, what are other ways that you remain involved in the local community?
When I’m not working, I find my balance by spending time in nature especially woodland walks along the river all throughout the year. I make donations in various ways to support efforts involving children of the community in addition to attending fund raisers of local groups that support women’s issues and contribute to scholarships. It is my belief that if you help the core, you help the community. What’s important to me is also to spend locally. I’m a local business, and small by comparison to some, and I want others like me to exist so I shop locally and try to keep capital where it is earned.
What inspires you about Tipp City and Dayton?
What inspires me most about the Miami Valley is, no matter what the size of the area, the artist community is ever-welcoming and feels like a tribe to me. I believe that others have that same or a similar feeling about it because it continues to grow and yet it maintains that same in its ability to envelop and support all who seek the freedom and inspiration that it offers artists of all ages and experience.
What do you see in the futures of Tipp City and Dayton?
I believe that artistic expression in the Miami Valley will only continue to grow and evolve as people discover what it has to offer in the galleries, exhibits, shows and even on the buildings in various areas of the city. With each new triumph as well as tragedy, people come together to support and encourage — and art evolves and blossoms right along with it.
What sort of exciting things do you see for yourself professionally in the next five years?
In the next five years, I can see myself doing all that I can to continue to explore what is inside of me and sharing what I find there, while offering encouragement and teaching to anyone seeking to find a place where they can meet and get to know others from a tribe of artists and creators that they never knew existed.