The floor of Terri McGaffin’s studio is covered with a layer of cardboard and the walls are draped in plastic sheets. I guess it’s to prevent messes, which tend to occur when you spend months painting a single piece. But Terri wasn’t painting this past weekend, so there were no drips or spills to worry about. That meant her grandson Jack could scribble and draw on the cardboard floor to his heart’s content.
Terri was sitting on the floor next to Jack, observing as he dragged a collection of colorful, waxy crayons across the floor. She smiled as she watched her grandson doodle; she smiled even more when he refused to stop so that she and I could talk.
Choosing not to disturb Jack’s creativity, we decided to chat in the entry section of her Benson Building art studio. The area was carpeted and fit enough space for a few shelves and two chairs, which fit snuggly against one wall.
We were surrounded by Terri’s work -- a piece depicting a water tank behind a fence on a rainy day, an old not-so-structurally-sound building held up by thick steel beams and a view of a friend’s sculpture. These works as well as a few others will be on display during the annual Benson Burner, an event that allows the public to freely view work by various artists taking refuge in the Benson Building.
Terri, who is also the chair of the art department at Morningside College, said the Benson Burner gives the inhabiting artists an opportunity to share what they’ve been working on for the past year.
The Benson Building houses many local establishments from legal practices to full-out MMA gyms. The artists stay fairly hidden, many of whom choose to devote time to their craft on weekends or after work in the evenings. Terri visits her studio every few weeks or so, possibly even once a month -- whenever she can find the time.
“The studio, for me certainly, is a refuge,” she said. “I love to come here. And I love to paint. Every November, I have a chance to open my doors and have people come in. I think more about wanting to show people what I’ve been doing than to sell things.”
Guests can also see how Terri works inside her fifth floor art studio. Her workspace is small but very organized and well lit thanks to the large window overlooking downtown Sioux City.
“I may not have a grand studio, but I have a grand view!” she said.
She keeps her supplies and tools locked away in cigar and tackle boxes. She unboxed a collection of oil paints and places a few bottles onto her workbench draped in plastic.
A curious 3-year-old made his way to the table. Terri squeezed a small lump of dark green paint onto a sheet of paper. Holding a wide-bladed paint knife, Terri’s teacher instincts took over as she instructed her grandson to smear the green glob of paint. She then let Jack squeeze a bit of yellow paint onto the paper and told him to mix the two colors.
The boy smeared and scratched the tool over yellow parchment, blending the colors until it matched the color of his shirt. “Very good, Jack,” Terri said. “That looks really good. Now, I want to start painting.”
But she didn’t that day. When she does decide to paint, however, it’s as if Terri is working a regular job. She’ll arrive at her studio at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday most likely. She’ll make tea for herself and eat the lunch she prepared and work until 5 p.m. before calling it a day. Terri also has a home art studio to continue her work if need be, unless there are papers to grade.
Terri is an artist who excels at painting an already preexisting image, using photos that she has taken as a frame of reference for many of her works. As a result, people often ask her questions about scenes she paints.
“I get to tell stories,” she said. “When people come to the studio, then I get to tell them stories. And they love to hear them and have a cup of cider or a glass of wine and some snacks during the Benson Burner.”
The Benson Burner starts at 5 p.m. Friday (Nov. 4) and 10 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 5) at the Benson Building.