Checking in with Sean Samoheyl

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What were you doing when we called?
I was napping with my daughter and trying to get her to go to sleep by singing her songs. The last one was Yo La Tengo. “By the Time It Gets Dark” is a song she likes. I do a lot of really long ballads, and if I pause she says “sing it again,” so something that’s eight, nine, 10 minutes long is good.

The local puppeteer and sculptor Sean Samoheyl controls his handmade puppets beneath an accordion-like stage strapped to his chest. His work is featured in a new issue of the Mildred Pierce zine, which can be found at www.mildredpierce.wordpress.com.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on these Russian fairy tales that are really fun. They feel like they come from a deeper tradition than what I’m typically working on. They seem to have a kind of more bizarre, absurdist element that I can’t even imagine making on my own.

Tell us about your day job.
I’ve lived at Twin Oaks Community for 10 years now, a commune that’s been around since ’67. I work in a variety of areas, primarily forestry in the wintertime. All of our heat is firewood, so we haul a lot of wood for that. In the summer I do farm work and I fix bikes. I guess you would call those things my day job. I definitely can’t say I sustain myself on what I make for my art, even though ideally I would love for it to be more of a day job.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
My grandpa was a preacher and I would draw when I went over to their house because they wouldn’t have that many toys. I remember drawing someone playing pinball and getting the idea that I didn’t have to draw his arm because it went behind the pinball machine, and feeling really proud of being able to draw the way they do in comics.

Do you have any superstitions about your art?
Sometimes it feels like I’m afraid to start a work and give it too much attention. It feels like if I pretend like I’m not really doing anything serious, it kind of comes about. But if I have a deadline or am really wanting to make something specific to enter into a juried type of thing, then it’s not going to be very good.

Which of your works are you most proud of?
One that comes to mind is this large-ish teddy bear sculpture that was covered in roofing tar.

Favorite artist outside your medium?
It might be Jason Molina, the singer of Songs: Ohia. He’s someone I’m also singing to my daughter, who’s 2. Jason Molina, or maybe Oscar Peterson.

Tell us about a recent concert, exhibit or show that has inspired you.
While I was in Baltimore I had the opportunity to see this show at the American Visionary Art Museum about laughter and smiling, and it had a section about Patch Adams and his work. That inspired me, I think. I’ve sold some puppets to them in their gift shop over the years, and they got some of the DVDs of my puppet shows that Meghan Eckman shot.

How do you prepare for work?
It seems different every time. I guess usually there’s an impulse to just take off to do it, which my wife and I are struggling with now that I’m a dad, because I can’t just take off and go work for 10, 12 hours at a time. With the puppets, the cast is always at hand, readily available to be improvised with. Often the stories are just thrown together on the spot. Maybe I’ll have an idea but don’t know how it’s going to work out. Sometimes I’ll have three or four characters that are already made, and I’ll have a character in mind that I don’t have yet. But all I have to do is make that one character or prop. With props, you keep them because you never know when you’re going to need a sickle or something. 

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