Strings attached

Leesa Haapapuro teaches, creates in Dayton

By Bill Franz

Leesa Haapapuro’s studio is in the busiest and most colorful art space in Dayton. The building, at 341 Jefferson St. downtown, is also home to K12 Gallery for Young People and Teen Educational & Joint Adult Studio (TEJAS) and the studios of several other artists.

I asked Haapapuro about the buffalo outside the building and was disappointed to learn that she didn’t know why it is there: “It just appeared one day. I don’t know why.”

Haapapuro teaches art classes at K12 and at Sinclair. She also makes many of the puppets used by Zoot Puppet.  But she is probably best known for some of her public participation art projects.

My favorite of Haapapuro’s projects was a few years ago at the Dayton Visual Arts Center.  Haapapuro built a portable sculpture studio and invited people passing by to model for drawings and sculptures. She gave those artworks away, but asked people to bring them back downtown for a “reunion show.”

Haapapuro’s studio is filled with light and packed with the remnants of her previous projects.  I asked Haapapuro how working in the K12 building impacts her art.

“Sometimes the line between the teaching work I do for K12 and the work I do in my studio gets blurry,” she says. “To get back here, I need to walk through the classroom-studios and can get distracted by something that needs doing and never make it this far. Or I might plan to work on my own things after I get done teaching a class and end up ‘finishing up’ for those hours. I do love the vibrancy of this place, though, so it’s a balance.”

On one of my visits to Haapapuro’s studio in 2014 she was working on a project for that year’s Sideshow, an annual two-day community arts festival. Haapapuro’s project—“Absence”—created a studio behind a screen of absent butterflies. She invited participants into the studio to decorate butterflies and then to take milkweed seeds that would create food for the Monarch Butterfly.

Haapapuro tells me she is busy working in her studio now because she has three shows in May.

“One show is curated by Amy Kollar Anderson at the Racquet Club on May 19,” she says. “Another show is Coleen Kelsey’s pop-up Feed The Adjuncts at the Front Street Gallery on May 20. Plus, I am working on my project for this year’s Sideshow, which will be held May 13 and 14 at the Old Yellow Cab Building. I call this year’s project my ‘nest.’ It’s going to be a comfy place to relax made of woven saplings and feathered with the help of community participants.”

For more of Leesa Haapapuro’s work and information on her upcoming shows, please visit leesahaapapuro.com.
Bill Franz retired from a business career and became a volunteer photographer doing projects for many local nonprofits.  His photos of people at work have been shown in art exhibitions across Ohio and neighboring states.  Find out more at billfranz17.com/about.

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Bill Franz retired from a business career and became a volunteer photographer doing projects for many local nonprofits.  His photos of people at work have been shown in art exhibitions across Ohio and neighboring states.  Find out more at billfranz17.com/about. 

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