Joelle Ford

Joelle Ford's sculpture work consists of items found or purchased in Kansas.

University of Kansas alumna Joelle Ford is a Lawrence-based visual artist who specializes in found-art sculptures. She has been creating art since she was a child.

Her upcoming show, titled “Kansas Collections II,” will be available for free viewing Oct. 26 to Dec. 21 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Ten years ago, Ford held her sculpture show for her first "Kansas Collections" at the arts center, she said. The collections are names for the state in which she collected pieces. 

"It’s kind of a jest on the topic — museums have collections, but this is just a different type of collection,” Ford said. 

In addition to the showcase, Ford will also be featured in an Insight Art Talk at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Rick Mitchell, former director of the exhibitions program at the Lawrence Arts Center, was influential in helping Ford establish her first Kansas Collections exhibition in 2008, she said.

“I had seen some of Joelle’s early work when she participated in some other exhibitions,” Mitchell said. “At a certain point, she had collected enough work that she thought she could do a one-person exhibition. I was very much in favor of that. It was a great exhibition.”

Mitchell said he feels Ford’s imagination is what makes her art particularly unique.

"She has the imagination to look at almost anything and imagine some other form or another way to use it,” he said. 

Among the materials Ford used in her works are empty paint cans, golf tees, embroidery hoops and used gloves. Ford said the largest piece featured in her upcoming show consists of about 1,600 vintage potholders of various colors and patterns.

Ford attributes her proclivity for found-art sculpture to her parents’ influence.

“My parents went through the [Great] Depression,” Ford said. “They taught me there was value in everything. So, I try to look beyond the surface to see if there’s something else there. I guess that’s just stayed with me.”

Finding her inspiration in the objects she utilizes, Ford said she is rarely in short supply of material to use in her art.

“I have a friend who lives in Topeka who will find things for me,” Ford said. “I have four daughters and they find things for me. Everyone’s on the look for me.”

Ford’s work has appeared in galleries in Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Alabama. Currently, she has two pieces in a show at the U.S. Embassy in Benin, Africa.

The majority of Ford’s work would qualify as sculpture, but she has also created numerous collage pieces. She published a book of collages entitled “Gumbo Girl” that highlights what life was like for her growing up in the South.

“I was impressed by her work and found it imaginative,” Mitchell said. “I got interested in her story as a person, too.”

Ford grew up in Orange, Texas, near the Louisiana border and took private art lessons in her early years. Because her parents moved often when she was a child, Ford did not have any art education from junior high until college. She studied art in the 1960s at two schools in Lousiana, Centenary College and Northeast LA State College, but did not graduate. She went back to school at the University of Kansas in 1993 and graduated in 1999.

While her primary medium of focus while attending the University and obtaining her bachelor of fine arts was painting, Ford says she prefers sculpture because of the variety of options available within the medium.

Ford has lived in Lawrence since 1976 and feels as though the arts culture in the area has benefited her craft.

“It’s very rewarding,” Ford said. “It pushes one to do better. You always want to share what you’re doing.”