By Mary McEwen of The Garrett County Arts Council
For a true artistic experience, one has only to come into The Gallery Shop in Oakland to see an exhibit of beautiful art, created by artists who live mainly in Garrett County or very nearby. The artists’ work is juried into the gallery, and then entered into the system, tagged, and displayed. The work is kept safe and well displayed, with chances high that it will sell to a customer. At that point, the artist receives a check for the piece and is invited to bring in another. The gallery process is complicated and takes time and effort. But it is vital to the mission of the Garrett County Arts Council, which is in part to foster the work of area artists, artisans and entrepreneurs, support them, and help them market their products to the public.
The person who manages the lion’s share of this process is Rachel Precht, on whom the GCAC spotlight shines this month. She is the manager of The Gallery Shop as well as the Visual Arts Coordinator and artist contact person. She is also an artist herself.
Rachel grew up in Western Maryland, the daughter of two cartographers. Her parents are two of her most significant influences, with their work fostering in her a love of life.
“My dad also has a need to repurpose materials and make them into something fun and cool, and always has a project in the works working with his hands and found objects,” Rachel said. “My mom has this amazing sunroom full of plants and light, and always made going to the garden store or working outside in the garden a special occasion. I think that is what is influencing me most now.”
She has been an artist for as long as she can remember.
“I have childhood memories of being very excited to play with French Curves and those mapping pencils that are blue on one end and red on the other,” she said. “When I was a kid I went through a fascination with paper dolls, and I started making my own or designing my own outfits to fit onto the ones I had. A budding do-it-yourself-er.”
Her artistic pursuit was interrupted for some time in middle and high school after an exchange with a teacher.
“I always find this is an important story for me to share, because it shows how deeply teachers influence kids,” Rachel said. “I told a middle school art teacher I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and she laughed at me. I didn’t take any more art classes until college — when I just had to — and I fell back in love with it.”
Rachel did follow her plan and earned two masters’ degrees, one in Arts and the other in Fine Arts, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). There, her thesis show, Canary in a Coal Mine, explored the domestic architecture of the part of Appalachia she considers home. In 2016 she branched into installation when she created site-specific thread-based installation works, Traced Paths and Echo. In addition to digital painting, Rachel is interested in block printing, photography, watercolor and gelatin monotypes, aquatint and drypoint etching as well as traditional drawing practices.
As for her chosen method now, the artist said she usually works digitally these days.
“I am really drawn to line and color no matter what medium, and I like to play around and explore new mediums. They don’t always stick, but I learn something about why I like what I do each time. Or I find a new way of looking at things in my main medium,” she said.
To create her digital art, she sometimes uses an iPad, but mainly she utilizes a graphics tablet and her desktop computer plus the Photoshop program or Clip Studio Paint.
“I use a fairly cheap tablet you can get off Amazon,” she noted. “I mention that I use a cheap tablet because when you look at big digital artists, they all have these tablets that are thousands of dollars, and people sometimes think that makes the medium inaccessible. I started with a little 5×7 tablet that I had to balance on top of my laptop keyboard to draw. It’s important to me that when I talk about digital art to point out how accessible it is, and how anyone can learn at any time.”
In addition to her digital work, the artist was inspired during the quarantine days to take up candle-making.
“With the pandemic, I was experiencing a lot of stress, and I found I was burning a lot of candles and using my essential oil diffuser a lot. I had a hard time drawing or creating anything, so I needed to do something entirely different,” she said. “I had been buying a lot of candles and going through them quickly, so I decided I wanted to try it myself. It helped that it fed into my more recent fascination with herbalism and ‘folk magic’ and herb lore. I find it really fascinating the different beliefs that are attached to different plants, and even more interesting to dig into where those beliefs came from. Are they superstition or grounded in some sort of property the plant might have?”
With her busy job at The Gallery Shop, the artist has trouble finding enough time to do her own work, but she said the process of helping other artists on their journeys can be as satisfying as completing her own pieces. And, as she noted, one of the advantages of digital art is that she can simply click “save” and come back to it when there is more time.
“I’ve found I tend to celebrate the small and appreciate the everyday a bit more than awards or exhibitions,” Rachel said. “For me the satisfaction is selling a pack of cards or a print while I am working at The Gallery Shop.” She added that participating in this year’s Artist Studio Tour was also a lot of fun.
In addition to her parents’ influence, Rachel said she owes her appreciation for color to her graduate school studio partner, Ashley Bouton (www.vermilionnature.com), and her ability to talk about the concepts within her work to her advisor, Nate Heuer (iuptriennial.com/work/heuer.html).
Asked what words of wisdom she would impart to artists just starting out, Rachel echoed what her father taught her.
“My dad always made sure to instill in me the understanding that the art comes from you, the artist — not the tools. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on getting the ‘right’ or popular expensive tools for the job,” she said. “If you are creative enough, there is always a work-around or a substitution, and in those creative leaps is where the magic happens.”
Kathy Beachler, executive director of the Garrett County Arts Council, values the benefit of having a professional artist managing the gallery.
“Rachel’s expertise as both an artist and an artistic manager has helped to make The Gallery Shop a truly beautiful and wonderfully displayed collection of art, and a nonprofit business that promotes area artists in a significant and effective way,” Beachler said. “The GCAC is very pleased to have Rachel at the helm of one of our most important outreach projects for the benefit of our artists as well as our entire community.”
Rachel’s social media links are as follows: www.facebook.com/rayeliannart, www.instagram.com/rayeliiann, and twitter.com/rayeliannart.