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By Susan Gallacher-Turner
Above, Nicky with one of her recent sculptures.
“About three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer,” says Nicky. “During chemo, my dream was to build the studio.”
Three years later, Nicky is putting in the electrical outlets, painting and plumbing to make her dream come true. As a metal sculptor, Nicky needed a safe place to weld, grind and patina her large metal sculptures as well as showcase her knitted wire jewelry. Now, all she has to do is walk out her door, along a covered walkway and into her studio to work.
She’s worked in many different places and spaces over the years. Born in Florida where her father was a fighter pilot, Nicky is an American citizen with an international life. After her family left the U.S., Nicky lived in Holland and Switzerland. In addition to art, she loved sports and was a Physical Education teacher for 20 years. After moving back to the U.S., and finding out that her Swiss teaching experience couldn’t get her a job, she decided it was time to explore her other love, art. “If I have to go back to school,” says Nicky. “I’ll go to art school. So that’s what I did, I went to the Oregon College of Arts & Crafts and started with the basics and then just start doing it.”
Her first studio was the kitchen table where she did her wearable art coats. Then she moved to the attic which was so hot in the summer, she had to start her work day at 8 pm and sleep during the day. After that, her studio was in a basement in Corvallis until she became pregnant with her first child, Hans. Even though her wearable art was being sold in over 40 galleries across the country, she knew she had to quit. The dyes involved in her work were toxic and she didn’t want to take any chances during pregnancy. “I didn’t even clean up my studio,” says Nicky. “I just locked it and that was it. Then I decided this was the time to change.”
Nicky’s art moved from sewing wearable art to crocheting metal wire breasts. “My best friend in Switzerland had breast cancer,” she explains. “When she had mastectomy, I wanted to do something for her, just for a joke, I was going to make her a metal bra, I couldn’t weld, so I got some metal wire and started crocheting.” That experiment led her to a whole new way to create work, support her far away friend while being a mom at the same time. “Everytime she had chemo, I would knit her a breast,” says Nicky. “I had a backpack with a roll of wire in it and my crochet hook and Hans would play on the playground and I would sit and crochet.”
Nicky created a line of jewelry next, these delicate knitted earrings, bracelets and pendants still sell well at various shows and galleries around the country and allow her to work while her son is doing his homework. A memorial to her grandmother, her first crocheted sculpture, holds gold and silver beads that represent all the stories her grandmother used to tell about her life. After that, Nicky realized that to give her sculpture stability, she’d have to learn to weld. Taking classes at PNCA and PCC, she says, “I fell in love with welding. Just the smell of molten metal is like a drug. It’s the immediacy of it, it’s really amazing.”
Her goal now is to do larger public sculptures. And even though she has no experience in public art, she’s not letting that stop her any more than she let her own cancer stop her from building her dream studio at home. “Slowly I’m starting to make it a really good studio. It started after I was done with chemo and it took a while,” Nicky says. “It went way over budget, so I had to stop in the middle.”
Using skills she learned doing home remodeling, Nicky’s studio is finally taking shape. Doing some of the work herself saved Nicky enough money to have a bigger studio. “My idea was to build the biggest studio possible,” she explains. “And it’s kind of fun to be part of it and you feel proud when it’s done.”
Some people might give up on their dreams when facing breast cancer but not Nicky. It made her even more determined to have her dream studio, her art and her life. “It woke me up. It’s like, you know girl, you better live now, because now is what’s happening. Dream your dreams. Don’t put them in the future. Put them right here, where you are now, because nobody knows how long you’re going to live. I don’t think anymore that I ever had cancer, but I’m going to live now no matter what.”
This year, she’s finishing her studio, selling her jewelry at a show in Bellevue, Washington, doing an artist residency in Calgary, Canada, a large scale commission and showing public art in Grand Junction and Lake Oswego. In addition to being part of the Portland Open Studios Tour for the second year, Nicky loves the connections she makes with visitors to her studio.
For Nicky Falkenhayn, building a studio, creating her art, are her dreams come true. “I’ve always had something to look forward to and this drive to get it. If I have to learn something new, then I go for it. I live my life the best I can, I don’t take it for granted anymore, I just cherish every day.”
You can visit Nicky’s studio along with 100 other artists during Portland Open Studios Tour. For more information or to buy a Tour Guide, click portlandopenstudios.com.
To hear a podcast of Nicky’s interview, go to voicesoflivingcreatively.com.
To see more of Nicky’s work, visit her website at nickyfalkenhayn.com/.
Below, Nicky putting in an electrical outlet in her new studio.