Lisa Strassheim has tried her hand at everything from playing jazz to carpentry to dollmaking and painting ostrich eggs. The work of this prolific artist has been exhibited in Champaign, San Francisco and in international online exhibitions. After studying music for two years at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Strassheim, who is from the Philadelphia area, headed to Champaign with a friend to put together a jazz band. Although the band didn’t pan out, Strassheim decided to study electronics technology at Parkland College so she could learn to repair her electric guitar amplifier. Her studies at Parkland, which culminated in an associate’s degree, later led to a job as a broadcast engineer at WILL-AM-FM-TV. Strassheim earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Western Illinois University, and a master’s degree in humanities from California State University.
What do you do at WILL?
I work on all the audio and radio frequency gear – including the audio consoles and gear in the studios and the transmitters – and am also the administrator for the ENCO system, which is an automation and file system for audio deployment.
We’ve just installed Content Depot from National Public Radio. It’s a digital satellite system that receives audio files. A machine ingests the files, translates and assigns numbers to them, and then they’re stored in the library, where they can be edited and played back.
When I started at WILL 29 years ago, we got “All Things Considered” via phone line at 4 o’clock every day. And I remember the day we installed our analog satellite system – and what a difference it made in the clarity of the audio – and how the first compact disc player we got had far superior audio than the reel-to-reel tape machine. (We have a) totally different way of doing things now than we did 10 to 20 years ago.
How did you get into art?
I started off as a metals major, doing metalsmithing and making jewelry. I then worked into ceramics and began making porcelain cat dolls. I sculpted the heads and the paws, poured and fired them in porcelain and added soft, posable bodies. My business partner did the costuming. We’ve sold to cat-lovers worldwide. We’ve done portrait dolls of customers’ cats; a customer in Switzerland sent us photos of her Persian cat, and I painted a porcelain head that was very realistic looking. I have also done cat portraiture with pastels on paper.
I began painting abstracts in 2004. I had an idea for using some odd tools that are not normally used on canvas, and it creates this really unique look. My work’s been shown locally at Borders bookstore, at ‘Artists Against AIDS’ last year and at Café Kopi.
I was one of 39 artists from 20 countries selected to exhibit in an online show based out of Rome last July. This spring, I was one of 23 artists who did paintings on ostrich eggs for “Great Egg-Spectations,” a benefit for Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter. I tried to apply my abstract style to an egg, and it was really challenging. Canvas and eggs require totally different ways of painting.
Why did they have artists paint ostrich eggs?
They had an ostrich that was rescued. They ended up having all these ostrich eggs, which they cleaned out and gave to the artists to turn into art, and the eggs were auctioned off.
Are you handy around the house too?
I do carpentry, woodworking. I have a 16-color Victorian house, which is 90 percent original. I built my own kitchen cabinets, with doors that match the original Victorian woodwork in the pantry. I built cabinets that totally enclose my stove to keep my cats off of it. The cabinets have café-type doors with copper tubing in an abstract pattern.
Are you a ‘cat person’ and how many do you have?
I’m a ‘cat person,’ but I never tell how many I have. I say, ‘More than one and less than a million.’
Any plans for what you’ll do after you retire?
Paint! Do more art shows.
Strassheim’s painted ostrich egg and other eggs created for the auction are viewable online. Her abstract paintings also are online.