Who is Val Heisey? Now that’s an excellent question! I often ask myself the same thing. I’ve been on this earth a good long time and I’ve witnessed all kinds of shenanigans going on in politics, business and society in general. I’ve also witnessed miracles. The miracles are the rocket fuel that keeps me and we going.
So in keeping this diatribe lively and interesting, I will present myself to you in the form of you interviewing me, like a conversation. How’s that for a different twist on a bio page?
So here we go – meet Val Heisey.
Q: So tell us Val Heisey, where were you born?
A: Now that sounds like a logical place to get started! I was born in a small ultra-conservative, bible-thumping hamlet in western Michigan… in a town called Hudsonville. Actually, the hospital was in Grand Rapids so that gives you a better idea of where Hudsonville is located.
Q: How did you get from Michigan to Florida?
A: When I was four years old, my family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, another Bible-haven of conservative thinkers. My dad had a job transfer. I lived in Lancaster for 49 years – whoa that sounds like forever! Then, my husband retired and we did like many north-easterners, we migrated to a warm climate… sunny, southwest Florida.
Q: When did you know you were an artist?
A: It was a long time ago, I remember being in high school; art class and wood shop were my favorite classes – especially art class. I even took drawing lessons outside of school – you know like how some kids take guitar lessons.
Q: Did you pursue art when you graduated from high school?
A: No. I got married. I went from Valerie Nederveld to Val Heisey at the tender age of 18. Love ruled the roost and nothing stands in the way of love.
I thought I would go to college for either veterinary medicine (don’t all young girls think about saving the animals?) or something in the art field. I chose the arts but it didn’t happen until much later in life.
Q: Val Heisey, as a baby-boomer, what do you remember most about the 60’s and 70’s? Were you part of the youth phenomenon – the anti-establishment revolution?
A: I remember hearing about Woodstock in 1969, but I was a little too young to attend. I knew all the music being played during that time and I dressed in the hippie clothes with the tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottom pants and I thought of myself as a flower-child.
And yes, I did experience that youth entitlement power trip because it was pervasive. We had our friends to reinforce our anti-establishment thoughts and actions. Peer pressure and the desire to be liked and accepted is unfortunately a debilitating trait of many youth.
I remember the horrific scenes of the Kent State shootings when the students were protesting the Viet Nam war. I remember the hippie communes of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, but I was not a part of that either. It was an explosive time to be a young adult in America. Because I went from high school to marriage, I consider that to be an intervention and a blessing. I could have easily gone down a more destructive path. It’s one of the miracles in my life.
Q: How did those experiences shape who you are today?
A: I have learned that being an American is an honor and a privilege. We take for granted that we have the right to say what we want as long as we don’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Everyone has that same right in the United States and no-one has the right to suppress that Right – not the government or even other groups of people.
We are not like other countries that censor their people, at least that’s the way it is supposed to be. I think the PC (politically correct) movement is systematically ripping our First Amendment Rights away from us incrementally. As an artist, I believe censorship is the equivalent of imprisonment. Self-expression is very freeing.
I also learned that our past dictates our future. We always hear that proverbial phrase, but do we really understand it? My past tells me that when people get upset about things, both sides are not understanding the complete picture. With a little more research and understanding, a clear path to a solution reveals itself. We need to see all angles of an issue before we can fully comprehend what needs to be done and in the end, we achieve mutual respect for one another.
Q: So you got married right out of high school – do you have any kids?
A: Yes, I was blessed with two beautiful children. First a boy and then a girl, and a cat and a dog and a white picket fence. Val Heisey lives the perfect fairytale life, ha ha.
I waited seven years before I had kids because my mom said she was too young to be a grandmother and you know how we always do what mom says. I listened and obeyed.
And now, I have 5 grandchildren of my own! Yes my kids listened to me too!
Q: What jobs have you had in your working years?
A: How long have you got? I’ve done many things, from retail to factory work in the beginning. Then I got a job in the composing room for a newspaper which was my first real taste at doing something somewhat creative.
We worked from ad designers’ layouts, and even though we didn’t design the ads, the process of putting them together, proofreading them and preparing them for print was never boring. Every single ad was different.
Q: Sounds like pre-computer times, so what happened next?
A: After 10 years at the newspaper and two small children later, I decided I wanted to do my own thing. I love dogs, so I went to dog grooming school.
This career choice had a flare for the creative edge and I got to work in my garage. It was a great setup. Problem was, I didn’t have much business sense and some customers took advantage of my time which I could not stand. So three years later, I threw in the towel. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about valuing your time.
Q: That must have been fun working with the dogs… so then what did you do?
A: Next up… real estate! I had my license for 5 years. I liked it because I got to see houses and get ideas from the different ways people would decorate their homes. And I did quite well financially as I moved from Associate to Broker to Appraiser in a relatively short period of time.
Why did I give that up? I got to see the behind-the-scenes of the industry and I did not want to be a part of that cocktail crowd. The standards and ethics of some of the people were not in alliance with my own values. Could be that the Bible belt upbringing had an impact on me.
Q: Interesting how each thing you do has some creative aspect to it… like it was a natural attraction for you. What did you do next?
A: So… I went to college. Got my art degree and began teaching graphic design and fine art at an art college. I loved that job as far as jobs go. I was in my happy space.
I was adjunct which basically means part time. I taught Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator; Corel Painter; Basic Design Principles; HTML & Web Design; and mural painting. It was fun and I really loved working with the students.
There were traditional college age and non-traditional students in my classes and with art, the age difference was non-existent.
Q: Part time is cool… did you do anything else at the time?
A: Well since the kids were grown and I was working part time at the art college, I had some free time. So I collaborated with an artist friend and we started a mural painting business.
We had great success, but it became apparent that two creatives competing for a client’s approval of a design does not work so well. We parted as friends and knew it was for the best, so all is good.
Oh, and I remember the day I was teaching in the morning, and my mural partner and I were going to work on a mural commission at a church in the afternoon. It was September 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Towers and Pentagon were hit by terrorists and those brave souls took that third plane down into the field in Pennsylvania. It was a surreal and horrific day. My partner and I were unable to do any work; we could not do it. It was very emotional.
Q: That mural painting business sounds awesome, and I totally understand the emotional impact of that terrible day. It sounds like you really found your passion in teaching and painting… did you do anything else?
A: Well, during that period of teaching and painting murals, and after our partnership dissolved, I continued to paint murals and Beach House signs as a solo artist. My largest commission as a solo muralist was a series of underwater scenes in the Childrens’ Emergency Room wing at a hospital. There were 8 exam rooms and the adjoining hallway. That was so much fun and paid really well.
Then I took another course and was certified in Interior Design. I figured it would be good for mural painting and help with placement and design in clients homes and offices.
Plus, during that time, my husband and I were renovating homes. The decorating and interior design was very helpful in getting the houses ready for a quick sale at full price.
Q: Sounds like it was a very busy time in your life, how long did you teach and paint murals and signs, and then what was next for you?
A: After 10 years of teaching, it was time to head south. We sold a lot of our accumulated stuff, packed up the rest and arrived in Florida in 2008. I was 53 and my husband (yes the first and only one), was 55 and had just retired from his job of 37 years.
We found ourselves in the gap between retiring early and being old enough to collect Social Security and tapping his pension without a penalty. (Darn government regulations!).
Q: So what did you do about that?
A: So, after evaluating our newly adopted community in SW Florida, we looked for a need that we could fill. We decided on dog grooming again. Only this time it was mobile.
I wanted my own business and also the flexibility of setting my own hours and vacations, and being able to retire it when I was ready. I think I would have felt guilty teaching in the local college and knowing I would only be there a few years.
The mobile dog grooming business is big in Florida where all the older retirees have little fluffy dogs and would rather not drive them to a groomer. They also have the means to pay a premium for someone to come to their home. We did that for 6 years and Val Heisey finally retired at 60.
And here we are today.
Q: Out of curiosity, was being a nontraditional student difficult, and what stands out for you about the experience?
A: So here’s the story, I went to a Community College at 37 years old and was scared to death. I chose a community college because they are less expensive just in case it didn’t work out. What surprised me most is how easy it was. I graduated with honors after two years and then transferred to Millersville University where I received my BFA degree in Art and Design and Photography – Suma Cum Laude. That was also a piece of cake.
I love Art History. What I find fascinating is that no matter which period of art you study, artists create as a reaction to events, political and social issues or religion. It’s a way of visually expressing emotion either for or against something or someone.
Goya and Picasso depicted scenes of war, Daumier and Courbet took a stand against politics and social issues, and Rogier Van Der Weyden and Da Vinci had paid gigs for religious organizations. Yes, art is also created for art’s sake as in Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat and Degas.
I remember going to the Met in NYC and The Walters Museum in Baltimore and was blown away by the realization that I was looking at 15th century altarpieces and Manuscripts and masterpieces of many of the artists from centuries ago that I had only known through books.
Maybe that’s when and why I became interested in politics and religion. Because art plays such a prominent role in society, I wanted to know what goes on with who and what our “leaders” are all about, and I wanted to experience spirituality to know that a higher power is in charge of it all.
Q: You mentioned you grew up in conservative, Bible belt areas… did that influence your art in any way?
A: I don’t think so because I have been exposed to many genres and mediums and see art for its value as art, which is about technique, process and execution.
I feel like I am not your stereotypical artist as someone who politically leans left, dresses weird and plays outside the norm. I believe in hard work if you want to get ahead in life. I detest government subsidies because I know someone’s tax dollars are paying for that and I don’t want to take from anyone who has worked hard to get what they have.
Q: Wow, Val Heisey, you’ve had quite an interesting life so far… what’s next on your agenda?
A: Well… my health is good and I want to keep it that way. I got away from my art when I was doing the mobile dog grooming so it’s time to fall in love all over again with my oils, acrylics, watercolors, pencils and camera. I want to be Val Heisey the artist. I have this website to showcase some of my art and also to show people how they can do what they love and make a living doing it too.
Q: If you are retired, why create another business with your art?
A: Retirement is great because you have all the time in the world, but you also have limited time to get things done. Meaning… at 61, I have a mission to leave the world a better place by helping people grow forward. That’s what life is all about. If you are not growing, you are dying.
Look at a flower as the bud forces itself open through its outer covering and fills the world with beauty. When the beauty is spent, it slowly withers and dies. I see myself as near the final phase of the blossoming stage. My brilliance may be over, but there is still life left in me – I have a lot of knowledge to share and I have limited time to leave a beautiful memory.
Q: Yes, leaving a legacy is something I think we all strive for in our lifetimes. Tell us Val Heisey, is there anything fun or unusual we would enjoy knowing about you?
A: Well, the most unusual thing that I remember is that I had a most unusual pet. It was a lovely skunk named Inky.
My dad gathered up the “kittens” from the road after the mother skunk was struck and killed by a car. We adopted one of them and had the “scenter” removed and raised it to adulthood.
Even though I had two brothers, Inky became MY pet. I seem to have an affinity for animals which is evident in my owning two dog grooming businesses.
We took him camping and freaked out the other campers – it was a blast. Inky died because he was fed a cucumber which we didn’t realize was poisonous to skunks. So sad!
He was definitely a cool pet though. Note, I was wearing a beret! Must have been a sign that art would be in my future Haha!!!!
Q: That is hilarious – I wonder how many other people have a pet skunk! Is there anything else you’d like to share as we wrap up this interview?
A: All I can say is never give up on your art. Everyone is an artist in some form or another… again, that is what life is all about. Creation – the birth of everything we know and experience. Artists can be painters, chefs, musicians, custom car enthusiasts, writers, brewmasters, designers, seamstresses, party planners, inventors – whatever creative ability gets you emotionally excited is your gift, and it’s what will carry you into your “golden” years. It’s all about the Creative Evolution of each person.
I say “golden” in quotations because if you are depending on Social Security and hopefully a pension to make your final years like living in Paradise, think again. A fixed income is tough. NO raises and if the investments take a dive, your income also takes a dive. Having your art to fall back on doing what you love will raise the tide during those low points. Your art will always be waiting for you when you are ready and your art will always lead you to freedom.
And that my friends is the story of Val Heisey.