Lisa Strout has lived all over for the last 30 or so years, from Oregon to Amsterdam. After five years in northern Virginia, she settled in Winston-Salem three years ago. She lives in a home that she renovated herself, a daunting task. Everything had to be upgraded, from the electrical wiring to the plumbing.
For nine months after buying the house, Strout and her husband would come visit and meet with their contractor. But as Strout put it, she loves a challenge.
“I think that’s the only way to grow creatively as well as a person,” the artist says. “I love to see something and say, ‘I wonder how I’m going to make that work.’ When I first started out, I did mosaic, so I learned how to do murals and things like that. And then I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to make something 3D?”
Strout’s work is varied, from black-and-white ceramic animals to a vibrant animal totem pole, from a red rug with yellow patterns to a massive black thumbprint on a white background. The animals feature varying expressions, from content to confused. The totem pole specifically features all kinds of animals, including a red dog with black spots, a yellow parrot cocking its head and a slightly cross-eyed chicken on top. The red rug is similarly imbued with unique features, with small white squares sewn throughout that give the rug a brighter appearance.
Mostly self-taught, Strout, a woman with spiky blonde hair and rectangular black glasses, works across ceramic, cement, mosaic tile and paint on canvas. Her favorite is ceramics, which she says is “almost like a living thing” to her. Over the pandemic year, she learned embroidery.
“I used the lockdown as sort of a positive reset, or I tried to,” she says. “I found it quite a creative time for me, and being able to find some joy in my work really helped that.”
In addition to her new home, which she lives in with her husband and numerous animals, Strout spends time in her new studio, which is in the Downtown Arts District on Trade Street. She opened the space in mid-July.
Most of Strout’s work is in her studio space, which has a gallery area. She looks forward to getting to know Winston-Salem better, including the people here. She says that as an artist, that is the best part of having a studio in the community, especially one people can visit.
“When we lived in northern Virginia, I was able to work with the visitors center and we put together an artisan trail, which connected crafters and small food producers to help promote small artisans,” she says. “I’ve also put together a sculpture park where we had exhibits that stayed for a year or two so it was always developing and evolving. There are lots of things you can do because the local leaders can talk to you.”
Strout had a studio space in Leesburg, VA, and managed a gallery for about a year. In her new space, she hopes people stop by and get to know her and her art, just as she becomes more familiar with the community.
“I’d been looking for a space for a long time,” she says. “I really missed having a studio that wasn’t in my house. I love that interaction of people dropping by, and there’s more of an opportunity to participate in the community when you have a visible space. And being in the arts district is incredible.”
While she exhibits a plethora of pieces, Strout wasn’t always an artist. For five years or so, she worked in the wine industry in northern California. She says she took the leap to full-time art-making after the Sept. 11 attacks made her realize that if she did not make it work now, she might never be able to.
“I wasn’t in New York, but it was a wakeup call,” Strout says.
As for Strout’s inspiration, she says the novelty of art processes, brand new locations and meeting new people is what keeps her moving forward.
“I’ve now done garden furniture and totems and things like that,” she says. “And when I couldn’t find the tile colors that I want, I had to learn to make tiles. It’s just a process of evolving. That’s what drives me.”
Learn more about Strout and her work on Facebook. Her studio is located at 204 W 6th Street and is open Thursday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.