Evergreen artist Ron Isaacson left the world of commercial art to create a message of hope through creative re-use and purposeful storytelling.
Ron Isaacson invites you to visit his world. Sculpture, spirituality, and a desire for change are blended into a mythical world promoting creativity and sustainability. The Amazar Avians are elaborately crafted birds made from colorful upcycled leather scraps and brought to life by Ron's powerful storytelling. In this world, each bird has a history, a personality, and a purpose in spreading a message of hope and healing.
Twenty years ago, after earning national recognition as an entrepreneur, art marketing consultant, commercial gallerist, and artist, Ron Isaacson's world was upended. Ron purchased a vintage airstream and a motorcycle, left Illinois, and began his Grand Adventure in search of a place to settle and restart his life as an artist. One year and 6000 miles later, he stopped to visit friends in Evergreen, Colorado and never left.
Ron Isaacson is the creator and owner of Unbound Leather, hand-crafted, sustainably-made, one of a kind art pieces in the form of dazzling tropical birds, ceremonial feathers, flowers, leather-bound journals, and landscapes. The artist is also the mastermind behind the Amazar Avians and the forthcoming Amazar Tales book.
Ron Isaacson shares his story in an interview.
What prompted your shift from commercial art sales and marketing in the city to studio practice in a small mountain town?
If I may, let me provide a brief backstory your readers might find interesting.
Like many artists, I had always envisioned having my own studio & gallery space. After getting my degree in art I briefly taught middle school students and then adults on the North Shore of Chicago, ultimately opening a small storefront school to support my sculpture studio in the basement. The school evolved and I brought in other instructors teaching clay, jewelry, fiber, and metal sculpture. Concurrently I exhibited and sold my creations at art festivals throughout the Midwest. As my work evolved and I started winning awards, I met and became friends with a number of talented artists from all around the country.
Learning I had a storefront, a few artists asked if they could leave work with me between shows. Soon the walls and shelves of the school were adorned with pieces by those talented artists. As it happened, my school had lots of window exposure and was located on a busy street. People stopped in and artwork sold. Without planning it, I had also become a gallery owner.
Now I seem to be one of those unfortunate/fortunate souls who are both right-brain/left-brain oriented. I am creative, artistic, and have a keen understanding of what it takes to run a successful business. As I developed a following for my own creations, I also found myself spending time helping other artists develop their marketing strategies and materials.
There came a time when the school's lease was up for renewal, I desired a larger studio, and I felt the need to define who I was as an artist. Was I an art teacher? A gallery owner? A visual artist/sculptor?
I made a decision, did some research, closed the school, and opened a small 1,000 sq. ft. gallery called Mindscape in Evanston, Illinois, that had a large basement I could convert into a welding studio. It was 1973. As the year progressed the gallery developed a loyal following and my studio time grew shorter. The next year a retail space three times the size came available. It was a beautiful corner space just a block away. I grabbed it, adding more artists and a larger staff as Mindscape blossomed. A few more years passed and my studio time became non-existent. An adjacent storefront became available and again Mindscape expanded, cultivating a client base of art collectors across the country. As my reputation grew, I was asked to serve on numerous arts-related boards and became a sought after arts marketing consultant, curator, and juror.
More years passed and it was 1990. The opportunity to expand presented itself and I purchased a 10,000 sq. ft. building across from the gallery. Concurrently, looking to develop new markets I opened another 10,000 sq. ft. gallery in the Chicago’s River North Gallery District that specialized in selling large-scale works to major collectors and corporations. I soon had twenty-seven employees, represented over a thousand of the country’s finest artists, was operating two highly successful galleries and winning recognition for ten consecutive years as having created one of the Top 100 Contemporary American Fine Craft Galleries in the US.
The gallery had become my art form: a living, breathing, and ever-changing evolving sculpture with components comprised of artists, their creations, collectors, and patrons.
Then, in the late 1990s, the economy took a nosedive. My right-brain business mentality called out to acknowledge reality and reconsider the responsibilities that went with my creation. Mindscape was supporting dozens of employees and all those artists that were relying on me. It was time to dismantle and simplify my life. By 1999 with a heavy heart I had sold off part of the gallery, closed the corporate art business, sold the building, and optimistically moved on.
I continued to consult with other galleries and artists, took on some other creative challenges that would provide an income, and finally had a chance to build a three-car garage/studio where I could once again pursue life as a sculptor.
You asked what brought me to creating a life in a small town in the foothills above Denver.
In 2010 my life changed again. My daughter had grown, left home to pursue her own career path after completing her final year at Harvard Law and my partner/wife of thirty-five years felt we were no longer destined for a life together.
Once again those questions that haunt one's soul invaded my life. Compelled to try and define who I was and who I wished to be, I cashed in my 401K savings, bought a vintage 1983 Airstream motorcoach and a motorcycle, and restored an old 1950s camper/trailer to carry a few possessions that held precious memories along with a few boxes of supplies from my art studio. Saying goodbye to all I had known, I took to the road to rediscover my identity. The experience forced me to dig deep, to go within and embrace elements that brought joy and purpose to my existence. I called it my Grand Adventure.
A year later my quest brought me to Evergreen, CO, for a weekend celebration with extended family. Encounters with other creative spirits, local musicians, and the arts community kept putting off my departure. Weeks went by and I found myself sitting on the mountainside above Evergreen Lake and playing my harmonica pondering my future. Late July monsoon rains filled the sky as I played on. Cleansing rain poured down and then the clouds gave way to brilliant blue skies. I had traveled about 6,000 miles crisscrossing the country east of Colorado searching for a place to set down roots. Friends were waiting to welcome me in northern California.
As I exhaled and set down my harp I heard myself ask, “What is it that I’m truly searching for?” “Someplace like this” came my reply.
Two weeks later my daughter came for a weekend visit. I showed her around the town and we explored the mountains. As we sat at the top of Mt. Evans soaking it all in, she turned to me and said “I think you may have found your new home."
And so I set foot on a path to establish a life in the mountains of Evergreen, allowing synchronicity and serendipity to guide my actions. Far from the frantic city life that once defined me, love and joy began to fill my days and my artist spirit soared.
What inspired you to create the story and mission behind the creatures that you create, the Amazar Avians?
To me, being an artist involves a synergistic blend of facets. I’m known to others as a sculptor/musician/wordsmith/storyteller and a catalyst for change. Quite simply, I’m an aged hippy who always has and will continue to believe that the world would be a better place if people would embrace and promote the concepts of peace, love, harmony, and understanding.
As a student of art history, a fan of fables, and a lover of music and theatre, I look to evoke an emotional response from audiences. I believe the arts have the ability to cross boundaries: to bridge divides and impact social consciousness. Through my earliest creations, I’d always tried to communicate a message to the viewer, to tap an emotion, call forth a question, or inspire personal reflection.
The ability to imagine and anthropomorphize is an attribute most humans have. People envision familiar shapes in clouds and mountain ranges. They comment on the expressions displayed on the faces of animals and conjure adventures from myth and legend. So I wondered, “Could I as an artist, a storyteller, create an extended series of sculptures that stimulated a desired response? “
During my creative process, my most successful work is never forced. It flows forth from deep within or possibly through me from some source beyond my understanding. Around five years ago I was having fun creating birds from recycled/repurposed leather and decided to take it a step further. I set myself a challenge as an arts activist. I would use the framework of successful storytellers to share my observations on the state and fate of the environment and do what I could as an artist to be a catalyst for change. I would develop a complex setting, create a theme and a cast of characters that would interact with my audience, and carry messages that might stimulate others to reflect on the world around them. Bit by bit a world inhabited by Amazar Avians began to take form.
Let me share an excerpt from my Amazar Tales….
… Legend has it, through a portal in the multiverse is a realm where an extraordinary species of Avians have existed for eons, discreetly visiting earth to help those in need by bringing hope peace, goodwill, and positive energy wherever they appear.
In recent years an Amazar portal appeared in a mountain art studio above Denver compelling the artist to bring form to these Amazar Avians: the healers, guardians, sages, and the wise, bright with leathery plumage and help them in their mission to bring about a more harmonious balance to the planet and its inhabitants.
Have you seen them yet?
I invite your readers to learn more about an amazing realm from another space/time that’s filled with hope and wonder. A visit here will introduce them to an evolving collective of exceptional Amazar Avians who offer sage wisdom and flocks of different Amazar Avian species who roam our planet to aid in its recovery from the consequences of a consumer-driven society. They’ll discover the Crystal Beak Chronicles and have an opportunity to participate as a Wing Writer or an Amazar Ambassador. They can even go behind the scenes into my studio for a glimpse at the hatching and birthing of some notable Amazar Avians while gaining insights into my creative process.
The process of creating a purposeful series of artworks like this is arduous. As a sculptor, I’m bringing to life a cast of flamboyant and subtle winged characters and developing a fantasy ecosystem that includes Crystal Forever Gardens where my Avians perch while communicating with the world. As an author, I’m crafting a collection of compelling tales that will appeal to young and old alike. As an artist now in my seventies, aware of my mortality and the legacy I leave in my wake, I feel it’s important to do more than just create stuff that will temporarily adorn a room or fill a space.
Like others who pursue an artistic vision, I often wonder if I’m capable of creating something lasting and worthwhile. In reflecting as I’ve done on some of the impossible things I’ve previously brought to life or had a profound impact on as an artist-entrepreneur, the challenges of introducing my Amazar Avians to the world is not totally outside my abilities. In a world that applauds tales of adventure, quests for knowledge, and lessons learned around fireside chats, I think perhaps someday, if I craft it well, Tales of Amazar Avians might also echo throughout the land.
What is creative re-use and why is it important?
As a child, I found I had a gift. It was the ability to see possibilities and assemble compositions of shape, texture, color, and form that eluded others. While developing that talent, I found what enticed me most was the challenge of transforming everyday objects into things wild and wonderful. Fortunately, my parents and grandfathers encouraged my creativity and inquisitive spirit. I was blessed with one grandfather who was an inventor of all sorts of wondrous things and had a successful career as a furrier and a maker of fine leather coats. My other grandfather had initially supported his family by selling recycled building materials and ultimately with my father had developed a plumbing supply business on the south side of Chicago. Its scrapyard was my playground for my formative years.
In Chicago, as a sculptor, a lack of funds forced me to be creative in finding materials. Fearlessly I would scrounge demolished building sites for hefty cornerstones and make friends with cemetery caretakers to obtain discarded broken marble headstones so I could practice stone carving techniques. I begged local landscapers for sections of tree trunks I could cut and chisel and I explored numerous other ways to transform a host of found objects. I dumpster-dived industrial sites for steel to weld and forged and fabricated sculptures out of discards from a multitude of sources. Junkyards were heavenly places for me.
A number of years ago I began conversations with other artists with similar passions and came across the term 'creative re-use'. Encouraging that concept has since become one of my major focuses as an artist-activist.
Building on projects pioneered by a few forward-thinking national and international art communities, the concept of creative re-use has proven successful in encouraging artists to view trash as potential treasure and has resulted in rescuing tons of materials from landfills. It has also become a vehicle to inform and stimulate dialogue between artists/creatives in all disciplines, community members, institutions, and public/private entities involved in addressing issues and finding solutions involving sustainability, recycling, and upcycling. Creative re-use is inspiring new ways of thinking regarding the byproducts and waste created by a consumer-driven society.
What are the advantages of working with leather? What attracted you to working with leather?
When I left Chicago I had to leave a studio filled with possibilities. My welding equipment, piles of odd recyclable material, and the tools I used to create large scale metal sculptures could not accompany me on my Grand Adventure. I chose instead to revisit an art form that helped pay my tuition as an art student.
As I mentioned earlier, my grandfather was a tailor who made custom leather and fur coats. Long retired, he still had a big industrial sewing machine in his garage workspace. When I was around six I spotted it buried under a pile of stuff and asked about it. Instead of answering my question, he dragged out a few dusty boxes from under his workbench whose contents held layers of amazing leather scraps. He talked about how he crafted them into glorious warm coats. He told me about honoring and respecting the animal hides and the animals that had sacrificed themselves to keep us warm. Over the years he taught me how to sew on that huge mysterious machine and gave me some of those leather scraps.
Fast forward to the mid-1960s during the summer of love where I found myself in California on the streets of Berkley. I was living in a large Victorian house with a bunch of other hippies. Low on funds, my sleeping space was in a large closet under a spiral staircase. While wandering the streets I came upon some craftsmen selling leather headbands, chokers, and fringed pouches. I struck up a friendship and joined in to make stuff.
After returning to Chicago for school, I happen to be driving through an old warehouse district checking out dumpsters for possible treasures and spotted a large sign advertising a Tannery a few blocks away. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Chicago was known for being the home of the Union Stockyards where railroads brought in boxcars of sheep and cattle for processing. Dozens of major Leather Tanneries were also in operation then, treating, curing, dyeing, and processing leather for shipment to manufacturing facilities across the country.
I followed that sign which led me to Tannery Row, where the last of the great tanneries still remained. After visiting some of them and talking my way into seeing the production rooms, I struck a deal with some floor managers. I would come a few nights a week and sweep the floors for free if I could keep and recycle the leather scraps, blemished and damaged hides that were being tossed away. I did that for around three years and created my own business designing and selling leather headbands, chokers, purses, bags, and elaborate fringed vests to the head shops and boutiques in Old Town Chicago. My earnings helped fund my art school tuition.
I mentioned earlier that when I embarked on my Grand Adventure, having recognized the impossibility of lugging metal sculpture components and equipment on my journey, instead I had grabbed a few boxes of other precious things. One of those boxes held remnants of leather given to me by my grandfather fifty-plus years earlier. Another box held leather punches, sewing needles, skives, blades, and other leather-working tools. I thought perhaps I could once again satisfy my creative spirit by creating items out of recycled leather and sell them at small festivals as I traveled the country.
Not long after making the decision to start life anew in Evergreen, I rented a tiny studio/living space in the basement of a home not far from Evergreen Lake.
I cobbled together a workbench and created a small art studio called Unbound Leathers. You can discover some of my early creations and see the evolution of my work here.
What can readers expect to experience in your forthcoming book, Amazar Tales?
One of the missions of the Amazar Avians is to empower others to get involved and share messages of hope for the future. Encouraged by fans and collectors of my Amazar Avian sculptures, as the creator of Amazar Tales I’ve decided to offer other creatives a free limited license to utilize the concept and characters that encompass the world of Amazar Avians in the creation of short stories, poems, fables, or performance art and submit their work for consideration and possible inclusion in online or print versions of Amazar Tales. I refer to these people as Amazar Wing Writers and they will have opportunities to participate in events and exhibitions featuring the world of Amazar Avians.
What is a Wing Writer?
They are storytellers & scribes who chronicle tales, fables, and missives that impart sage wisdom and stories told of the adventures of a race of Amazar Avians. They have been chosen by members of the Amazar Earth Alliance, a team that has come through a portal deep within the multi-fold dimensions of time and space to help heal our planet and the inhabitants that dwell upon it.
Wing Writers are special creatures. They are creative souls with a mission to help others chart a path to a better tomorrow. They join in a collective voice, gentle and kind, with love for the planet and all the creatures that dwell within to share tales that stir the soul and tell of better ways and better paths to travel.
Perhaps an emissary of Amazar has perched on your shoulder and whispered in your ear a tale worth telling. Here’s how to find out.
I invite you to explore the mystic realm of Amazar whose Avian inhabitants can be found here. There you’ll discover flocks of species with special attributes, extraordinary Avians with special powers, and information on missions to heal, spread hope, compassion, love, and bring joy to others.
Does that message resonate within you? Do you want to be part of spreading that message?
Contact me for information on submissions and my free one-time limited-use license agreement. Story elements, general themes, backgrounds on main characters, flocks of supporting cast members, opportunities for a myriad of adventures, and a premise to challenge your Imagination await you.
Amazar Tales: Facebook.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to visit the artist's Evergreen Studio.