Local artist living a dream at Sweet Liberty Creations
(Posted: Jan. 23, 2010)
When she was in high school, her art teacher told her she would never be a good painter.
For the daughter of a professional artist who taught after-school art classes to neighborhood children, the flippant arrogance of an uncaring teacher became a painful impetus that would send Diana Kipfer on an unspoken mission to make a difference.
Years later from the historic downtown building she transformed into Liberty Hill's only art gallery and jewelry studio, she remembers the teacher's voice like it was yesterday. She admits the hurtful words may have secretly challenged her to keep painting, to prove him wrong. Even today, as she looks at a blank canvas and starts the process of bringing life to her ideas, there's a moment when she questions herself. Most of the time it comes and goes with a deep breath or a sigh, but it always moves her to pick up a paintbrush.
While she considers painting "therapy," her real niche is jewelry design. At Sweet Liberty Creations
there is a chaotic looking studio where Mrs. Kipfer spends countless hours designing earrings, necklaces, bracelets, charms and rings. And regularly, she is joined there by young people and adults of all ages looking to discover their inner artist.
"I believe everyone is an artist. But most people haven't found their media yet," she said.
Helping them discover it has been Mrs. Kipfer's lifelong dream -- one deeply rooted in her childhood. Growing up, she spent most afternoons working closely with her mother, who taught painting, jewelry making and other art classes to children from an Art Cottage across the street from her elementary school in San Antonio. On weekends, her mother sold her own paintings on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Over the years, Mrs. Kipfer saw firsthand how children were changed by the opportunity to explore their creativity and she dreamed early on of one day having her own art school.
While working toward her bachelor's degree in advertising at the University of Texas, she sold her jewelry on 23rd Street across from the campus (an outdoor market known as the "Drag"). She owned a graphic design studio for 10 years and served as Creative Director and Brand Manager for National Instruments for 13 years -- all the while creating jewelry. In the 1980s and 1990s, she did commissions and sold her jewelry at Celebrations in Hyde Park and Aloka Gallery.
In 1996, she and her husband, Joe Kipfer, moved from Austin to Liberty Hill with their newborn son, Joey.
"One night, I stopped at Mother Load's to get a pizza and noticed this building for sale," she said. "And I just couldn't get it out of my mind."
The Stubblefield Building is the oldest historic property in Liberty Hill. Located on Loop 332, the building was built more than 100 years ago and has been home to more than 40 businesses and as many as 50 residents. When Mrs. Kipfer and her husband, Joe, a craftsman and contractor, bought the building in 2001, it was in very poor condition. Three years later, it was opened as Sweet Liberty Creations.
It took some time and hard work to breathe new life into what was originally a general store with living quarters on the second floor. But today, Sweet Liberty Creations is known throughout Central Texas and across cyberspace as the first stop for unique hand-made jewelry.
But, it's Mrs. Kipfer's sense of community and her interest in teaching others that sets her apart from other designers and artists. From the Sweet Liberty studio, she teaches painting and jewelry design. And on her days off, she teaches at art studios in Georgetown and Austin. She also volunteers at Lifetime Learning Institute in Austin where she teaches jewelry making to senior citizens.
Although she spends a lot of time teaching others, Mrs. Kipfer said she never wanted to be a public school art teacher because typically, there is not enough time for creativity.
"Somewhere between elementary and intermediate school, the creative offerings of public school drop off," she said. "I hope that schools are not going the way of only teaching to tests because creative thinking and time for creativity is what children need."
In art classes at Sweet Liberty, children learn to express themselves using all types of media -- painting, wire, and sculpting to name a few. Mrs. Kipfer said she believes it's important for children to learn how things are made, and discover they have options when it comes to reaching a conclusion. All things don't have to look the same, she said.
"When they create things on their own, a light comes on. It's the process of getting there that's good for them. It helps their self-esteem," she said.
More than 200 young people and adults have come through the Sweet Liberty art studio over the years with most attending private classes or learning in small groups. She has also hosted birthday parties and scout troops. And in her attempt to expose the community to non-traditional types of music, she has brought in various musicians and international bands to entertain at art shows.
When it comes to painting, Mrs. Kipfer says she likes to use bright colors.
"I don't think paintings should be dark and dreary. I think they should bring warmth and color into people lives," she said.
When the flowers bloom in her neighbor's garden every spring, she walks over with her camera and snaps some photographs. From that garden, she photographed the red poppies used as the model for a painting that was entered in the Georgetown Red Poppy Festival one year. Today, the painting hangs in the Sweet Liberty gallery (see photo above).
While hard times bring out the artist and the musician in many of us, those who depend on it to make a living have a harder time making ends meet than most in a bad economy. For Sweet Liberty Creations, the past year has been extremely difficult and Mrs. Kipfer felt like it was time to sell the building and do business from home and her website.
"When people cut back, they don't cut back on groceries, gas or activities. They stop buying luxuries," she said. "For some people, art and jewelry are seen as luxury items. But for me, art is a necessity.
"Just try to imagine life without art," she said.
Sweet Liberty Creations
Diana Kipfer of Sweet Liberty Creations
Liberty Hill Panther jewelry by Diana Kipfer
Diana Kipfer making jewelry at Sweet Liberty Creations.
A Texas Historical Marker on the Stubblefield Building in downtown Liberty Hill.