Tonja Vojacek Sell
In the beginning...
I’ve had a life-long connection to the southwest. My parents moved to the Tucson area when I was very young. I think that’s when the desert imprinted itself upon me. I was impressed with the towering saguaros, crescendo sunsets and human diversity. The San Xavier mission and Desert Museum were childhood fascinations.
Most of my idyllic youth was spent on a hobby farm in a tiny rural woodland community near Lake Superior. My artist parents would return to the southwest for family vacations to visit my great grandmother in Tucson.
After attending Art & Design school, my husband and I moved to the Phoenix area where we spent the first 6 years of our marriage. We then moved back to the small town of my youth to build a life, home and studio. We continued, however, to spend our winters in the southwest. We enjoy road tripping as a family each year. Together, we've camped, hiked, photographed and sketched much between Wisconsin and Arizona.
Horses and family~
Our four children are almost grown now and we are spending more time West. We are taking the opportunity to explore all that it has to offer. I keep my camera, sketchbook and paint box ever handy.
I enjoy the contrast between the Southwestern and Northern Wisconsin landscapes. They couldn't be more different. I sketch and paint en plein air. I may complete a painting on location or do studies that I may finish in the studio.
Growing up, we always owned horses. My mother raced horses as a young woman and I grew up training, showing and gaming at the county fairs. Horses are beautiful, powerful animals with distinct personalities and idiosyncrasies. As I spend more time in the west I expect they will make their way into my work more often.
We spend part of the long winter In Cochise County, AZ. I have taken an interest in the wild horses that live near the Cochise Stronghold and Chiricahua National Forest and they have entered my paintings.
Why Indeginous Cluture?
A quest to experience history
I am interested in different cultures, people and customs. From 2012 to 2020 my husband and I took artists on international art tours to Australia, Italy, France, Mexico and Spain. I love making discoveries and experiencing history. As we spend more time in the southwest I find that I am becoming increasingly interested in its unique history.
My interest in Native American culture began at an early age. I was fascinated as a child attending a Ojibwa powwow at the Red Cliff reservation near Bayfield. My best friend growing up was Ojibwa. The first book I illustrated after Art School was about a young Native American boy coming of age.
My research on Native culture began then and has continued over the years. I was commissioned by The Minnesota Discovery Center to create an Ojibwa and First Peoples interactive murals and cultural display and multicultural mural for the Carnegie Library in Minnesota. I am currently researching vintage photographs and studying history of the west and painting people and scenes that inspire me. In doing so, I feel I am gaining a better understanding of our history as a nation and of its history makers.
As an artist I find inspiration everywhere. I love to paint people. I find figurative work the most challenging and compelling. I am interested in personal stories. I cannot resist the powerful images of history makers and people of the old west. I want to know their stories. By painting them I feel a bit of a connection both to them and to history. Recently, I have been researching Afro-Indigenous history. My intention is to attempt to better understand, preserve, share and honor our unique American culture.
I describe most of my work as realist expressionism. I am not interested in a super-real rendering of my subject. Rather, I hope to capture a bit of the emotion or expression that is understandable, yet compelling. I am as interested in design, color, mark-making and texture as anything else. I enjoy the physicality and act of drawing and painting. I work in several mediums, including pastels, oils, acrylics, clay, glass, mixed media sculpture & more.