Ypsilanti Immigration Interview: Erika Hess

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a young woman who’d just moved to Ypsi from Brooklyn, after a brief layover in Ann Arbor. She was looking for studio space, and thought, I guess, that I might be able to help. I couldn’t. But, one thing led to another, and I ended up persuading her to participate in our Ypsilanti Immigration Interview project… Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Erika Hess to the neighborhood.

MARK: So, tell us about yourself.

ERIKA: I’m originally from Ohio. After I graduated from college I went to Boston for grad school to study painting. I worked with some fantastic artists, made huge oil paintings and when I graduated didn’t know where to go or what to do so I decided to move to New York. I ended up living in Brooklyn for two years where I worked as an artist assistant for some amazing artists. (I still can’t believe how lucky I was to work with the women I did.) Life was pretty great except I was broke and stressed out about making ends meet. I felt like I needed a change so I decided to leave the city for the summer to go to an artist residency outside Asheville, North Carolina to work on a comic book. It was literally in the middle of nowhere on an organic farm. Due to a chain of events involving rivers that flow backwards, a greyhound bus, a funeral, and painting a mural, I was offered a job at University of Michigan in the School of Art & Design. They were looking for someone to travel around the country to talk to students about their portfolios. Perfect. As you can probably tell, travel and location is something really important to me. There is a book called, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. It addresses the idea of travel and wandering, and it’s a great read. So, yeah, traveling, art, community, dancing, comic books/books, these are the things that are important to me. I’m also attempting to be a bicyclist and I make a mean pasta salad.

MARK: What can you tell me about your artwork, other than the fact that it tends to be huge and oily?

ERIKA: My work is very involved in color and investigating space. Right now I’m interested in how shapes overlap to create a shallow space like what you see when you have multiple windows open in your computer. My paintings changed a lot when I moved to Michigan. I think a large part of that is because I started making sketches in photoshop. Before I had always made collages or small gouache studies. Being on the road half the year it is easier to work on an ipad rather than having a watercolor set with you.

MARK: Did the residency in North Carolina yield a publicly available comic? If so, how might we see it? And what’s it about?

ERIKA: Yes it did. I wanted to make a comic book to teach people how they could easily grow their own food in recycled containers. Organic produce is expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it so I wrote and illustrated “Contain This: Adventures in Urban Container Gardening”. It basically outlines how anyone can easily start growing their own food on a rooftop, window sill, anywhere you can fit a planter. I was awarded a grant from FEASTMass, an art funding project based in Boston, that helped me pay for the printing of the comic and to travel to a few cities to disperse it at farmers markets. You can find images of the comic on my website, and, if you would like one, you can email me.

MARK: So, why Ypsilanti?

ERIKA: I literally drove a moving truck from New York straight to Ann Arbor to an apartment I had only seen in really bad jpgs. I had only been to Ann Arbor once for the job interview and that was a fly in and out scenario. I didn’t know Ypsilanti existed. I started my job and a guy I worked with invited me out to Corner Brewery so I went to meet him. Well, he gave me the wrong date and ended up being busy, so I sat at the bar in a state where I didn’t know anyone and drank a beer. I’m glad the guy didn’t make it bc it gave me a chance to take it all in. The bartender was really nice, the people seemed cool, there were board games and all I could think is, “I should be living here and not in Ann Arbor!!” There is a vibe in Ypsi I love. The people, the community, the local businesses, the grit, I feel at home. I ended up officially moving to Ypsi in August and am here to stay.

MARK: Can we trust you?

ERIKA: I don’t know if you believe in horoscopes but I kind of do. I’m a Leo, so I’m one of those people that if you are my friend I will go through hell or high water for you. Basically, if we were in “The Warriors,” I would make sure you made it to home base, and even give you my sweet bandanna.

MARK: If it’s not asking too much, could you please draw a picture of me wearing this sweet bandanna? I’ve having a hard time visualizing it, having not read The Warriors. (My daughter and I were going to begin reading the cat version of The Warriors together this winter, but got sidetracked by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)

ERIKA: Ha! Of course!

MARK: Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed a guy by the name of Rob Hess, who intends to peddle his homemade ice cream from a bike in Ypsi. You wouldn’t happen to be related, would you?

ERIKA: I heard about that guy! Great idea, and I can’t wait to order some ice cream. Unfortunately we are not related, so I guess I won’t get the family discount.

MARK: I wonder if there’s a market for a business that sells pasta salad from the back of a bike.

ERIKA: Maybe Rob and I can go in on a picnic business. We’ll show up with ice cream and pasta salad, and we’ll bbq for you.

MARK: Do you have any questions that my audience might be able to help you with? Is there perhaps something that you’ve encountered in Ypsi that just doesn’t make sense to you, like how low the Tap Room’s door handle is?

ERIKA: My coworker told me the Tap Room door handle story! I love it! Someone needs to make a comic about that. Questions… hmmm, yeah, so are there Roller Derby events in Ypsi? I saw a mural by ACE, and went to a fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, but is there an Ypsi team?

MARK: I think the Dimes rented that space. I’m not sure if they still do. I know people in Ypsi who do roller derby, but I’m terrible when it comes to keeping track of team names. I have, however, gone to see matches at the park behind Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor. I believe it may be the closest venue. As for local teams, I know there’s a team called The Ypsilanti Vigilantes, but I’m not sure if folks consider them our “home” team, as I believe that Ypsi women skate for a number of different teams. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will respond, though… In the meantime, if you could bring one thing from Brooklyn to Ypsi, what would it be, and why?

ERIKA: Maybe Brooklyn Bowl, it was a bar and bowling alley that had great live shows. So basically if you added a bowling alley to Corner Brewery. Why? Because who doesn’t love beer, bowling and music?

MARK: You first introduced yourself to me a few weeks ago, when you were looking for studio space in Ypsi… Were you able to find something?

ERIKA: Unfortunately nothing has turned up yet. So maybe that is what I would bring from Brooklyn, lots of studio space.

MARK: It’s beautiful outside today, isn’t it?

ERIKA: Yes, I am loving this weather! I think I’m going to go hang out at Riverside Park with some pasta salad.

[note: For more Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews, just click here.]

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  1. Edward
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea that The Warriors is The Warriors but with cats.

  2. Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Welcome, Erika!

  3. anonymous
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    “Can we trust you?” should be asked in every one of these from now on.

  4. Bob
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Can you trust anyone who thinks the Corner Brewery is a reason to live somewhere?

  5. Elf
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it was the management of the Corner Brewery or the beer that she was referring to Bob. I think she meant the people there. Ypsi, if you haven’t noticed, has good folks.

  6. karen
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    doesn’t the CB have more of an AA vibe than an ypsilanti vibe?

    regardless, welcome erika. this town needs more republicans.

  7. Jules
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    This was my favorite one, so far, Mark. I love these. Keep going.

  8. Bob
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I realize this and my tongue was in my cheek, or whatever. There should really be a designated sarcasm font. The Corner Brewery/Nerdgate thing pretty much poisoned a l of Ypsi related things for me, this site included. I rarely view or comment here anymore. I get bugged when I do and see any positive mention of that place.

    I’m amazed that Mark and the regulars have given them such a pass, still. Every week Rick Snyder does some new awful thing but you keep supporting these clowns with your indie art swaps and costume dances? Whatever. Enjoy yourselves. Have a shitbeer and tell yourselves the good they do outweighs the “one mistake they made.

  9. double anonymous
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    We need to pool our resources and make this Sarcasm Font.

  10. double anonymous
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Did she say she was a Republican? Is there code that I’m missing? Was it the mention of “pasta salad”?

  11. Bob
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    So my phone does lousy edit work. I didn’t even finish the thought or make corrections, ugh. Do me a favor and delete me altogether. I’m embarrassed to even be a part of this nonsense.

  12. Gigi
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Far as I can tell, the only republicans in Ypsi are its landlords.

  13. Erika
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the welcome! Its great to be here!

    As far as my pasta salad is concerned, it’s a nice blue tint.

    Hey Bob, sorry for striking a nerve buddy boy. I think part of being “new” to somewhere is thankfully not knowing all the politics. My first experience in Ypsi was at CB but it was the people coming in that made it interesting and had me back in town walking around the park etc. I don’t know what/why, everyone is anti and would be interested in finding out although that could be a huge thread discussion.

  14. Gigi
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Welcome, Erika. It’s great we have a new addition to our artist community.

    Some folks are down on the Corner because its owners are Republican. The bar itself is awesome despite them, tho.

  15. Erika
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks Gigi! Ohhh, I see. I was rather confused as to the Republican discussion that popped up.

    I’m looking forward to meeting more people in the arts community in Ypsi. Are there any exhibits/fairs etc you would suggest? I went to the shadow art fair this year which was great to see and a DIY fair.

  16. Tommy
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I hear they have some kind of art event in Ann Arbor the third week of July. Might want to check that one out! Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for the shitty crafts that people try to pawn at the hHeritage Festival.

    (sarcasm font would be used for this post if available)

    Welcome to the hood! As far as something like the Brooklyn Bowl, closest thing we have around here is the Garden Bowl / Majestic Cafe, Theatre, Bar, Pizza joint on Woodward in Detroit. Best Spanish Coffee around!

  17. Erika
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Tommy!

  18. Posted May 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    A team branch of the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes is the Ypsilanti Vigilantes. http://annarborrollerderby.com/

  19. Megan "Scargyle"
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Howdy! I’m the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes’ president :) We have three teams – the Brawlstars (A Team), the Arbor Bruising Company (B Team), and the Ypsilanti Vigilantes (our home team). We’re made up of people from A2, Ypsi, Belleville, and beyond (I live in Ypsi, for example). And yes! We DO play at Buhr Park in the summer, which is behind Cobblestone Farm on Packard Road (we kick off our summer season there on June 8th, in fact)…

    Thanks for coming to our event! We’re holding a Slurring Bee at Wurst Bar in the 19th… https://www.facebook.com/events/135660143293666/ Come find me and say HI!


  20. Andy Cameron
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The owners of the Corner aren’t Republicans. That whole thing is ridiculously overblown.

  21. Erika
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Hey Megan, Thanks for the info! I’ll definitely check out the fund raiser on Sunday (I did in fact win a spelling bee in 5th grade. oh yeah.) and introduce myself. Also I’m marking down June 8th! Thanks again!

  22. Jean Henry
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    the owners of the Corner Brewery are not Republicans. They are longtime active Democrats who made the error of being fooled by Rick Snyder’s moderate progressive talk during his run for Governor and (very) actively supported his candidacy. They were not the only ones duped, and I’m sure he won’t have their support next go around.

    I really, really hate Gov Snyder, but I hate reactive, bold-stroke, moral certainty more. There is more and more of this wolf pack mentality going on. That shit is eating this country alive, and keeps us in our self-satisfied corners and way off-point in terms of meaningful political dialog and democratic action… not to mention workable compromise solutions.

    Anyway, for Erica and anyone who cares to know more, Mark gave Rene Greff space on this blog to speak to her political advocacy and other work in the community. http://markmaynard.com/2011/05/rene-greff-on-her-support-of-rick-snyder-for-governor/

  23. Ypsiosaurus Rex
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Welcome to Ypsi Erika!

  24. Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I asked Rene about her support of Rick Snyder during the last election. Her response can be found here.

  25. Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Oops. I didn’t see that Jean had already shared the link…. Thanks, Jean.

  26. Erika
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Jean and Mark for posting the link. It sounds like they have done way more good for the community than anything else. I love that they followed through and installed the solar panels and I will definitely be back for a hummus wrap. Overall I’m glad I brought CB up to hear the history of what they have done.

  27. karen
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    so you’re saying the owners of the corner brewery support an extreme candidate in one election, but it’s hypocritical to hold it over their heads forever? really? that’s your logic here?

  28. Jean Henry
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Gov Snyder presented himself as a progressive moderate in his campaign. His behavior in office has been a complete about face. Hindsight is 2020. The switch was unpredictable– especially on right to work. He was in no way an extremist candidate. He is certainly in bed with extremists now. It’s not like Dems are automatically immune to the bait and switch. I felt similarly betrayed by President Clinton– welfare reform, NAFTA, banking deregulation. He has apologized for all of these since doing the damage. Anger and activism would be better directed at Snyder, where it can do more good than damage. Each letter written to his office is weighted as 10 emails.

  29. Eel
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Karen, for acknowledging that Snyder is an “extreme candidate”.

  30. Posted May 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    so happy to see the reference to Solnit. i’m a former 11-year ypsi resident but left nearly 3 years ago with my new spouse (also a long time ypsi resident) to work on an organic farm in HI. we ended up in SF (for now) but are plotting our eventual return. if ever in (or interested in) the bay area, read her Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. it’s wonderful.

    welcome, erika, to ypsi.

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