Artist Tess Mosko Scherer
Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer
Photography by Scott Baxter
Tess Mosko Scherer is going through a transformation that is shaking things up a bit, and that’s okay with her—especially because the changes in her life are pushing her into new directions as an artist.
Mosko Scherer is one of 174 artists participating in the 21st Annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour taking place Nov. 17, 18 and 19; and Nov. 24, 25 and 26.
A signature event of the non-profit Sonoran Arts League, Hidden in the Hills (HITH) features 44 studio locations throughout the scenic Desert Foothills communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale. Mosko Scherer is a guest artist at Studio #25 in Cave Creek, hosted by ceramists Pat and Mike Markham. Other guest artists include painter Ronnie Wainwright and jeweler Liliana Schuett.
“I really love being a guest artist there,” Mosko Scherer said, adding that this is her fourth year participating in HITH. “We have such a wonderful camaraderie between the four of us, and we’ve forged great friendships. When we’re together, I think people sense the warmth between us and feel welcomed and at ease as well.”
Having that friendship and support makes this year even more special as Mosko Scherer prepares to exhibit a new series of mixed media constructions during the free, self-guided tour. Those familiar with her unique work have seen it evolve over a 16-year span from book arts to evocative mixed media pieces that explore the imbalance between the complex machinations of our private inner worlds and the outer world in which we are seen.
“My work combines my interest in the study of the human psyche and knowledge of art and art history with an ability to express myself artistically. Simplified color and form convey complex and universal themes,” she said.
Getting a Read on Life
“Bookmaking has always been a part of my life. When I was young, I would make books for family members and friends. I love to hold books, read books and pour over the illustrations in books,” she said.
“As a child, I tried to make sense of the chaos I observed. As an adult, I strive to do the same. Something deep within me is stirred when witnessing light’s illuminating beauty or the rawness of human emotional expression. To me both are equally poignant and beautiful.”
While working her way through college, she landed a job at a local gallery, where she discovered her natural gift in sales and marketing. Over time, she fell in love with and later married gallery owner Marty Scherer. In 1997, they moved the gallery from Marlboro, New Jersey to Sedona.
Inspired by the beauty of Sedona and its thriving arts community, she immersed herself in the study of binding. She was drawn to the beautiful choreography of paper, leather, book board and linen thread. Predominantly self-taught through Keith A. Smith’s educational series of books, she made more than 1,000 books, mastering traditional methods and experimenting with her own interpretations of historical techniques. She began with the Coptic sewing stitch, which dates back to the 2nd century AD, and still loves the aesthetics because it reveals an exposed spine.
Bookmaking can be both a gentle and rough process. From sewing, drawing, and folding to drilling, cutting and tearing, Mosko Scherer loves to watch her books come to life as they emerge from flat paper and boards into solid, meaningful and inspiring books.
With the advent of the digital age, she and her husband felt the timing was right to move the gallery completely online in 2006. That same year, the couple embarked on a three-year journey exploring the United States.
“It was a life-changing experience in that the majestic national parks, small towns and bustling cities nourished my hungry soul,” she said. “Artwork flowed into one-of-a-kind and limited edition artist books. These books are filled with poems, writings and images inspired by my personal inner journey and the outer journey that my husband and I shared.”
In 2009, the couple bought a home in central Arizona where Mosko Scherer still resides.
Unraveling the Spine
Over the years, the book structure became less important, and Mosko Scherer began to experiment with mixed media creations. A divorce and other life challenges prompted her to delve deep into self-reflection.
“When I am making art, I find I lose myself, and in doing so, I find myself,” she said. “My art is a place to express myself. It can be deeply personal, hidden within the closed covers or fully exposed as in the “My Life Is an Open Book” series. The emphasis of my work is about expression—yours and mine. Through the journal, I create a sacred space for a person to delve into their hidden world. Shining light into their darkness reveals what they have not seen before.”
Her mixed media constructions are an extension of her book art. Each piece begins with blank paper that is incised, scraped, drawn onto, torn and often sewn back together again. Working with a variety of media, from watercolor and pastels to colored pencils and graphite, her color palette ranges from muted monochromatic to more bold colors.
Several series contain words, and some feature hundreds of tiny, hand-written words.
“People are intrigued by the use of words in my work. It is the volume of the words that makes the impact,” she said. “For example, the series “Grief” peels back the layers of grief like pulling back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz. Naming all the emotions that accompany it, grief loses its powerful weight through the revelation. When the burden lifts, it makes room for the lighter emotions to drift in.”
The talented artist, who likes to read everything from espionage to art history books, will exhibit a new series, “Unbound,” of mixed creations during the Hidden in the Hills artist studio tour.
“This series has been evolving, and I can’t say I know where it will take me,” she said. “Typically with bookmaking, the spine is what is bound. In this series, the edges of the pages are bound together. There’s fraying, loose openings, and curled paper, which I believe is a metaphor for where I am in my life right now. I am opening myself to new experiences and possibilities.”
“Unbound” has helped her look at paper in a new way.
“I really like playing with dimensionality and looking at what the paper can do and how far it can be pushed,” she said. “For example, I’ve been soaking the paper and peeling back layers or letting it curl to see what direction it goes.”
Her studio is packed with shelves of countless varieties of paper, but for the mixed media creations, her preference is working with a four-ply Strathmore Bristol paper.
“It’s like a workhorse and heavy enough that I can push it further,” she said. “When I make a journal, I use lighter papers such as an etching paper or a drawing or watercolor paper for a sketchbook.”
The Transformation Continues
As for what the future holds for Mosko Scherer, she’s looking forward to a trip to China in 2018 where she will be facilitating a five-week program through the World Academy for the Future of Women. She is one of 16 women to be invited to participate in the “Give Voice to Women Through the Arts” program.
From gallerist to artist, Mosko Scherer also is a certified life coach with a small private practice.
Well-respected in the community, she is an arts advocate who volunteers her time as board president of the Arizona Artists Guild. She served as Shemer Art Center and Museum’s first artistic director in Phoenix from 2015 to 2017. An award-winning artist, she was named one of the 100 Creatives by Phoenix New Times in 2016. In addition to being a member of the Sonoran Arts League, she is a member of Art Link and Art Intersection.
“My life would be meaningless if I could not create and use my gifts to benefit others’ lives. Every day I am learning, waking, opening to what is—in nature and in my studio,” she said. “I am grateful for the unexpected turns in the path of this journey called life. I see life’s imbalances as an invitation to continually transform and grow as an artist, woman, mentor and friend.”