Tiny hummingbirds, intricately beaded in gold, green and blue, hang from hoops. Colorful shapes pop out of two-dimensional planes in a carefully constructed illusion as Alicia Wiese finishes another pair of earrings to add to her shoppable collection.
Wiese, 70, is a veteran artist with nearly 30 years of experience turning beads and wire into earrings, ornaments and sculptures. Initially a hobby that barely sustained itself through the odd commission, Wiese now beads full time as a member of Interact, a center for visual and performing arts in St. Paul.
Founded in 1996, the center serves more than 120 artists with disabilities by offering classes in painting, sculpture, writing and acting, and by creating communities around those disciplines. Artists like Wiese earn money for their work and have the opportunity to exhibit in both local and national museums and galleries.
"In the '80s, I worked with a lot of talented artists with disabilities who were bored and underappreciated at their menial day jobs," says Jeanne Calvit, founder and artistic director for Interact. "I saw a need in the arts community for a place that would welcome and support those individuals."
Wiese found Interact nine years ago after a health crisis put her in intensive care, then a nursing home. While she was relearning to walk, her doctor recommended an adult day care to help alleviate the loneliness and depression of her long-term recovery. Instead, Wiese joined Interact after hearing about it from a friend. This year marks her sixth with the program.
In that span, Wiese has produced a number of themed jewelry collections, like one titled "Underwater," featuring tiny fish swimming through a coral reef and mini puffer fish, their mouths a perfectly beaded "o." A cocktails-and-cars theme — think tiny tiki glasses — was essentially merchandise for one of Interact's theater shows.
A bug-enamored nephew inspired her latest collection of 3-D brooches and sculptures. "I've been having a lot of fun with the bugs," she says. "They can be jeweled and shiny and embellished, which covers most of the bases that I like making."
Wiese's work has appeared in numerous shows, including 2020's "We Are Not Disposable," an online exhibit that highlighted how health care systems failed people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
The pandemic forced Interact to begin digital classes, something that's had an unexpected benefit for Wiese. As she logs in daily, she meets artists of various ages, backgrounds and disciplines from all across the state — people from a broader geography can now join.
"Communicating more with other artists is helping me develop a deeper understanding of my bead art, especially as I'm branching into more 3-D structures," Wiese says. "Painters have their own perspectives on color that I can learn from, and the ceramicists understand 3-D structures in a way that I didn't before I could chat with them on daily Zoom calls."
Plus, Wiese says: "It's been a godsend for my social life."
Wiese is open to commissions at shop.interactcenter.org/collections/alicia-wiese, and is one of many Interact artists with art for sale.