Leading Ladies: Erin Elise Holland

It's Wednesday, which means I get to introduce you to another one of my super-talented friends.  A mid-week dose of career inspo if you need a bit of motivation to finish the work week strong!

I was excited when Erin Elise Holland agreed to be interviewed for this feature.  To say she is one of the most creative people I know would be an understatement.

In addition to being a talented artist, Erin is a gifted writer and storyteller.  Follow her on Instagram to see what I am talking about.

I frequently speak to college groups and host career panels for students visiting New York City.  Erin has participated in several of these events, and is one of my first calls when I plan them.  Students are always inspired by her story of how she got her job, her arrival in NYC and - this is huge - how she is making a career as an artist.

Let me introduce you to…

Erin Elise Holland

Photo by Martin Seck

What do you do?

I am a practicing artist and also a producer for The Museum of Modern Art. I manage all photography and video for the MoMA Design Store.

Where are you from, and where did you go to school?

I grew up in Abilene, Texas, and went to school at Abilene Christian University. I graduated with a degree in studio art and have dabbled a lot in psychology and design. I also consider living in New York and working at MoMA a large part of my education.

How did you end up in NYC?

When I graduated from school I was uncertain how to make a living as an artist, so I pursued several internships in museum conservation. It seemed like a good way to work with my hands and get paid. That got my foot in the door at some reputable organizations on the East Coast, and I fell in love with museum work. I started working as a designer at the Amarillo Museum of Art in Texas shortly thereafter and eventually landed an internship at MoMA in 2010. I moved to New York the following summer.

How did you get your job?

I hate to just say “connections” but it’s kind of true! I was diligent to stay in contact with the people I worked for at MoMA because I knew I wanted to move back at some point. But, it was hard looking for New York jobs from Texas. A close friend in New York offered to let me stay with her for a while, so I quit my job and moved...there was no other option in my mind. The day before I got on the plane from DFW to JFK, I received an email from my former boss asking for freelance help. Pretty sure I cried and jumped on the hotel bed. I was working for MoMA within two weeks. I felt very, very grateful (and lucky).

What is your typical workday like?

It totally varies. Some days I’m emailing until my eyes are crossed; other days I’m sketching and pulling Pantone colors for prop meetings while listening to my dad’s favorite music from the ‘70s. On the best days, I’m working with teams of talented photographers and stylists having a blast at some studio in Brooklyn. The mix is really key—my brain is kind of a pinball machine.

Photo by Catherine Yan

Last year, your exhibition You Touch Me was presented in New York.  Would you tell us about that, and what inspired its creation?

Yes! I felt so much purpose working on that show. A curator friend saw some work of mine in my apartment and asked if I would be interested in doing a show at her gallery. I had been praying for an opportunity to commit to my art practice again, so I agreed immediately. The show was about touch. I collected hand tracings from myriad people in my life (many I knew, many I didn’t) and used them as a starting point. I started to see this rich web of influence on my life from the tracings—relational, spiritual, intellectual, digital, physical—even though they were just simple lines on paper. Some of them were scribbled on napkins, but they were very transcendent. It was powerful. I explored ideas about touch through printmaking, photography, poetry, and performance, and I’m still working through a lot of those concepts now.

Photo by Rod Morata for Scott Rudd

What inspires you?

Everything. It’s distracting, actually. One of my biggest struggles is lassoing my thoughts enough to harness them, so I have to write everything down. I keep a running list of new ideas on my phone so maybe I’ll read that off as a cross-section of influences: Alzheimer’s, autocorrect, Billy Joel, Coco Chanel & Boy Capel, church hymnals, Picasso’s sculpture, product photography, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Loretta Lynn, Mark Wallinger, Gene Wilder, the Pizza Hut across from my Airbnb in Istanbul, handwriting, Indian mudras, MoMA staff meetings, Tompkins Square Park, people with the initials "EH" (Emmylou Harris, Edward Hopper, Eva Hesse), and this morning’s inspiration was a Carine Roitfeld quote about pockets taken from a Uniqlo pamphlet. Totally focused, ha!

Self-Portrait by Erin Elise Holland / Reflected photograph by Grete Stern

What advice would you offer to new grads starting their careers?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about how I’m going to get from one step to the next with perfect footing, but life is much more fluid than that. Try things, work through them, make changes, reflect on what’s really life-giving, and you’ll figure it out. My artist mentor Barbara Yontz once asked me, “What keeps mattering to you?” I still think about that a lot.

What are you looking forward to next?

I just agreed to do another show in February (very excited!) so stay tuned for updates.

Thank you, Erin!  Doesn't she inspire everyone to go out and create something?

You can follow Erin on Facebook and Instagram.

Have a great week!