From left: Lea Lovelace, Eric Petersen, Jenni Brant and Kristen Underwood. (Photo by Julie Berg-
From left: Lea Lovelace, Eric Petersen, Jenni Brant and Kristen Underwood. (Photo by Julie Berg- Raymond)
After six years, the two public faces of ArtHaus -- co-founders Kristin Underwood and Lea Lovelace -- are stepping aside.

Enter two new co-directors, Jenni Brant and Eric Petersen.

The couple, engaged to be married in the fall, are moving here from Nebraska and bring along “two four-legged, furry kids,” Brant says -- “a Japanese Harlequin house rabbit named Koji and an adopted  sassy cat named Georgia Lee.”

They started work as co-directors of ArtHaus, Decorah’s home for the arts, last week.

Why the change?
“ArtHaus has really taken root over the last six years,” Underwood says. “We realized we were hardly teaching anymore ourselves because we were devoting all our energy to running this non-profit arts center -- scheduling classes and events, hiring instructors, fundraising, grant writing, dreaming about new programs.”

Still passionate about the role of the arts in community, Underwood and Lovelace started thinking it might be the best thing for ArtHaus to have some fresh energy to take over the administrative reins. 

“We’re both looking forward to having more time to teach again,” Underwood says. 

Since ArtHaus functions as a non-profit entity, it doesn’t “sell,” just changes hands.

“We told Jenni and Eric that it’s like we were searching for the right adoptive parents for our baby.,” Lovelace says. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far, and know that they’ll help it grow to the next level.

Love at first sight
Brant and Petersen first visited Decorah in Aug. 2013. They’d planned a camping trip to check out the town after extensive online research in their quest for a new home closer to Brant’s family. 

“We really fell in love with Decorah,” Petersen recalls. “Even though we were just visiting at the time, everyone we met was so warm and welcoming. The community seemed engaged and forward-thinking, with pride in the appearance of their city and downtown.”

They’d already started making plans to move to Decorah when Brant came across an online posting for the directorship position  at ArtHaus.
She called Petersen immediately and suggested they apply as a team.

“It has always been a dream of ours to run an art center together,” she says. “Especially one focused on programming and events for the community.”

Background: Eric
Eric Petersen is largely a self-taught artist, who returned to academia for post-graduate training in ceramic processes and techniques at schools in New Mexico, Utah, Nebraska and Missouri.

He has extensive teaching experience in ceramics, painting, design and sculpture with all age groups in a variety of settings. 

As a studio assistant to artist and educator Eddie Dominguez over several years, he has created small and large scale sculptural works for sale, exhibition and for public art projects. His own work examines the relationship of the individual to the forms and processes of the natural world manifested through the mediums of drawing, painting, clay and printmaking.

Background: Jenni
Brant has a BFA in ceramics from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and for the last 10 years has been living in eastern Nebraska, initially pursuing an MFA in ceramics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln followed by a career as a studio artist and the education director at LUX Center for the Arts. 

In 2010, she become the executive director of the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, an artist residency program for visual artists, writers and composers from across the country and around the world.

She has maintained an active studio practice creating handmade functional pottery as well as beaded jewelry, linocut prints and public art installations. She travels often teaching clay-based workshops and presenting lectures on professional practices in the arts.