Some of her earliest memories come from Austria, where her family was stationed shortly after World War II. Her father was tasked with repatriating concentration camp survivors, and when appropriate housing couldn’t be found for the refugees, they sometimes lived in the mansion that had been given to her father. “They were shaky,” she says of the houseguests. “They had been through so much for so long, and yet they were also happy that they were free. ... I remember feeling warm towards them and liking them.”
Bieze is still seeking warmth in the presence of pain. She’s battled cancer for years, a fight that has sapped her strength and taken most of her hair. And while she isn’t actively creating art now – an acolyte, Brian Duerkop, has taken over her Banbury Place studio – she remains an artist at heart.
“What I found after the years started passing is that I had an identity as an artist,” she says of her youth. “And so wherever I lived, that was something I could always rely on. If somebody said, ‘We’re going to have to get somebody to design the cover of the yearbook, is anybody interested?’ I would always say yes.”
After high school, Bieze attended art school in Denver, where she learned to hone her style of soft, swirling lines. She and her cat left Colorado to see the country in a 1955 Ford, finding their way to Philadelphia, where Laurie found work creating window displays for Gimbels Department Stores. Later she did everything from creating top-secret flip charts for the military in Alaska to running the media center at Oregon State University. She married, had two children, and in 1978 – seeking yet another change – her family relocated to Eau Claire, where Laurie worked for a printing company.
But that job didn’t last long, and Bieze decided to go into business for herself as an artist. “I didn’t want to paint because there’s too much competition in painting, and you have to build a reputation for too long to make it work,” she says. In Oregon, however, she had done some design work for a stained glass studio, and she had found the medium easy to draw for. “It’s just kind of fun, and I love lines,” she says of the design style. “I’m really a line person – I love the way they flow. You can get such big flows when you’ve got a magic line going. It feels really good.”