Friday, September 7, 2012

The Artisan Show

Here it is at last! My next blog post? Well, yes, there is that, but I’m referring to my “busy time” of the year. Though, as I always seem busy, I suppose I should change the name to “frantic time” of the year. Then again, I could just say “It’s show time!” And this year, that is especially true.

Ordinarily, I am a minimalist when it comes to shows. I try not to fill my calendar with them. This year, however, I felt it was time to draw a deep breath, and double the amount of shows I do. Sounds ambitious, you say? Well, I am working on four shows instead of two, and it is certainly an undertaking.

Shows are a very integral part of an artist’s career. This is where you and your work meet the public. It is how an artist builds a client base. Selling your work through a shop does not afford the same opportunity to interact with the public. This is the most satisfying thing about doing a show: talking to people, answering questions, and hearing about their own creative ideas.

First up is the Country Living Fair, September 14th through 16th in Columbus Ohio. Until two days ago, I didn't even know I was doing this show. By now, I had assumed I did not eve make the waiting list. Now here I am, less than two weeks away from the largest event I have ever participated. This is a very exciting opportunity for me, and the family is stepping in to make sure I have enough time to prepare for it. This show is the probably biggest show one can do in my line of work. It is both an artisan and antiques show with hundreds of vendors, attracting thousands of people. The Ohio Historical Society allows the show to use its own Ohio Village. You can find out more about the show and the site here: 
Three weeks after that, October 6th and 7th, is the Williamsburg Festival at the Pine Tree Barn in Wooster, Ohio. This event is one of my favorites. Between the beautiful setting, excellent hosts, quality craftsman, historic interpreters, and great food, it makes for a wonderful weekend. It is the one and only time you find me in period costume. 

Between all of the paint, the glue, and thread and the varnish, I might be ready on time. I am excited about the new items in my inventory this year. I look forward to sharing them with you at these shows and hope to see you there! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Blank Slate: Wall Murals Step One

My Blank Slate: Looking Up
As I sit here on my own staircase steps, I contemplate the taking up of a brush to begin my own long-awaited mural. I can’t help but remember the many and varied murals I have done for others.
My Blank Slate: Looking Down
For me, professionally, it all started with a house in Bay Village. A small mural above some cabinets. Although I feel my work has grown and developed since, it fulfilled that need to start somewhere. And that first stroke of paint has always been the hardest. For a split second you wonder if you have planned it all just right. But once you get going, a momentum builds until you are excited to finally see the finished mural. You know it is the end when it feels complete-not one more element to be added.
There is a great deal that has been written about the history of the American folk art murals that were painted in the early 19th century. Rufus Porter became one of the most famous itinerant painters. He worked throughout New England and elsewhere, and often with students under his tutelage. His murals included scenic landscapes with a number of trees, bodies of water, buildings, fences, and other elements. Porter was a bit of a renaissance man, and his interest in a variety of subjects showed in his murals. He even included a volcano in one mural, an expression of his interest in world travel.
Porter’s murals, along with those of his students, have been a major source of inspiration for me. While my work reflects their style, it has its own look. When working with a client, my chief objective is to find what significant places are or were a part of their lives, as well as anything else inspires them. The family pets usually find their way in as well. These murals are a journey through peoples lives with their childhood homes, historic landmarks they often visit, family homes, villages, and so many other elements of place. There are and endless variety of ideas that can be incorporated into your own personal mural. Some of my past favorites are quilts on a clothesline, an orchard, a waterfall, a bicycle, flags, a trade sign, and so many others too numerous to mention. All of these had a personal connection to the client.

So as I again contemplate my own mural destined to wind up our stair well, I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. Since I have had 9 years to think about it, I am confident that I know what story to tell. Our mural will be the saga of the western movement of our families. Buildings from 17th century New England and 18th century Pennsylvania to Ohio’s Western Reserve, where we have currently put down our roots, will tell that story, blending past and present.
And now the time has come to take up my brush and begin this journey.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Wooly Room

Several years ago as I was paging through a magazine, I came across a photo of the most wonderful folk art wool appliqué piece. It turned out to be an antique child’s bed rug sewn in a crazy quilt style embellished with animals. I was completely taken by it and decided that,  in order for me to ever have something like it, I would have to make it myself.
This is what began my journey into the world of wool-buying and collecting.
Tulip Wooly currently available for purchase. $95
Up until then my experiences with wool had been through my mother, an avid rug hooker and textile artisan. She would comb through stacks of wool while I stood by, admiring the beautiful colors and textures. As I watched and waited patiently for her, I never thought I would have a reason to buy any. After all, I was a painter! And as such, I had an endless supply of ideas and did not like sewing in the least. As a designer and color consultant, I have always appreciated all that goes into the textile arts and certainly loved using them in my home.  But I was not about to produce them.
Wooly Heart Pillow $55
All of that changed when I fell in love with wool appliqué. I decided that I could not afford the high ticket price for the antique wool appliqué and determined to make my own. What began a s purchasing enough wool to reproduce one piece ballooned into collecting wool. Collecting so much wool it seems that I could use another room in my house just to store and organize it.
No longer can I pass by wool without it catching my eye. I have to make sure I don’t miss anything to be added to my collection. Tucked away in every cupboard and closet is a basket of wool. Large market baskets of it live beneath my couches, and a corner is currently housing my most recent additions.  
Large Table Rug Wooly $385
What do I do with all of this wool besides just store it? Well, it has become an extension of my folk art business.  I design and create wool appliqué pieces based on 18th & 19th century motifs.  All of the wool I use has been repurposed, and I also dye or over-dye most of the wool using natural as well as commercial dyes.  My pieces range from table rugs and pillows to sewing notions and boxes. Recently, I have begun to offer a line of kits and patterns featuring my designs.
With all of these projects, and all of this wool, I realized that I need just one more room. And that will suffice, until I find my next new obsession.

Variety of Wool Applique pieces

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thoughts on Stencil Design

Recently, I was commissioned to stencil a room in a historic home with what I call a "full wall stencil." While my first love is hand-painting, stenciling can be just as fun in its application, and as rewarding in the finished project. It tends to move along at a quicker pace, so you get to the "ooo!" and "aah!" part faster.

The challenge in this particular room was all of the openings. Windows, fireplaces, doors all have to be addressed when putting together a stencil design that will fill the walls. In reflecting on this process, I have put together some design tips for your own stenciling projects.


This frieze is one my daughter and I designed together for
 her bedroom. Swags are one of my favorite motifs to use
along ceilings. 
The first area I address is the border that runs along the top of the wall. This can also be referred to as the "frieze." For me, the frieze sets the tone for the rest of the stencil designs. The size of the stencil has to be proportional to the room. Some designs are simply too large for a small room or one with low ceilings. On the flip side, if a stencil is too small for a room, the design gets lost in wall space. So once I have established the frieze, I move on to the stencil design which borders the baseboard. I call this my "anchoring" stencil. This motif can be heavier in a design sense, allowing the use of larger blocks of color. This is not essential, as a more delicate design can be used effectively also.

This design was for a retail space. It is
my interpretation of an historic
stencil design.
With those two elements in hand, I go next to the vertical borders. These divide the wall into mock panels. I tend to use a thinner design here so as not to compete with the frieze and anchor stencils. The key with these three borders is that they should compliment, not compete. This can be achieved through the use of repeated or similar design elements and a consistent color palette. The vertical border is also used as a wrap-around border for windows and doors.

Wall Stencils

Once the borders are set, I move on to the stencils which fill in the walls. Here there is a wonderful variety of motifs to use. Again, I keep my colors the same and limit them to about one or two per stencil. I usually repeat different designs as fillers or sometimes use just one. I like to offset them in a repeating pattern .

Comments on Color

This color combination is based on an
historic example. Stenciling was often
applied on top of color. As a side note,
the use of a small amount of black or dark
brown is a striking way to make the
designs stand out. 
I use what I like, or in the case of clients, what they like. For a full wall stencil I usually choose three main colors with one or two accent colors. Again, it is a personal choice. In some casing I have stuck to only two or three colors with pleasing results.

Stenciling in the Past

From an historical perspective, stenciling has long been used in the place of expensive wallpapers. Most of the period stenciling was done by itinerant artists  moving from town to town. They sometimes advertised in the paper when they would be available in a town. There are some great examples of original wall stenciling that have survived. And there are some wonderful books which have been published on the subject.

My Stenciling

I hand-cut my own stencils for every project. For those looking to do this on their own, there are pre-cut stencils in a wide variety of historic patterns. I custom design stencils based on historic examples for clients and for those looking to stencil on their own. Email me with any questions.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Seminary

Just north of the center of Chesterland, Ohio once stood the Geauga Seminary, a Baptist school built in 1843.
The Free Will Baptist Church valued education. Members of the congregation came together, forming a board with the express purpose of establishing a school. Seminaries of this kind were meant to fill in the gaps left between local education and college. They also served those who wished to become teachers.

The Western Reserve Manual Labor Seminary, as it was called originally, received a charter by the State of Ohio. But the Baptists found a problem in Section 2, which informed them that if they allowed "blacks and mulattos into the same [institution], upon an equality with white persons," the school would forfeit the power granted by the charter. The board's unanimous response was as follows:
"...whereas the Western Reserve Manual Labor Seminary has been founded by the friends of the human race, by those to whom the rights of their fellow men, as moral, social and intellectual beings, are held dear and sacred..." The board's letter goes on to accept the charter with the exclusion of Section 2. This kind of stand taken even before the Emancipation Proclamation is striking. Another fascinating fact:  James A. Garfield, our 20th president, attended the seminary in the late 1840s. It was there he met his future wife, Lucretia Rudolph.

 Over the years the building's appearance changed dramatically. At one point the building was reduced from three to two stories. The school changed hands several times, and was eventually torn down in the 1920s.

Sadly, the lot stands vacant today. Perhaps this is why I chose to paint the Seminary, so that it may remain standing in our memory. Perhaps also because of its significant and surprising history. Commemorative  pieces are very inspirational as I have the opportunity to combine my art with history. Every time I choose an historic subject, it allows me to produce a piece that tells a story. I enjoy visiting the sites of my subjects and getting a feel for how the final work of art should look. This way a little bit of history can be passed along with each piece. Re-purposing old materials is another way of capturing a bit of the past. 
I used an old batten door for this project, which was commissioned for one of the local library's meeting rooms. Between the research and the painting, this project was an enjoyable one. 

Special thanks to Sylvia Wiggins of the Chesterland Historical Foundation.