Monday, January 16, 2006

An Altered Life: Family, Collage Art, Paintings, Mosaics, and more

When my mother Clella was five years old she had rheumatic fever and spent her entire summer tucked up in a big feather bed. My grandmother, Maggie Miami Dye Melton, taught her to quilt and she has been doing it for eighty-three years. My mother taught me about color and texture but I didn’t seem to inherit her skills at quilting but did catch the gardening fever from her.

My father is a master carpenter and what is referred to as a “jack of all trades”. Before he retired he could frame the house, roof it, plumb it, wire it, and finish it off. My father shares his wisdom and skills as I play with my art and marry materials and ideas that Home Depot keeps telling me I can’t do. By the way I have switched to Lowes or my local old fashioned Hardware Sales.

I never played with my dad’s power tools when I was growing up. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t let me, but times were different. Now I have my own set of tools, glues, fasteners, and gadgets.

So what are my earliest memories of art in my life? I remember when a younger cousin received a Barbie but money was tight so she didn’t get the dream house. I cut and pasted using an old cardboard box and made her a complete kitchen. Sewing classes in junior high and high school (the required basic shirt, stuffed animal and later a dress) were reinforcement to what I learned at home on my mom’s Sears sewing machine. Painting began at a very early age when at about three or four, when living on a farm, I called the chickens by name and as they walked past me I gave each one a colorful stripe from a can of house paint I found. In a high school publication I wrote my first poem but was afraid to sign my name, so I added anonymous to the end. I kept my writings to myself and never shared what I wrote until I started making Altered Books.

I spent weeks making hundreds of items to sell at a school bazaar where children shopped for their family and everything was just $2.00. Then several years later my sister hosted a Christmas boutique in her home and again I mass produced items to sell that were different and unique from all the other boutiques. Because of these two adventures I realized that I hated to mass produce items.

The road of life came to an intersection and I got off the freeway and took a side street. After an ugly divorce I met a wonderful, caring, loving man named who is my knight in shinning armor. I have only seriously played with my art since I remarried and my husband Larry encouraged me with my own studio and shop. We have six children ages 20-47, one cat, one dog, a large garden, and a Harley. Larry loves me just the way I am and encourages me to do whatever makes me happy. He loves watching me work in my studio and is positive and supportive of everything I try. Because of his love and his faith in me I have all the time I want or need to play with my art.

I didn’t know how important that decoupage class I took in the 80’s would be until years later or how that two hour painting class sometime in the early 90’s from an artist whose name I have long forgotten would be the seed that grew. I still have the t-shirt I painted as a reminder of how primitive or childlike my first attempts at roses and leaves were. I have since taken a flower painting techniques class with Ronnie LaBree and a watercolor class with Jody Bergsma in her studio. These hands on classes supplemented my small library of art books. I keep looking for new things to play with and mosaic artist Ramona Abbot was teaching a local class and this looked like a lot of fun. Searching for a plate, tile, cup, or bowl in just the right color, taking it home and breaking it and then gluing it back together with all the other bits of colors and patterns was a whole new world.

I love working on one or two similar items and moving on to a new idea. I love taking apart old lamps, taking other found items and making chandeliers out of them. I made a curtain valance out of wood and copper tubing, shelves out of shutters, and a headboard out of an old bedroom mirror. Maybe my most unusual project was turning a late 19th century casket bier into a coffee table.

I’ve painted “shabby chic” roses on silver coffee pots, chairs, jewelry boxes, ornaments, fans, rocking horses, just about everything from A-Z. My daughter finally said “enough” so painting and selling roses took a back seat to paintings of dogs. The dogs just sort of came to me late a night when I couldn’t sleep. The dogs are a little bit abstract realistic to know what breed they are.

That 2000 yellow Softail Heritage classic Harley-Davidson named “Tweety” was my introduction to life on two wheels and my new family, Mt. Baker Chapter Bellingham WA Harley Owners Group. We switched bikes this year to a 2005 HD Ultra in black cherry with a better seat known to the Ladies as the “princess seat” that is named RD VXN (red vixen). The Ladies of Harley supports an annual baby shower for the GRADS teen parent program through the Bellingham School District. I started volunteering by providing art materials and teaching art classes and techniques to the girls. While searching for something new and different to teach the girls I discovered Altered Books and discovered a new part of me.

I have taught classes in paper-making, creating altered books, watercolors, and mosaic art. I have worked in painted glass, fabric dolls with custom clothes, built furniture for the garden and home, creating art with almost anything. But none of it compares to an Altered Book or a collaged art piece as a way to fully express myself.

In my altered books I emphasize themes and use my own original poems to set the mood and feeling in my art. I believe in learning from others in a sharing environment.

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