As I sit in the welcomed quiet of my snug studio, an intimate conversation develops between my collections of old photographs and handwritten letters; and amongst the weathered maps and cancelled stamps from far away and long ago. Found objects and vintage ephemera such as these are the intriguing art materials I use as ingredients to create my collages and assemblages. I don’t consider my art to be at all sophisticated; rather, it has a subtle raw edge to it with a blush of sincerity. I’ve always had a penchant for collecting historical curio and the forsaken, especially those objects that are “perfectly imperfect” with the evidence of being genuinely time-worn.
My creative process is infused with serendipity and earnestness, and is layered with reflection, patience and the novice ability to see the blurred and unassuming interconnection between all things. Personifying innate objects and giving them the ability to communicate, helps me see these veiled connections.
I spent my childhood growing up in old houses; a typical Bay View Bungalow, then later in a humble Victorian that was my father’s childhood home. Old houses have their distinguishing physical marks of character, time and perseverance, yet they also have those mysteriously echoing vibrations and imprints from the past. I must have an empathetic gravitation for character properties, because the first two homes that my husband and I owned were just that, including a modest 1800’s farmhouse in the outskirts of a small town. It was in this old house where I had my first art studio, located in a windowed corner of our bedroom closet. I found a twenty-dollar work table at our local flea market, which I still use today, and that was all I needed to sit and let my creative brain wander along this fortunate path that I was navigating. But I didn’t just stumble on this creative route by pure happenstance.
My mother is a textile artist, as was my grandmother. When I was very young, my parents enrolled me in an innovative creative arts school, then later in life I decided to pursue a liberal arts education, earning my B.A. in Art & English. After college, my creative journey shifted to art education where I coordinated and taught community art programs for children and adults at various organizations, such as Walker’s Point Center for the Arts and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Hiraeth (Welsh) “deep nostalgia for a place or time that will never be again.”
But it was after my first child was born, seventeen years ago, that I chose to stop working full-time and focus on my new career as a stay-at-home mom and a very part-time artist. Life at home with my growing family taught me to slow down, learn healthy balance, cherish the simple moments and to make a sincere effort to see the world through my children’s curious eyes. Being a new mom helped shape me as an artist, and so did my time teaching art to children, as it allowed me to witness firsthand, the importance of the creative process. It helped me understand how the practice and habit of experimenting, exploring, risk-taking and creative problem solving is even more valuable to an artist’s growth than the final product of art, itself.
As my children grew throughout the years, so did my artistic endeavors. My confidence levels were rising and I found myself courageously stepping out of my creative and personal comfort zones. I started applying to more art gallery exhibitions and fine art fairs, and began receiving awards and recognition for my artwork. As expected, I experienced a fair share of disappointing rejections, and still do today; however, I never let myself succumb to the persuasive feeling of failure from these setbacks and obstacles. I also never let the distinctiveness of my original artwork change to suit the masses; I’ve always stayed true to my intrinsic creative vision.
But just weeks after my third child was born and months before I was set to return as an exhibiting artist at an annual art fair, my husband shared with me an exciting work opportunity that would involve our family moving nearly 4,000 miles away from home. Even though my career as an artist was burgeoning, I had faith and foresight that temporarily letting go of my work would be the right decision, for an opportunity like this may never happen again.
In the end, we spent four wonderful years immersing ourselves in U.K. life through work, school, travel and friendship, and from that we enriched ourselves deeply with the culture, landscape, history and traditions of this adopted land.
Upon returning to Wisconsin after our time living abroad, I found myself struggling to emotionally part ways with our revered expat life. Despite this fray, it was time to move on and renew the familiar habits and practices we once had here in the Midwest, including reestablishing myself as a working artist. But the ache of missing our bygone life in our idyllic British home persisted and a small void in my spirit grew.
Days led to weeks, and weeks led to months and our lives quickly became busy with resuming and managing ordinary routines, and eventually we began the long and extensive search for a home to purchase where our family could fully resettle. But the twinge of missing the old comforts of living abroad still needed attention and a bit of artistic mending.
“Collect things you love, that are authentic to you, and your house becomes your story.” —Erin Flett
My persistent reflection on our overseas experience ultimately led to a newborn creative energy that I hoped I could harness and channel to fill that tender void. The meaning of home and its universal symbolism of comfort, attachment and memory became a part of my artistic allegory as I searched for resolution and healing. I wanted to make something that I could hand-build, construct and gild. I felt the need to go beyond my conventional, flat two-dimensional semblance of creating art to produce a small, sculptural rendering of a house that could be held and that would encourage an intimate interaction. Creating the first series of my petite paper houses became a cathartic and compelling ritual, with each house voicing its own unique story. Ephemeral collage additions adorned their walls, and rooftops became their layers of domestic history. Singularly, each house stood as an individual, yet assembled together, they formed a diverse collection resembling a historic neighborhood that shares a collective energy of humble permanence.
Seven years and nearly 100 paper houses later, the metaphoric theme of home continues to resurface in my artwork in oscillating forms. My family’s roots have taken hold and are absorbing all that our lovely community has to offer; and the old, “new” house that we now call home has been inspiring me with its colloquial whispers of nostalgia. But lately, being homely has taken on a deeper and more personal meaning during these challenging days of COVID lockdowns and quarantines. For me, home swiftly became more of a literal safe-haven and an emblem of security that evoked a feeling of stability and comfort from the familiar. There were difficult days when I let myself reimagine my home as a jailhouse, like my teenagers so often did being isolated, but I realized that nothing productive would ever come from having such a negative perspective, so I soon shifted away from that consuming narrative and began to embrace gratitude and positivity.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
The recent confinements had given me a sincere appreciation and regard for the simple yet meaningful things that home embodies such as shelter, respite, the sense of belonging and family. Like a muse, these honest and irreproachable analogues of home remain a continued source of inspiration and a reflective and restorative subject to artistically interpret.
The process begins as I forage for my materials, those one-off curiosities, at flea markets, estate sales, charity shops, antique stores, and even on walks where natural or discarded treasures are waiting to be found by a curious eye. My process continues in the studio as I interpret the dialogues between these objects, then viscerally join them as if they were always meant to be together: I give them a second chance at life playing the roles of supporting cast members in my world of invented mixed media choreographies. My intimate artwork, whether a 2D encaustic portrait or a 3D found object assemblage, always embraces antiquity, the patina of age and the grace of imperfection.
To build your own paper house takes just a few simple resources, an accurate hand, and a dash of imagination. Begin by finding a house template to use as your blueprint. There are many free downloads of “paper house templates” to choose from including basic four-walled designs to the more ambitious Tudor, Colonial, or Alpine architectural styles, complete with chimneys and dormers.
When printing your template, I recommend using a heavier cardstock for durability, and a sharpened pencil for tracing. A quality pair of small scissors, interesting paper, such as a handwritten letter, and glue (I prefer white school glue) are all you need for the cutting and construction of the house.
Take your time with your scissor work and accurately fold the corners and tabs. A small amount of glue on each tab is best, as most papers need just a little bit to stay adhered. Once you have your structure built, you might consider adding or cutting out windows and a door, which adds to the intimacy of the house, but these enhancements are not essential; sometimes restrained simplicity can be very effective.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso
Lastly, the most expressive and creative experience in making these petite abodes is adding collage elements to the blank construction. Reclaimed and repurposed ephemera such as old sheet music, photographs, maps, stamps and poetic words are all unique embellishment options that will add personality, character and artistic interest to your little house. Be courageously creative and listen to your inner curator because after all, home is where the heART is!