Last spring I held an Open Studio event at my home. Since it was just before the primary election I happened to have the above montage, that my dear friend Margaret sent me as my computer screensaver, as a reminder for everyone to vote. It caught a lot of attention, but one of my favorite customers was particularly interested. We discussed Margaret and I showed her pictures on my walls of other things Margaret had done through the years. There was the paper dress, which you might remember that I featured earlier in a blog. I had pictures of costumes she had done for a play in India several years back, and several other pieces of her art. She casually asked, “What is Margaret doing now”? I told her that she paints fireplaces. My customer lit up with excitement and said, “I have a fireplace that is just waiting for a creative make-over.” That was the beginning of the wonderful project which I’ll show you now. Fortunately Margaret photographs her process which allows her to share it with you.
The following is Margaret describing the journey in her words:
The fireplace in question is in the “Alice” room, a beautiful guest bedroom in this house that was built in 1911 in San Francisco.The clients did not want to change paint or carpet, but had a long held desire for the fireplace to have more “presence”, and felt that even the fire box opening was oddly small for the scale of the surround. It had white tile which was the same as the hearth tiles which had been painted over. My suggestion was to first have someone plaster coat and prime the tiles to provide a smooth surface for painting. They had this done by a wonderful tile mason from Oakland named Riley Doty.
On my first visit to begin the design, I brought my friend Praneet Bedi, who has a collection of machine embroidered silk bedcovers that he designs and has made with perfection in India. There was a beautiful one for this room….which was the beginning of a little shift in character.
My perceptive client, when asked about replacing the hearth tiles, asked if they might be created to reflect the carpet pattern??What a wonderful idea! I made a paper template to mark the implied continuation of the carpet, drawing all of the angles and noting the pattern changes. When I returned home I used my photos and computer screen to reference and draw up a pattern for ceramic artist, Hank Murrow of Eugene Oregon, who wanted to take on the challenge of creating the hearth tiles. He had the perfect suggestion of making them diamond shaped, such an obvious solution, once it was imagined by Hank! With a sample piece of actual carpet, I put it in a laser printer and captured the full scale image of the two variations repeated in the carpet and I could key the pattern for Hank.
After much labor of testing clay bodies and glazes to find a blush of color, Hank began the shaping of the tiles and would communicate with me via email and photos.
Curious about the beautiful fireplace screen, I photographed it and sent a query to my friend Elizabeth Stewart, an arts and antiques appraiser in Santa Barbara. She responded immediately! “Louis XV, French Rococo!” A study of scrolling forms followed. As I began the great fun of Louis research, I realized the possibility of adding a Louis fireplace right into the wooden surround, a kind of elegant joke. This seemed to delight the clients and the direction was set. The Louis XV image gave me the inspiration of the secondary recessed form, the dark quilted area, that suggested a larger opening and would imply some heft. The shell was a wonderful shape to incorporate and it became thematic. The central asymmetry was very appealing and I decided to use that straight away.
Placing the paper on half of the face of the fireplace I could free hand draw the shapes and begin to get a feel for how it could look, making it up as I worked it out, adding a bit to the side to adjust for the center asymmetry. I placed graphite transfer paper under the drawing, redrew to put lines onto the prepared surface, and I could flip over the drawing and do the same on the opposite side, having used a heavy enough tracing paper so that I could see through it for this step.
Building up color to define shapes, laying in tones with color mixed with medium, bringing the room’s blue into the background stripes…a transitioning support. Here I am working low to the floor, there was no other way.
All work was under the watchful supervision of Zoomer, the resident Maine Coon feline.
After the tile hearth was installed by Riley Doty, there was a desire to create a kind of clean join with the carpet. The idea of using brass rod seemed a perfect and simple look, with a reference to the brass of the fireplace screen and an easy fit into the small ditch. John Rogers from Oakland did the deed of locating the brass and perfecting miter cuts.
The metallics in the painted design have a warm effect and show differently in different light. Low incandescent light actually brings out the reflective accents, and the relationship to the brass bed opposite the fireplace is a very friendly axis in the center of the bedroom.
The final look, with the new bedspread and the new ‘presence’ of the fireplace.
My friends are making lots of art dolls. There are so many that I thought I’d save them all for my next post. I can’t resist showing you these very special Steam Punk crows however.
The interest in mosaics is growing. They are similar to a puzzle because you are always trying to fit pieces together. For those of us that enjoy puzzles, it’s quite addicting.
Suzanne Duran and I have been asked to show our mosaics at the Stained Glass Garden at 1800 4th Street in Berkeley, across the street from Peet’s Coffee . The opening will be February 10th from 5:00 to 7:00 and we’d love it if you could join us. Our work will be there from February 10th to the 28th.
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If you would like to be a featured artist, or even just show some pieces of your art on my blog, please email a minimum of 2 pictures of your work and I’ll contact you with information. firstname.lastname@example.org