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Craft Revolution

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Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 10:00 pm

They believe in the strength of glue sticks and rubber cement. They dig through documents, photos and attic boxes at antique stores and estate sales. They get excited over music sheets, brittle maps and gaudy broaches. They aren't afraid of twisting a little metal, refining silver or hours of eye and finger-straining labor.

They are an up-and-coming breed of crafter who take what they find and make something extraordinary. Their work is pretty, with an edgy, sometimes earthy, twist. It's not out of the ordinary to find Catholic saints or Day of the Dead shrines somewhere in their art bins, if not right on their project. Birds, bees, butterflies and black crows are sometimes their signatures. Vintage lace, gold medallions and ruffles find their way into their work spaces, too.

Whether it's a painting that infuses magazine cut-outs and acrylics, a bracelet with beads and bottle caps or a collage of old game boards and hardware, Natalie Hansen, Laura Koepplin and Kathy Bell are three Lodi women making art and jewelry that run the gamut known as mixed media. Collage art and mixed media are art forms that have been around since Pablo Picasso dabbled with it in the early 1900s. But with popular art magazines and a large mixed media online community, people are seeing this revived genre of unconventional art for the first time.

At PDC The Boutique in Downtown Lodi, owner Lisa Starkey-Laber has filled her store with pure artists' work. There are collages, paintings of skewed people, hand-sewn sock puppets, locally made pinwheels and mixed media by emerging artists from around the world. Also an interior designer, Starkey-Laber says the concept of mixed media has been around for a long time, but it's just now becoming cool. Today, it's not uncommon for people to hang a print of a funky gypsy in their living room or put a collage of black crows above a fireplace.


Natalie Hansen is a mixed media artist who recently started Silver Bella, a company that makes 99.9 percent silver charms. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

"With more exposure, the more it's being accepted," said Starkey-Laber, whose main goal is to bring something fun, kitschy, colorful -"the Willy Wonka of art" - to Lodi.

It's something most like, but aren't too sure about.

"People always say, 'There's nothing else like this,'" said Hansen, a Lodi artist who sells some of her mixed media creations at PDC the Boutique and has been featured in Somerset, a national art magazine.

With a grandfather who painted faux finish before faux finish was popular and a mother who goes to art retreats, art is something that's in Hansen's genes. At 7, she used juice boxes to make pencil holders for everyone in her family. At 12, she made a couple hundred bucks making and selling bread boxes. For the past 10 years, she's been doing mixed media - though she didn't know it had its own genre.

"I didn't know there was a name for it," she laughs. It was until she started a blog, Life is a Collage, and started reading mixed media magazines that she learned of a thriving community of people in love with putting the pieces together.

Her pieces are sophisticated, yet playful. Her crowns - often old dictionary pages with pink accents and glitter - are a whimsical toys and decorations for adults. She's crafted an entire cake, with each slice being a box, that is frilly and girly and something fit forfilm director Sofia Coppola's vision of Marie Antoinette.

One of her latest pieces is a wooden board she made at an art retreat. The colors are vintage - soft greens, pinks, blues - and everything on the board is meaningful. The tape measure gives her age, Santa represents her birthday being on Christmas day and the picture of a mother and child represent Hansen and her own mother. The final finish is something she'd never tried before. She lacquered her project with bees wax melted in a Crock Pot. It gives it a solid, yet soft, texture. Gliding your palm over the surface is completely smooth, except for where each of the layers touch.

With a love for charms and jewelry, Hansen has created a new business, Silver Bella. She uses silver clay made from pure silver to make charms. She mixes the clay with an organic binder that leaves a piece of silver that is 99.9 percent pure - that's more than sterling silver.

As a travel agent working out of her house, Hansen makes time to find new things to create.

"I have to do it," she says.

And, she's not alone.


Laura Koepplin crafts works of art using paint, paper, wax, art clippings and anything else she finds. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

Across town, Laura Koepplin forces herself to create daily - whether it's a canvas painting or eclectic boxes that will be the invitations for her Mexico wedding later this year.

"My goal is to make a piece of art every day," said Koepplin, who herself looks like a piece of art with a red hibiscus flower in her blond curly hair.

Her home is a gallery of color and inspiration. Every room is its own canvas, decorated with art she bought at flea markets, on world travels and on eBay. Most of it, however, is her own work. In the living room, over the couch where her cat Bindi plays, a large canvas painting is inspired by an Ani DiFranco song she's always loved. The song is printed in typewriter font and each word is individually cut and pasted on the bottom. A tree with owls and her signature black birds spurts from the ground. Each of the leaves are torn from music sheets and painted green. Under the branches of the tree, a retro moped sits, alone.

In the dining room, small, framed paintings surround a large collage painting of buildings in a deep, blood red sky. Birds resting on telephone lines are silhouetted black.

She does it because she likes it. Most of her pieces are given to friends who both love her work and her home, but have no idea how to do it themselves.

Her advice?

"Just do it," she says. "You just have to find a way."

She's been creating art as long as she can remember. She doesn't have any formal art education - just her travels to places like Brazil and Spain, and Mr. Nardinelli's art class at Lodi High School.

She can make something out of almost anything. Lately, she's fallen in love with old maps.

"They add a lot of depth and interest," she said.

She uses words and pages of a book she allows herself to tear up. She's mastered the art of painting black birds with acrylic paint. In her home studio, she uses Photoshop to transform images. Another big thing she's collecting is music sheets. And she uses a lot of shoe wax. Dark brown does the trick.

Her creative vision doesn't stop at canvas. Screen printing is her latest goal. Bottle caps, too. Hanging in her backyard - on a patio filled with colorful tapestries, lanterns and a swinging bed - is a fish she made of dozens of bottle caps tacked to a wooden cutout. The different colored bottle caps give the layering effect of wet, glistening fish scales.

Even jewelry designer and bead artist Kathy Bell uses bottle caps, among so many other found objects. In her collection of ornate, meticulously crafted jewelry are bracelets made of "funky old bottle caps." One of her favorite pieces is a necklace called Morocco that fuses metal, paper and a bottle cap. She layered the sepia-toned face of a woman over a smashed bottle cap. The centerpiece is an old watch part. The outcome is a beautiful mixture of metal and vintage beads.

Through the braided strands of seed beads, the way wire is wound seamlessly around a thin bar, the way woven beads create a flow of color, its obvious she's one of a kind.

Many of her pieces have a story. Many came from a vision.

"I will wake up in middle of the night with ideas," she said. Often times, she'll get out of to bead.

One necklace shows an octopus surrounded by dark, tiny beads. It's her depiction of the ink cloud octopi emit when they are scared.

Even her love of rain is conceptualized in a necklace. The rough shape of the cloud is silver. From right to left, the beads start a dark blue and blend into a clear and white mingling of all types of beads and Swarovski crystals.

One of the most popular on her http://etsy.com">etsy.com store is the Iceland Poppy Necklace - her ode to Iceland. She believes Iceland Poppies are an example to live by, as they stay strong even in Iceland's harsh, windy conditions. The bead caps, wire and chair are made of bronze. A brass poppy button was an inspiration, and red beads completed the look.

Catholicism is an unlikely inspiration in many mixed media projects - even in jewelry making. One of the "coolest" of her pieces is what she calls the saint bracelet. From Our Lady of Fatima to Jude, all of the saints have a place on this bracelet. Also on the bracelet are vintage glass beads with the image of Christ on the cross and glass beads with the image of Mary and Jesus. The final touches were glow in the dark beads.

"I've always liked the funky, edgy stuff," said Bell , who's not a Catholic, but likes the stuff. "I've always been drawn to stuff that's different."

Natalie Hansen
Where she lives: Lodi
What she makes: 99.9 percent silver charms with her company, Silver Bella. Jewelry that combines new and old. Collages, decorative wall piece. Crowns.
Her blog: Life is a Collage, http://nataliehansen.typepad.com">nataliehansen.typepad.com.
Learn from her: She'll be teaching a class at Bunches of Beads in Lodi. She also does charm-making parties (call 369-2211).
Where can I see her work: The current - and past - issues of Somerset magazine. Her crowns are available at PDC the Boutique in Downtown Lodi.
Some of her favorite art supplies: Old photographs, old dictionary pages, bee's wax.
E-mail Natalie: natalieh1225@yahoo.com

Laura Koepplin
Where she lives: Lodi
What she makes: Mixed media designs, including collage paintings.
Her blog: http://lovelucy.net">lovelucy.net (it's a work in progress)
What she does for fun: Create art. Travel. Treasure hunt at thrift stores and flea markets.
Some of her favorite art supplies: Book pages, acrylic paint, sheet music, bottle caps, old maps.
E-mail Laura: laura@americanautobodyinc.com

Kathy Bell
Where she lives: Lodi
What she makes: Beaded jewelry. Jewelry with new and old charms.
Where to buy her work: http://Etsy.com">Etsy.com. Click on shop local and click Rubee55. Or, visit http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5016097">http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5016097.
Learn from her: She teaches classes at Bunches of Beads in Lodi.
Some of her favorite art supplies: Catholic-inspired pieces, vintage bottle caps, sead beads, metal.

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