ELKTON — Shortly before Deb Mackie’s 12th birthday, her grandmother bought her a leather saddle making kit.
Mackie’s grandmother was a leatherworker and had brought Mackie with her to the local tandy shop, where something caught the girl’s eye.
“She took me in there and I was kind of staring at one of the little saddle kits that they used to sell and she said ‘If you’d like to work on that, I’ll let you use my tools and I’ll get it for you for your birthday,’” Mackie said.
Several decades after working on that kit, Mackie will be presenting a new miniature saddle — and other miniature items — in The Palette & The Page’s annual member artist show during First Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 7.
The exhibition will feature the artwork of 14 member artists, including Mackie, Debbie Arnold, Robin Burrucker, Jenny Davies-Reazor, Gina Dell, Sarah Dressler, Deena Greenwood, Judy Hotchkiss, Catherine Houghton, Victoria Kavalerov, Patti Paulus, Susan Procario, Patricia Tolton, and Lynn Whitt. Houghton will also hold a book signing, and pianist Tom Christiansen will perform live music during the opening reception.
The Cecil County Arts Council will feature works from North East and Rising Sun high schools’ art students, with a partner show highlighting local photographer Heather Rees and her solo exhibition, “Joyful Soul.” The open show, “Too Cool for School,” will hang in the back gallery and live music will be provided by Chad Racine.
Art with a soul
After Mackie’s grandmother passed away, her leatherworking tools got sold at the estate sale before Mackie was able to get ahold of them.
But when Mackie’s friend’s grandmother, also a leatherworker, passed away, that friend offered her own grandmother’s tools to Mackie, who happily accepted them.
Mackie said she enjoys working with leather because of its endless possibilities as a medium and the history of the material itself.
“There’s so many different things you can do with it and make with it,” she said. “It’s natural. It has more of a soul to it, I guess.”
Growing up, Mackie made shoebox dioramas and her mother made terrariums, so she has always been intrigued by miniature art.
“It brings a lot of things together that I like to do all in one place,” she said.
Mackie’s contributions to the First Friday show include a miniature saddle, bag and papers.
The time it takes Mackie to make a leather piece depends on the size and complexity of the item. She can knock out a checkbook or credit card wallets in two to three hours, while a miniature saddle can take about 20 hours to complete.
One of the longest projects she has worked on was a journal that took her 30 to 40 hours to finish. But the time was well worth it for Mackie, who sold the journal to a family of a woman experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, and whose therapist recommended she work through her thoughts and feelings by writing them down in a journal.
‘Beauty beyond the grunge’
Susan Procario has taken photographs inside abandoned churches, schools, and even an insane asylum where her father worked and her grandfather was killed, but her favorite location has been an old rayon factory in Marcus Hook, Pa.
The American Viscose Corporation, which manufactured rayon and other synthetic fibers throughout the 20th century, closed in 1990. But for Procario, the site’s structures still offer a wealth of photographic possibilities.
While visiting the rayon factory, Procario saw ornate exterior brickwork, beautiful cafeteria doors, an old time clock, classrooms, and a bowling alley — all things people simply would not see in a factory today, she said.
Procario said she enjoys photographing abandoned places because she is able to find beauty in what has been left behind.
“I can see beauty beyond the grunge,” she said. “I can see what once was. Beauty in shapes and design, I just get a kick out of that.”
Procario said she has always played around with photography, but she began taking it more seriously in 2009 when a friend from high school got in touch with her through Facebook and invited her to explore Vancouver Island and take photos with her.
The first abandoned place that Procario explored was the Sleighton Farm School, split between two townships: Edgmont and Middletown, Pa. That was a solo trip, but Procario has since promised her husband that she would never explore alone.
Since delving deeper into urban exploration, or urbex, Procario has photographed abandoned places in and around Pittsburgh, Pa.; Gary, Ind.; Chicago, Ill.; and even the Republic of Kosovo.
To find abandoned locations, Procario said she talks to fellow urbexers. But a lot of times, Procario scouts out new spots herself as she’s driving and makes a note to return another time.
“Now when I’m going down the road, I’m always looking for places like that,” she said. “It’s kind of hard for me not to do a 180 sometimes.”
While exploring, Procario largely leads with the “leave no trace” principle.
“I don’t take and I don’t touch,” she said. “I just take pictures.”
When she’s out in the field, Procario typically packs her camera, lenses, a tripod, a miner’s headlamp and a flashlight.
During one trip with a couple of friends, one of the friends had to leave. Later on, Procario and the remaining friend realized they didn’t quite know how to get out. When they finally did, Procario went home and bought a bag of glowsticks, and they’ve become a must-have item, especially for dark buildings.
“You’re like Hansel and Gretel,” she said. “You just leave a trail of the little lights so you can find your way back.”
On a roll
Debbie Arnold first encountered quilling — the art of rolling, shaping and gluing strips of paper to create designs — when she took a class led by artist Ann Martin at a local A.C. Moore craft store in Delaware.
Arnold saw cards adorned with quilled flowers that Martin had made, and she wanted to try her hand at the medium.
“Since I love to garden and I can’t do that in the winter, that sounded like something that I wanted to try to do,” Arnold said.
Arnold likes to quill natural images like birds, flowers and water because of nature’s continuity as a subject.
“It’s just always there and it’s always beautiful,” she said. “Each time something changes, it’s still beautiful in its own way.”
Arnold has experimented with both traditional and modern quilling, but she prefers the filigree look of the traditional form compared to the modern take in which the paper is creased and stood on its edge.
“I think the coiled pieces adds a softness,” she said. “The on-edge tends to be more graphic.”
As a member of the North American Quilling Guild, Arnold said she and her fellow guild members share information about quilling with each other on Facebook and meet every year for a conference.
According to Arnold, the NAQG has several hundred members and there are guilds throughout Europe, Asia and South America as well.
Last year, Arnold hosted the NAQG conference in Delaware, where she learned how to do a vortex coil, which she said has a little spin to the center that traditional quilling coils do not have.
Whether online or in person at regional conferences and local meetings, Arnold said the quilling enthusiasts she communicates with around the world are always teaching one another new and different ways of quilling.
“We’re all constantly sharing with each other,” she said.
Make your own rules
Sarah Dressler started making dolls when her daughter went to a birthday party where somebody had received a tooth fairy doll that she liked.
I found the source for them and then discovered that they were being discontinued and thought ‘Well, I think I can handle that,’” Dressler said. “So I made one which was kind of rudimentary and thought ‘I can improve upon this’ and just kept going.”
Dressler said her daughter, who was about 7 years old at the time, loved the dolls that Dressler made that she treated them like living beings.
“She got so invested in the dollmaking that I wasn’t allowed to put eyes on any doll until after everything else was finished because once it had eyes it was alive and it had a soul,” Dressler said. “A doll that needed repairs, that had eyes on it, needed to be anesthetized as if it was going into surgery.”
While deciding on what to create for the First Friday show, Dressler was reminded of an interview she had see with 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg
“She gives me hope,” Dressler said, adding that Thunberg and other young people advocating for efforts to counteract climate change served as the springboard for her First Friday pieces.
Dressler ended up creating two pieces: one featuring Gaia or Mother Earth protectively cradling a needle-felted globe; the other piece featuring an old woman whose skin is mostly gray except for where she is holding hands with a young woman, meant to represent Thunberg and other young activists.
Dressler said that although some members of older generations are sympathetic to the need to mitigate climate change, they have felt like they cannot do anything to fix the situation — until now.
“She’s giving her hope back to the older generations because I think a lot of us have sort of just thrown our hands in the air and given up.
The three figures that Dressler created for First Friday follow a more classical human form, but much of Dressler’s dolls deviate from that form.
Dressler said she is inspired by fantasy readings and movies, and she has particularly been inspired by Brian and Wendy Froud, husband-and-wife designers behind Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth,” who she said opened her eyes to what is possible when it comes to crafting figures.
“If you’re making something, it doesn’t have to follow the same rules as everybody else,” she said. “You can have a nose that’s the same length as the arm. You can have giant ears. You can have big, flappy, flippy feet if you want. It gives you more scope for just branching out and playing.”
In addition to creating dolls herself, Dressler also teaches fiber art and other media in New Castle County, Del.
She said she enjoys feeling the energy and creative exchange during her lessons as people feed off of one another’s ideas.
“When the energy is right in the room, everybody helps everybody,” she said.
Dressler recalled teaching one class where five generations of a family were represented and each individual brought a unique perspective.
“It was great fun to see the interchange between them all and the way that they were supporting each other and the very different approach each one of them had to exactly the same project.”
Dressler said the member artist show at The Palette & The Page is similar in that each artist brings something different to the table, but all of the pieces seem to work together and the artists and attendees get to bounce ideas off of one another at the reception.
“Something magic happens when it all comes together,” she said.