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September 17, 2018
Art Works: Meet Creatives In West Chester
West Chester offers the best of all worlds for artists and art lovers alike: beautiful countryside and deep history to inspire and soothe, access to big cities, and the finest culture to energize and enrich. But this community’s thriving arts scene is an entity unto itself. From backlit landscapes that reflect the rolling Brandywine Valley to industrial cityscapes that bustle with excitement, our local artists are capturing what it is to be from West Chester in their own unique ways. Art transcends what’s local here, too. We also have artists who are expressing inner secrets, capturing the essence of man’s best friend, sharing the stories of refugees in Eritrea, and bringing us to Italy through gelato.
In this feature story learn about the creatives of West Chester and find out how you can engage and be inspired!
Chris Cotter – Filmmaker
Co-owner of Tailor Made Media, Chris Cotter has been a producer/director in the multimedia industry for more than 20 years. Chris’s experiences traveling the world have been a catalyst in working in film and telling stories through the lens of a camera. He has worked and traveled throughout the United States, Central America, Africa, Europe, and South America.
Visiting several developing nations inspired Chris to use film to be a voice for important environmental and human rights issues around the world. “I’ve learned the most about life from people in other cultures,” says Chris. “Especially those who I’ve met in developing nations. I feel like anyone would want to help others in difficult situations—we too want to be a supporting force.”
“Through filmmaking, our company decided to try to help people who we felt were ignored. That was the inspiration to create our film, Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus. The success of the film and its impression on viewers is why we created the subdivision, Tailor Made Films.” Chris believes films are the perfect way to share stories that bridge cultures and facilitate discussion and change. “Filmmakers have the opportunity to create something that conveys messages, provokes thought, and invokes feeling,” he says.
Chris is also a renowned music teacher who runs TribeSound Records, where he produces music for many Philadelphia artists, including his own band WaveRadio.
Featuring Tailor Made Films, a part of Tailor Made Media. A significant portion of Tailor Made Media’s profits help to fund the company’s philanthropic film projects focused on important environmental and human rights issues.
Sarah Bourne Rafferty – Printmaker
Atwater Designs Owner Sarah Bourne Rafferty creates botanical prints using the cyanotype process. Sarah is driven and inspired by the natural world. “Walking in the woods and even through my backyard garden is the starting point of my creative process,” she says. Her prints of feathers, leaves, and flowers reflect this love.
The cyanotype process is the oldest photographic process. Sarah mixes a light-sensitive chemical solution, which she then paints onto paper. Once dry, she exposes it to the sun with a plant or natural object touching the paper which is called a photogram.
“I first experimented with cyanotypes and alternative process photography in college. I immediately fell in love with the techniques,” says Sarah. “I’m drawn to how the process incorporates the chemistry of photography and the tactile quality of printmaking while connecting me more fully to the natural world.”
Each cyanotype is a unique record of nature including the light and the wind of a particular day. The poetry of the moment is marked on the page, never to be duplicated again in exactly the same way.
Sarah gives a portion of her proceeds to land and water conservation in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Follow along on her creative journey via Instagram: @atwaterdesigns.
LouLou Clayton – Painter
Custom pet portraits are painter LouLou Clayton’s specialty. Her portraits capture the innocence and emotion of each animal’s essence.
“For each portrait I make, I am challenged to capture the personality, charisma, and likeness of that pet,” she says. LouLou paints her portraits from photographs that can be emailed or even texted to her; in fact, everything she does can be accomplished remotely. Thus, her art hangs in homes and galleries across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
LouLou’s portraits are created with acrylics on canvas. She is inspired by the gratitude she receives from her clients, who cherish the portraits she creates as gifts and memorials.
“Our pets are family members,” says LouLou. “I personally understand the love and companionship a pet can give and how much they mean to us. I was motivated to do this work because our pets are worthy of being portrayed.”
Jeff Schaller – Painter
In the unique medium of encaustic, Jeff Schaller paints by creating textural art pieces which incorporate representational form with the printed word. In essence, the visual and written symbols merge to create a unique aesthetic language that is both provocative and whimsical. His multiple-image pieces, with familiar elements ranging from polka dots to popular culture icons and labels, evoke emotions and memories in the viewer.
The combination of images tells a story and provokes a personal exchange between the art and the audience.
“I say I’m blessed and cursed,” says Jeff. “Blessed because I have the ability to paint, cursed because I have to paint.”
Jeff’s graphic design background, love of color, and what he deems a “neurotic personality that likes to place random images and thoughts next to each other,” all inform his art. “Add a splash of reckless abandon because life is short and should be enjoyed,” he says.
Jeff’s art is hanging in galleries across the country and he has completed many commissions for corporate and private clients in this area and beyond. Jeff wants art to be approachable for everyone. “The message of art can be fun and whimsical, nostalgic,” says Jeff. “It doesn’t have to be heavy, lofty, or complex.”
Vincenzo Tettamanti – Gelato Scientist
Co-owner of Gemelli Gelato, Vincenzo Tettamanti is an artist whose medium is simply delicious. He works in artisan gelato and Italian desserts, after all. All of the work and preparation that goes into making his true artisanal gelato draws on his background as not only a creative chef, but also a food scientist.
When Vincenzo moved to the United States from Italy, he needed a way to connect back to his home country. “Food is part of my identity; gelato is something that brings back childhood and fun memories,” he says. “I decided to bring a piece of my home to West Chester, and I promised myself I would do it the right way; using from- scratch processes and local, farm-fresh ingredients to craft these treats the way they were meant to be, before artificial flavorings, colorants, and pre-made everything came around.”
Vincenzo expresses his art through his unique flavor profiles, inspired by his Italian roots and reinterpreted using local ingredients from his new home’s surroundings. The results of his craft
are a delicate structure of the gelato using a balancing act of science and creativity to achieve a smooth, creamy product.
Vincenzo teaches the art and science of gelato at Gemelli. “I love showing others how I work at Gemelli and hopefully inspiring them to make better, healthier decisions when it comes to food and ingredients.”
Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell – Theatre
Kristin has performed and directed in productions on Broadway and Off Broadway. After years in New York working with the likes of Stanley Tucci, Nicole Kidman, Paul Rudd, Justin Bartha, Tony Shalhoub, and Anthony LaPaglia, a lightbulb went off. “What if I brought that level of theater home to West Chester?” she asked herself.
Kristin founded The Resident Theatre Company (RTC) in 2015 to do just that. In 2017, they produced their first season of main stage shows, featuring actors and designers from New York and Philly at the top of their craft. The season earned RTC two Best of the Mainline awards, a Barrymore Recommendation for every show, and a front page feature in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Arts Section. Plus, more than 10,000 people bought tickets to see RTC shows.
“I have been thrilled by the positive response to RTC. People seem excited to have high quality theater in beautiful Downtown West Chester. Our audiences can go out to dinner and walk to the theater just like they would in NYC, without the long trip.” says Kristin. “But beyond the show itself, we also focus on creating an exciting community where our audience has access to the artists, and are able to get a behind the scenes look at the process of producing professional theater.”
Erica Brown – Painter
Sponsored by WhirlAway Travel & Cruise Consultants
The images in Erica Brown’s paintings vacillate between pure abstraction and industry. Her main medium is encaustic, which is one of the oldest (and more dangerous) forms of painting—a process of painting with pigmented beeswax. She builds up many layers of paint, then uses tools to carve through them to expose what is underneath. She fuses each layer with a blow torch. The results are richer, deeper colors and textures.
“I work on several paintings at once and often get lost in the process of creating,” says Erica. “Going from painting to painting becomes a sort of maddening dance for me.”
At Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, Erica had to teach herself encaustic off of school premises because of the fumes released when the wax is heated—and the blow torch, of course. It was in this process where Erica found her voice.
You will often see industrial images such as train lines, trestle bridges, and abandoned factories in her work. She’s photographed these scenes her entire life, finding herself drawn to the industrial landscape.
Erica pours herself into her painting. Some of her paintings come together quickly while others are worked on for years. “I often have a particular emotion or even a much more personal catharsis involved in my pieces,” she says. “But I cherish the viewer’s individual relationship with my work. There is no ‘right’ interpretation. How it makes you feel is what it’s supposed to be for you.”
Teresa Haag – Painter
Teresa paints large-scale cityscapes on top of newspaper-covered canvas. Her work captures the chatter of the urban environment, transporting viewers through everyday places to new and unexpected realizations.
“Painting on newspaper started as a way to add texture into my gritty cityscapes,” says Teresa. “But over time it has become a tie between the stories of a particular city and the subjects that I paint. I want viewers to feel as though they can walk right into one of my pieces.”
Teresa paints what we see every day. She usually chooses to pluck her paintings from what is right in front of her face, drawing on memories of scenes from her childhood. Teresa grew up in the blue collar city of Rochester, NY.
“My bedroom window looked out at Kodak Park’s smoke stacks,” she recalls. “Cities are full of interesting slices of life: the backside row homes well worn in and passed on from family to family; the alleys with the kicked-over crates and sweaty cooks bent over smoking their Take-5 cigarettes; the soaring high yet slightly crooked homes that housed royalty once falling down piece by piece unable to support the years that have passed without care.”
Lisa & Ivan Kaplan – Kaplans Fine Jewelry
Custom jewelry is an artform all its own. Ivan and Lisa Kaplan have been enhancing this meticulous process to ensure each piece at Kaplans Fine Jewelry is crafted to perfection.
The making of jewelry is a creative blend between functional design and beautiful aesthetic—a combination that creates something truly remarkable. “We customize jewelry for each client, making it something unique and special to them,” says Lisa. “We create a design and bring it into reality.”
“We love what we do,” adds Ivan. “It’s not work when you wake up and look forward to going into the office for the day—and that’s always how we’ve approached our business. I love working with my hands and specifically identifying a problem and then coming up with a solution.”
Both Lisa and Ivan are focused on making each piece of jewelry striking and memorable. The crafting of each design is intentional and always has the customer’s needs in mind.
As far as finding motivation, the Kaplan team noted their high standard for dedication. “Do what you love and put in the hard work and eventually it will pay off,” says Lisa. “Do right by the people that support you and you’ll make customers, friends, and family for life.”
Diane Dailey Allsman – Mixed Media
Diane Dailey Allsman paints to feel free. Her deeply emotional, stream-of-consciousness art is a way for her to express her own secrets and emotions as she lives with depression. Diane challenges viewers to not only look, but also to see—to feel their own emotions and secrets reflected back to them through her bold brush strokes.
“Using the dry brush technique allows me to work quickly, accessing my raw emotions, while moving about the work,” says Diane. “And so go my secrets from their safe place, deep inside, to the canvas. Usually a dry brush rendering of any intruding thought or emotion turned into color, texture, and medium. Raw emotion, now outside of myself and a physical work of art.”
Diane’s main goal through her painting is self expression and knowledge through stream of consciousness. “Look at the images, color, and texture that made it past my censoring thoughts, and I stand naked and in full view,” says Diane. “The artist paints what she sees; the viewer then sees what they see.”
Mary Manning & Elizabeth Taylor – Archival Framers
Opened in 1975, the Visual Expansion Gallery by Mary Manning and Elizabeth Taylor has been consistent in providing the community with beautiful, handcrafted custom framing and a space to experience gorgeous, local artwork.
“Custom framing not only protects and displays art, but, when done correctly, it should enhance the art,” says Mary. “We work closely with clients to pick the perfect combination of framing components like matting, glazing, and frame moulding.”
Visual Expansion Gallery showcases local and regional artwork and helps customers identify frames that truly make any work of art shine.
The team at Visual Expansion Gallery is thankful to be part of Chester County, where so many individuals are encouraged to cultivate creativity.
The gallery features a variety of artists specializing in watercolor, oil & acrylic, etching, and much more. As a note to these and other artists, Mary and Elizabeth shared some insight.
“Respect your artwork and know that the framing of artwork can do so much to enhance the work when done correctly. Measure twice and cut once!”
Rhoda & Michael Kahler – Mixed Media and Sculpture
Even after 18 years of making art professionally, Rhoda Kahler continues to thrive on innovation. As a sculptor and artist, she cites Gaudi and Isaiah Zagar as big influences on her craft and aesthetic.
“I like to explore concepts and ideas through clay,” says Rhoda. “I am addicted to the way this ‘moldable earth’ rips, folds, and receives textures. I roll out slabs of clay, then impress them with meaningful found objects to create images and texture. During the drying stage, I address the clay with layers of slips, glazes, oxides, and glass. Finally, I allow it to dry and then fire it slowly in my kiln to over 2,200 degrees. It is so beautiful and exciting to me.”
Whether in sculpture or in tile art, Rhoda creates a variety of vibrant colors and unique, meticulous patterns. Rhoda’s husband Mike has also started to pursue his own creative passion— metalwork. Together, Mike and Rhoda are building a sculpture garden and will be exhibiting together for the first time at the Art Trust in January 2019.
Rhoda consistently keeps encouraging others to follow their creative passions. “Don’t stop creating,” she says,“Keep making art!”
Holly Layman – Mixed Media Sculpture
Sponsored by Artistic Eyeware
Holly Layman is a three dimensional mixed media sculpture artist whose art represents a world uninterrupted by technology. She often uses antique and found objects to express her message. Holly is creating bigger, more elaborate sculptures with each collection that embody the experiences of her community.
“My hope is for my body of work to represent a view where all is right with the world,” she says.
Through her sculpture, Holly strives to achieve a balance between abstraction and realism. “I want my art to be unique and abstract enough that one can take their own experiences and relate,” she says. “But it also needs to be realistic enough that I can control the scope of the viewer’s imagination.”
Holly spent years working as a web and graphic designer until she began to crave work that was more hands-on. She doesn’t look back, except to offer advice to other young artists balancing work with their creative drive. Her advice: “Always follow your heart. Not the money. Even if it is a temporary stage in life to create what pays the bills, always remember what gets you excited and look for ways to get to that stage of your life at every turn.”
Holly’s work is exclusively shown at Artistic Eyewear, her husband Robert’s boutique that brings art and fashion into their selection of frames.
Heather Davis – Painter
Local people and places inspire the realistic oil paintings created by Heather Davis. She is well established as a landscape painter with a signature use of brilliant color to produce a backlit effect.
Her new solo exhibition “Admiration of Souls”, opening November 8 at the Allinson Gallery at CCAA, will display new landscape works and debut a host of large situational portraits featuring inspirational personalities of the Brandywine Valley. The show’s title speaks not only to Heather’s admiration for local art giants, but also for the landscapes and iconic structures created by the inhabitants of this region long ago.
“Painting itself turned out to be my language of choice,” says Heather. “The desire to truly create fine art at an elevated level is the goal. Being true to my own values of craftsmanship, beauty, and importance allows me to make competent work of real value.”
Heather owned and operated her own building firm long before turning to painting full-time.
“I would encourage other artists to commit wholeheartedly to their efforts and never settle for good enough,” she says. “Always move toward a better solution no matter how difficult it feels. I believe this is what makes art really great.”
The Designers Behind Fig – Fig Industries
Behind Fig magazine, there is a small but mighty team of creatives—designers, writers, photographers, marketers, and community builders—bringing West Chester to life with digital, social, and print communication.
Each page in the printed arts section (as well as the rest of the magazine) started as a mere concept and was executed with an eye for detail through photography, creative direction, storytelling, and design.
At the heart of Fig Industries is a passion for great design, a spirit for relationship building, and an abundance of creativity.