December 10, 1999

Barkhamsted Artist Preserves Memories

When the artist Carol Wallace was a young woman living in Pennsylvania, she yearned to travel. Seeing no other way to achieve that goal, she trained for the airline industry and found a job in Hartford. Scant months after moving to the city, she met and married Richard Wallace, and the couple happily toured the United States and Europe for two years before moving to Barkhamsted to raise their family. Now, decades later, Mrs. Wallace is again achieving her dream of traveling the country, but this time in pursuit of her art. She recently entered into collaboration with Crane & Co., Inc., paper and Excelsior Printing of North Adams, Mass., to create the Preserve America Collection of custom note cards and stationery. She now travels to locations from Portland, Maine to Beverly Hills, California meeting clients and doing sketches. All of the properties depicted in the series are to be historic buildings or are located in historically significant areas.

Mrs. Wallace began her Preserve America series in 1997 with the production of a Bucks County poster. It was an appropriate choice of area to launch the project. "I was born and raised in Bucks County" she related, "so it seemed that there was no other choice but to learn my history. Everywhere we went, it was a constant history lesson." She says her passion for preserving the memory of those places began early. Over the past 24 years, she has completed commissions that included watercolor paintings of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.; a book jacket design for Cobb's Pierce Pond Camps, one of America's last remaining old-time fishing camps; a poster for the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.; and work for James Biddle, past president of the National Trust for Historical Preservation. The last job included a representation of his ancestral estate, Andalusia on the Delaware, near Philadelphia. In years past, she did many Litchfield county sketches for this newspaper.

To date, Mrs. Wallace's Preserve America collection includes the Bucks County poster as well as another depicting 30 Vermont Country stores. "I wanted to do something to create an awareness of the country store, so I made a two-by-three foot watercolor montage that highlights 30 stores in Vermont," she said. That poster was introduced by Gov. Howard Dean at a press conference held at the Florence Cilley General Store, part of the Calvin Coolidge Birthplace, and is now in every public and private library collection in the state. In addition to the posters, she had created card series depicting Cape May, N.J., Valle Crucis, N.C., Route 66 in Arizona, and the Berkshires. Each card or poster has an accompanying narrative about the sites depicted.

She said she sees the Preserve America Collection as "a unique way to record the nation's historic heartbeat," adding that cards and posters from the series are used by the Smithsonian Institutions and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for educational purposes. Her posters are in the Library of Congress. Cards are sold through museum gift shops and gift stores.

With the new collaboration with Crane, the series promises to grow by leaps and bounds. A recent chat with a visitor was interrupted constantly by the ringing of the telephone as potential clients called to discuss production of cards. "It's been like that since Crane announced the collection," she reported. She pulled out a 13-page, single-spaced list of potential sites to be painted. She developed the file of possible locations in the years before she began her association with Crane, and those on it receive the Crane brochure advertising the series. If the majority of the sites are to be painted, Mrs. Wallace will be busy traveling and painting for years in the future. "The Biltmore Estate will soon have its card published, and we've already heard from The Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale and from the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. The director of the Natchez Trace National Historic Site is applying for a grant for paintings to tell the story of transportation on the Trace, and we are in negotiations with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation and the American Farmland Trust," she said. " We've got a lot of good things currently in negotiation." The need to view those sites and to discuss the projects with clients would seem an intrusion on the artist's creative time, but she says she coordinates her trips to make the maximum use of her time. "If we have jobs in California, I will wait until I have a specific number lined up before going out there," she said. "I will plan to be gone for a week or two and then to come back with sketches and photographs. "

"I think I am a fairly prolific artist," she continued. "In one month I did 20 black-and-white sketches and a watercolor for my Adirondacks series. On the other hand, I worked 60 hours on the Biltmore painting because of the detail. I try to do my research in advance so I am prepared."

She said her association with Crane began after a trip to California to meet with a client. That client put her in touch with Crane and Excelsior, the paper company's printing division. A meeting was set up between Mrs. Wallace and company officials. "They asked me if I wanted to take the Preserve America collection to a higher level. Crane has a lot of tradition behind it, a sense of history, and wants to take that extra step in giving personal service to its clients," the artist reported.

Indeed, Crane & Co. was established in 1801 in Dalton, Mass. by paper maker Zenas Crane. His father, Stephen Crane, owned one of the first paper mills in Massachusetts and in 1775 made paper on which Colonial currency was printed. Since 1879 the firm has supplied the paper for U.S. currency. In addition to paper used for money, the firm, through its Excelsior division, has a long history of printing invitations for such events as Presidential inaugurations, the opening of Radio City Music Hall and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Among the firm's clients are Cartier and Tiffany & Company. For all those reasons, Carol Wallace found it a perfect choice for extending the reach of her series.

When clients decide to explore the idea of producing personalized cards and stationery, they contact Crane for details. If they choose to continue, Mrs. Wallace then meets with the clients to discuss the artwork and design. "My airfare to and from the locations (is) taken care of by the client," she said, "and the hotels usually put me up as their guest while I am there. Needless to say, I have had a lot of offers from people who want to carry my easel for me."

While on location, Mrs. Wallace and the client decide what kind of artwork they want. Often the three-panel cards have two watercolor paintings and one or more pen-and-ink drawings. Mrs. Wallace works from sketches she makes in the field and from photographs supplied by the client. Then the artwork is completed and the design of the card has been decided, the client is given a chance to review it before the printing is done. The process usually takes eight to 12 weeks.
The client takes possession of the original artwork and can use it for other purposes when the cards have been printed, but Mrs. Wallace retains some control over its future use. "These people are paying for the artwork and want to be able to use it," she said. "But they are supposed to let me know what they plan to do."

She added that she is registering Preserve America as a trademark and has retained the services of a patent attorney. "It seems funny, since both my husband my son are attorneys," she said with a smile, "but this is a specialized area (of law)."

In addition to her new card line, Mrs. Wallace continues her busy career creating fine art. She is represented by galleries in Massachusetts and North Carolina and is to have an exhibition of her farm paintings next summer at The Silo Gallery in New Milford.