Thursday, February 10, 2000
Arts in America
Rosemary Jette

From Barns to Barbershops, History in a Small Format

BARKHAMSTED, Conn. - The light and shadow that splash across the pastures of Bucks County, Pa., or strike the lavish ironwork in New Orleans have always inspired the sorts of images that Carol Wallace creates in her watercolors. So, too, have the historic landmarks of America.

The artist has designed a series of note cards, stationery and posters depicting such historic places as the Plaza Hotel in New York, the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa. the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., and even Angel Delgadillo's small barbershop on Route 66 in Seligman, Ariz. The artist started the project in 1997 with a single poster of historic Bucks County and a multicard series depicting old hotels in Cape May, N.J. The Bucks County poster is in the Library of Congress's permanent poster collection, and the Smithsonian Institution's Cultural History Division is using each of the note cards to document how the sites depicted looked at a particular time. The featured landmarks and scenic sites raise money by selling the cards and posters, known as the Preserve America Collection.

It is not uncommon for artists to help landmarks and scenic sites raise money through the sale of their work. Woody Jackson of Middlebury, Vt., perhaps best known for enhancing the packaging of Ben & Jerry's ice cream with cow images, boosts the American Farmland Trust with reproductions of his rural scenes on T-shirts and tote bags, and Will Moses, a great-grandson of Grandma Moses, does similar work for the Bennington Museum in Vermont.

Ms. Wallace's series gained momentum when Crane & Company, the stationers, began marketing the collection in October. Brochures were mailed to people who oversee 500 historic sites, many on the National Register of Historic Places, inviting them to commission Ms. Wallace to create a watercolor or pen-and-ink-drawing of their sites. Ms. Wallace charges $750 to $1,000 for a 15-by-11-inch watercolor and $600 to $800 for a pen-and-ink drawing. The site's owner then pays Crane to print the cards, which sell for about $3 each at the places they commemorate. Crane also prints United States currency and printed invitations for such events as the dedication of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

"I think it's great that my work is in galleries, but I feel through the card and poster line I can share my experiences of these places with others in a way that goes beyond individual paintings," Ms. Wallace said. "It naturally leads into wanting to preserve these historic properties. And I can share my favorite places - old barns and stonework, Victorian architecture, country stores." "I feel like I'm looking into the face of an elderly person when I look at the veneer of a barn," she said. "I see character, interest and tradition."

Ms. Wallace grew up in the Pennsylvania village of Tradesville, which during her childhood had just seven houses and a country store. Nearby were the Mercer Museum, with its large collection of early Americana, as well as the Washington Crossing Historic Park and the Pearl S. Buck home in Perkasie, Pa., which is a National Historic Landmark. She describes the cards as a series of "mini-history lessons." Ms. Wallace, who lives here and works out of a studio in her home and another one nearby in New Hartford, Conn., travels with a camera and her briefcase-size wooden French easel. She has ventured as far north as the boardwalks of Ketchikan, Alaska, and as far south as the funky Half-Shell Market in Key West, Florida. Sometimes she paints on the spot; other times she takes photographs and does the finished work in one of her studios.

The collaboration with Crane started with a Berkshires series of cards. The Berkshires Visitors' Bureau helped Ms. Wallace identify her subjects - historic landmarks that included the Hancock Shaker Village; Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville; Blantyre, a Tudor-style inn; Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Chesterwood, the studio home of the sculptor Daniel Chester French; and Naumkeag, a mansion designed by the architect Stanford white with gardens.

Ms. Wallace said her challenge was to interpret each site in a new and personal way. "When I do a scene I gravitate to certain objects, perhaps antiques, that are of interest to me," she said. "Maybe I will highlight a patch of warm wood or the intricacies of ironwork. I highlight moods. Mood is very important to portray. I strive for strong graphic composition, rich colors, textures and forms that invite the viewer into the picture."

Much of her other work is in private and corporate collections. James Biddle, the past president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, commissioned her to paint his ancestral estate, Andalusia, in Pennsylvania. She is represented by the Lenox Gallery of Fine Art in Lenox, Mass., and the Pope's Gallery in Charlotte, N.C.

The Preserve America Collection will include a category called Farms Across America. The first cards commissioned for the series resulted from a collaboration between the American Farmland Trust and Skitch Henderson, the former band and orchestra leader, and his wife, Ruth. The couple preserved the Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford, Conn., by converting one of the farm's dairy barns into their home and another into a cooking school, store and art gallery.

Ms. Wallace seeks advice from historical commissions and preservation organizations on what properties to include in her broader continuing series. The note cards and posters have narratives that document the history of the sites depicted.

Crane and Ms. Wallace are negotiating with such places as the Jimmy Carter Historic Site in Plains, Ga., the National Historic Route 66 Federation in California, and the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo, Miss. Many more historic sites need her attention, Ms. Wallace said. "It's my dream to work on the Natchez Trace," for example, she said, "to understand its personal history."

This article also appeared in
North Carolina
Preservation Is In The Cards
March 5, 2000