December 10 1999

Local Artist Carol Wallace Preserves History

BARKHAMSTED - The phrase "timeless art" conjures up images of beauty and serenity long since past, yet preserved in the form of sculptures, music and paintings. It is a description understood by all and greatly valued by craftsmen. Local artist, Carol Wallace is taking that description to new heights by using her highly respected talents to capture the grace and elegance of historical structures, treasures, and settings, while, at the same time, educating citizens about America's property.

For the last few years, Mrs. Wallace has been painting the ageless beauty of the area's old buildings and unique architecture and reproducing the finished art onto stationery and note cards. Area residents know her art to be splendid representations of significant landmarks with informative descriptions about the property on the back of the card. Her products are not only pleasant to look at, but accessible and affordable.

When her work caught the eye of a successful producer of fine paper, new doors began to open for Mrs. Wallace. Excelsior Printing Company, a division of Crane & Co. Inc., offered Mrs. Wallace the opportunity to take her idea, "The Preserve America Collection" across the country.

Through this partnership, a brochure was developed and distributed to 400 historic addresses in the United States. Customers, mostly exclusive hotels, inns, and historical societies listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, can have their cherished buildings captured in an original watercolor painting or a pen-and-ink sketch and then "preserved" onto note cards, stationery, books, calendars, and anything else along those lines. If the client desires, the items can be sold to visitors as a means of generating income to maintain the historic property. Along with each customized depiction of property, comes a carefully written accounting of its history.

"We are trying to do something good by putting the history on every card," Mrs. Wallace said. "After all, they could get sent all over the world."

Mrs. Wallace's acute interest in America's past began when she was just a child. Growing up in Bucks County Pa., where many of the country's critical beginnings took place, history was part of everyday life. "I was raised in an historic area." she said "I lived in a village with seven houses and a country store. The big thrill of the day was walking to the country store."

Residing in Barkhamsted for the last 28 years with her husband, Richard "Rick" Wallace, an attorney, Mrs. Wallace's talents have been commissioned by frequently visited spots such as the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the Maine Wilderness Watershed Trust, Hopkins Vineyard, the Adirondack Museum and Litchfield Hills Travel Council. Her portrayals of landscapes and structures have been used for brochures, wine labels, posters, and book jackets, as well as for her own featured gallery art shows.

"She has been doing this kind of work for a very long time, " said Ruth Henderson, co-owner of The Silo in New Milford, who has exhibited Mrs. Wallace's work. "She is a very good illustrator and watercolorist. Those two don't often come together and they are a great combination. Carol also has a good sense of her surroundings. You can feel her love for the land and for nature in her work."

In 1995, while visiting a country store in Vermont, Mrs. Wallace overheard a conversation among the locals regarding a major department store chain which was moving into the area. The patrons of the little shop were concerned the local country stores would not survive. "Listening to the love in those people's voices really touched something in me" she said. "When I got home, I told Rick "I have to do something. As an artist, you have to do good things with your talent."

That desire to "do good" resulted in a 2-by-3-foot poster of 30 Vermont country stores. The poster was introduced by Gov. Howard Dean at a special event held at the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge. To be sure the state's school children appreciate the significance of country shops, a poster was placed in every library and school.

"What makes Carol different is that she really cares about what she is doing," said Janet Serra of the Litchfield Hills Travel Council. "Her talent as an artist is enhanced by her sensitivity of our country's heritage and it shows in her work."

Following the success in Vermont, Mrs. Wallace began to work with other historic areas, including western Massachusetts, where she developed "The Berkshire Series." Since Excelsior is located in North Adams, Mass., it was just a matter of time before the artist attracted their attention. "She had a great idea, but it was too much for her to handle all by herself," said Julie Westervelt, public relations coordinator at Gargan Communications Group, who handled the initial marketing of the collection. "Now with the partnership with Excelsior, she can concentrate on the part that she loves."

Though the brochures were only recently sent out, the response has been tremendous and has surpassed everyone's expectations. To date, Excelsior has heard back from some elite and well-known places, including The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California, The Plaza Hotel in New York, and The Phoenician Hotel in Arizona. "We are very excited about it and very taken aback by how successful it is going to be," said Tom Jammalo, sales representative for Excelsior. "It is looking to be so successful that we are dedicating more time to it."

Watching her talents grow while maintaining a home and raising two children in a small town, friends and neighbors take special pride in Mrs. Wallace's success. After 31 years of marriage, Mr. Wallace has been her strongest supporter and had no trouble articulating his wife's achievements. "Carol's art is a reflection of her own life - vibrant yet reserved, simple yet meaningful. She paints with the same passion and sensitivity with which she lives. Her art is indeed a mirror of her soul."