Four exceptional artists bring their talents and passions to timeless objects of beauty and, in some cases, whimsy.
S. Kirk Walsh
Four exceptional artists bring their talents and passions to timeless objects of beauty and, in some cases, whimsy.
From the nondescript exterior of 1906 Miriam Avenue in East Austin, one would never know that the city’s most accomplished bookmaker, Jace Graf of Cloverleaf Studio, produces handcrafted, limited-edition books of all shapes and sizes within the beige-colored, cinder-block building. Graf’s bookbinding studio includes four modest rooms with the necessary equipment, such as cast-iron book presses, a foil-stamping press, and a guillotine cutter. On one worktable, Graf hand-sews an intricate binding of thread and vellum for a limited-edition photography book that commemorates the 15-year anniversary of the Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago.
In another room, a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is being assembled; the text is accompanied by original woodcut prints by Mexican artist Artemio Rodriguez. (The building is also shared with Slugfest Printmaking Workshop and a digital letterpress outfit, both of whom Graf collaborates with.) Other projects have included a limited-edition run of Five Poems by Noble Prize winner Toni Morrison with illustrations by Kara Walker. “This is not something you can order at Barnes & Noble,” says Graf. “It’s a different animal altogether.”
“At a young age, I was given to a mythical attitude toward books,” continues Graf, an avid book collector himself, “and always thought of the book as the highest form of expression.” Given his passions, Graf earned a graduate degree in book arts at Mills College in Oakland, California, in 1990, after working in commercial printing, typesetting, and design. After his studies, he worked for Craig Jensen of BookLab in San Marcos, which was considered the foremost hand bookbindery in the country. In 1996, Graf decided to branch out on his own and start Cloverleaf Studio. Over the years, Graf has developed a particular set of skills that can be used for a number of different applications—pitch presentations, structures for objects, beautiful books.
“People have been predicting the demise of books for a while now,” adds Graf. “There’s always going to be an interest in this traditional form.”
Video by POTLUCK Arts & Music / ptlck.com
While growing up in Dallas, Kate Hersch—owner of August Morgan, a purveyor of embroidered linens, vintage pillows, and other handmade products—first learned how to embroider from her grandmother during weekend overnights at her home in Fort Worth. Together, they made simple dresses and shirts, and Kate’s grandmother smocked her Easter dresses. Now, several decades later, Hersch always has some kind of needlepoint piece in progress. “I can never get on a plane without a project,” she says with a smile. “I need to have something to do with my hands because I can’t sit still.”
Hersch developed her visual aesthetic while studying art history at the University of Texas. After graduation, she moved to New York City and worked in the bid department at Sotheby’s for four years. Eventually, Hersch and her husband moved back to Austin, where the couple started their family.
During the intervening years, Hersch’s needlepoint obsession never left her. In 2006, she started her business by “rescuing” vintage pillows that she seeks out at shops and online sites. After restoring the design or completing the needlepoint kit herself, Hersch hires a seamstress to assemble a canvas back, an invisible zipper, with her August Morgan label tucked inside. In her current home office, a four-level bookcase extends across one wall and is filled with a colorful array of pillows—from geometric designs to playful patterns of animals from the late Sixties. Her line of elegant wares has expanded to linen cocktail napkins and bar towels, reversible blankets of woven cotton (featuring majestic elephants), and colorful acrylic serving trays that coordinate with the napkins.
Among all of the items, Hersch’s cocktail napkins are her top sellers, and are available in boutiques all over the country and more recently, in Tokyo and Munich. Embroidered animals and mischievous sayings bring the simple white linens to life: a colorful reindeer with a red scarf (Olive a Martini), two bumblebees (Buzzed), a pair of pink zebras (Seeing Double). “It seems like a Southern thing, like monogramming,” says Hersch, “but the napkins also appeal to a sense of fun.”
Molly O’Halloran, a map illustrator, designer, and artist, works out of her home office in 1915 bungalow on East Second Street. Her intimate workspace features two desks—one with two computers and a second with a surface built around a rectangular light box. A tight bouquet of pencils and pens sit in a nearby cup. Rulers and rolls of tape hang from the wall, and metal shelves house a variety of inks.
O’Halloran clicks on the light-table switch and demonstrates to a visitor the art of drawing maps. She often begins with a copyright-free base map, and traces the shape and other pertinent details, using a thin sheet of tracing paper as an overlay. Then, backlighting the traced image, she draws the map onto paper. (O’Halloran often works at the table with other lights out and in the evenings.) Unnecessary map details are ignored or erased later. “Basically making a map illustration is about eliminating information so that the map focuses on what the author wants to show,” O’Halloran explains. The use of ink and watercolors comes later in the process when the image is closer to being realized on paper. Lettering is often drawn separately and added to the map in Photoshop.
The artist first learned how to draw maps when she worked for archaeology teams. Her first expedition was to Mogollon Rim in Arizona’s Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. “I drew site maps on grid paper while out on the field,” O’Halloran says, who developed her drawing skills as an architecture student at Notre Dame. “I would draw the creek, the mountains, the ruins, and my supervisor would come and say, ‘Look at this. Your creek is going the wrong way.’ It was a great way to learn on the spot.”
After she decided not to pursue an advanced degree in archeology, O’Halloran naturally gravitated toward publishing after having worked on the design and publishing of research studies. Sixteen years ago, she decided to see if she could develop her own business and got her first job creating a fictional map endpaper for Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land(Counterpoint Press). Since then, O’Halloran has illustrated maps for numerous projects—from books for Knopf to archeology maps for the School of Advanced Research press to a map that illustrated various locations of Tsukiji fish market that were featured in Mark Hall’s 2012 documentary, Sushi: The Global Catch.
“I enjoy the aspect of producing something historical,” she says. “It’s like leaving something behind.” In the case of Tsukiji, come the end of this year, O’Halloran’s map will become something of an artifact since the legendary 78-year-old fish market will be moving locations to the nearby Koto Ward.
“I always feel like I’m learning,” says O’Halloran of her work. “A few square inches of map can tell you a lot about relationships and the elements.”
Along the quiet stillness of downtown Smithville, Texas, there is a whimsical storefront, near the intersection of Main Street and Third Street, named Shangri-la Emporium and Tom-Kat Paper Dolls. Step inside and you will likely find 84-year-old Tom Tierney hard at work on his paper-doll illustrations. Having drawn and published over 500 paper-doll books during the past four decades, Tierney’s meticulous illustrations are both sophisticated and enchanting, and speak to an artistic sensibility of another time.
With distinctive blue eyes, Tierney ambles across the shiny wood floors of the 2,000-square-foot space: A corner features a tiered display of his paper-doll books among a few of his movie posters. Further down, along a wall, there is a collection of tin dollhouses from the Fifties amid cast-iron pans and porcelain figurines. As Tierney gives a visitor a tour of the building, he provides a lively commentary about his extraordinary career: After studying fine arts at the University of Texas, the Beaumont native worked for Scarbrough’s in Austin and Battelstein’s in Houston during the Fifties. Later, in 1956, Tierney decided to move to New York City, and worked as a freelance illustrator for major department stores—from Sears and J.C. Penny’s to Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller.
During his New York City years, Tierney had the good fortune of befriending many literary and cultural icons of the day, including Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, and Andy Warhol. (Tierney met Warhol because they both worked as illustrators for the department store Franklin Simon.)
As the demand for fashion illustration started to decline during the Eighties, Tierney fortuitously fell into paper-doll illustrations when he created dolls of Jean Harlow and Clark Gable for his mother’s Christmas present, and a literary agent noticed the dolls at Tierney’s annual holiday party and thought a series would make for a popular book. The agent was right, a publishing deal was struck, and Tierney went on to create over 500 paper-doll books—from vampires and voodoo women to Chanel and Alexander McQueen.
“You can see more detail in the hand-drawn illustrations than you can with what is drawn with a click of a computer,” explains Tierney. Currently, he produces about four or five books a year. “I’m lucky because I can draw men, women, and children,” he adds. “Not everyone can do all three.”
Upstairs, in his modest studio, across from his drawing table, a black-and-white portrait of Tierney taken by Richard Avedon hangs on the wall. On another wall, paintings by Tierney and a signed print by Etré, the Russian-born French artist and designer, are displayed. Hundreds of original plates of his illustrations are protected in plastic sleeves and stored in vertical slots, like vinyl records.
“It’s been a magic carpet ride,” Tierney says of his career. “I’ve met so many fantastic people. I hope it continues.”
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