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Art can be dangerous

Dan Bischoff, Of the Record staff
Marianne Cone demonstrates how she uses a vinyl glove on her left hand to prevent unwanted toxins from making contact to her skin.
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To the layman, art may seem like an innocent, safe activity. A hodgepodge of culture and admiration comes from learning about artists and then developing one’s own talents.

Aspiring artists, however, should listen to the potential dangers of the trade from experienced, technical painters and sculptors.

Gases, vapors and particles from many sources of art mediums can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and skin. If not careful, naïve artists may suffer the many effects from overexposure.

"Most artists don’t take the precautions of having well-ventilated studios, they tend to forgo their awareness towards that," said Holly Pendergast, a long-time Park City artist, who’s work is currently at the Phoenix Gallery. "A lot of artists are aware of (chemicals), but they say ‘I don’t have a lot of money for a studio,’ so they just paint in their living rooms."

Especially in the winter, artists may dismiss the importance of ventilation due to freezing temperatures.

"Open the windows and doors, especially in the home, even if it’s freezing so dress accordingly" said Bill Kranstover, a Park City artist whose welding and spray paint work is shown at the Iron Horse Gallery.

Over time, Pendergast has developed a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) from being exposed to various chemicals in her career. Pendergast is sensitive to low levels of chemicals. At one time, she was house-bound for 10 months, she said.

Though MCS is somewhat rare, "She’s an excellent example of what could happen after long-term use," Kranstover said.

Kranstover takes precautions and has yet to suffer from similar effects.

"I get high once in a while," Kranstover said with a laugh, "but other than that, I’ve experienced nothing really adverse or detrimental to my health."

However, Kranstover knows the danger of a languid approach to safety.

Symptoms such as MCS "are long range things," Kranstover said, "They don’t necessarily pop up the next day, this could be after years and years of handling it, if you’re abusive with it."

Pendergast’s symptoms didn’t develop overnight, usually she was careful but she can think back to a time when she wasn’t.

"In college I was really careless with the paint and I was in film around an enormous amount of chemicals," Pendergast said. "I would leave painting class and had a film over my eyes and my nose and throat would hurt. I thought everybody was the same way."

Kranstover takes many precautions and wears a mask and gloves with all of his work.

"Not one of those masks for dust but a ventilation mask and safety goggles," he said. "Always wear a mask and never smoke when you are around toxicity, especially around aerosol or propane anything flammable."

Kranstover is always prepared for a fire, especially with his welding work. He never welds in the house.

"I’ve had my share of fires in the shop so I keep a fire extinguisher and water around," Kranstover said. "Always be aware of where the flame is and what’s around it. When grinding, wear glasses and keep the sparks away from anything flammable, even rags."

Marianne Cone, a Park City native and dimensional oil artist who painted the mural at the Old Town transit center, pays attention to her safety as well.

"I’m aware of it, definitely," she said. "With oil paints, you want to have some good ventilation. I wear rubber, vinyl gloves to keep the oil paint off my hands so I don’t absorb it into my body."

Cone also said she wears a mask so she doesn’t breathe in fumes and particles from the masonite hardboard she cuts. She lets epoxy glue dry before she returns to the room and she immediately throws dirty rags and paper towels into a waste basket outside.

Being aware of toxic chemicals is a necessity now for Pendergast. She’s found ways to work on art again and she wants to share her experience with others.

"My goal, now that my health has improved so much, is to use my art as a vehicle to educate people about chemical safety," Pendergast said.

She feels that art safety is not emphasized enough in schools.

"We are taught in art school to use solvents to clean paint," Pendergast said. "That can actually pull it through their skin; you are using something toxic to clean something toxic. People can actually absorb more through their skin than through their digestive track."

She advises people to avoid the digestion and inhalation of solvents.

"Usually people’s first concern is the heavy metals in paint. There is lead in some whites, I usually advise people not to eat and paint at the same time and not cleaning their hands with solvents," Pendergast said.

Pendergast even went so far as buying a full-face respirator mask.

"Solvents can enter the bloodstream through their eyes," she said.

Through research, Pendergast has found a source of paint and mediums that do not have toxic qualities.

I’ve actually found some paints called Graham’s Pigment and Walnut," she said. "Graham’s Walnut oil paint is used by a lot of people who are chemically sensitive."

Pendergast said Graham’s uses honey in its oil instead of ingredients and fillers that can be toxic. Even watercolor, she said, has formaldehyde that can harm people. She also uses walnut oil to clean her paint and brushes.

"Walnut oil is on par with others. We’re taught there’s this one way to paint in art school and that’s not true," Pendergast said. "It took me a year and a half to find products I could use."

She also uses water crayons called "Caran d’ Ache" that she says create wonderful images.

"It sounds really juvenile," Pendergast said. "Most people won’t have problems with acrylics. Acrylics are a great option for the average person but for someone like me, I can’t touch them."

New and old artists should never compromise safety, Pendergast said.

"I don’t think it’s a bad idea for anyone," she said. "It’s a fine line between being safe and paranoid.

"Why not spend a few more dollars to feel better and safer. You don’t have to compromise skill in order to use safe products. If you feel sick after you paint, pay attention to that. Take precautions within reason. I’m a firm believer in prevention," she added.

Basic art safety rules:

* Always wear a quality mask and gloves.

* Make sure area is well ventilated with fans, windows and doors.

* Be aware of all chemicals used.

*Do not assume that any products are safe.

*Be aware and take precautions against fire.

For information on safety gear and materials, go to http://www.hollypendergast.com for a list of items that can be used.


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