Hidden talent: East coast decorative painter moves West
May 9, 2008
The grandest house that muralist, decorative and restoration artist Jeanie Garrison has ever painted was not a house at all. It was the New York State Capitol.
For the 2002 project, she painted four-by-six foot sections at a time on 24-foot-high walls, repairing the damage done 60 years ago when the state decided to terrorist-proof the building.
"In the 1950s, after a terror scare, the government wanted to make the building more secure, and to do that, they hacked away at beautiful carvings and lowered the ceilings, so you never saw all of this beautiful artwork," she remembers. "It was a really neat project because it was history. It felt like a treasure hunt."
Garrison says she was awarded the commission after a paint contractor for the capitol’s renovation saw her work in a show home in New York. At the time she had nearly a decade of experience in marbleizing, graining, decorative and faux painting home interiors projects that often required her to learn about the history and architecture of historic buildings.
Three years ago, Garrison moved with her husband for the mountain lifestyle and to ski. But here, home and commercial projects are different. Buildings are newer, so few need restoring, she says, and homeowners tend to request more faux painting than the patterned wall designs in demand in New York. A new challenge has been to perfect the art of Venetian plaster, a popular Park City wall treatment. But, "in this business, you’re always learning," she says.
Garrison is a self-taught artist who first picked up a brush at the age of 10 when a family friend recognized her talent gave her a kit from his paint shop in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she was born. She began to paint semi-professionally in 1987 after she learned Rosemaling, the ancient art of Norwegian decorative painting. Her work would complement the craft of her first husband a Norwegian cabinetmakers, she says. She would paint furniture and grandfather clocks and take the pieces to craft shows.
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"It’s very stylized and disciplined and that’s where I learned that repetition in design, though somewhat tedious, can be really beautiful," she explains.
Then, in 1993, a friend who made a living painting décor inside homes taught her about wall treatments and began referring clients to her. Her work included recreating the large-scale jungle paintings of 18th century painter Jean Jacques Rousseau to creating trompe l’oeil views of the Mediterranean to ceilings of show homes. She also began to learn about art restoration, volunteering at the New York State Historic Preservation Offices are located. The office restores work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and homes owned by the Vanderbilt family. Mainly she worked on paper old drawings and maps. Using her training she later repaired a 300-year-old paper mural in a home in Glenn Falls, New York, that sustained heavy water damage.
A few years ago, Garrison earned a bachelor of science degree in studio art at Skidmore College after her three children had grown up. There, she painted on canvas, but, she confesses, it wasn’t as inviting as a wall or a ceiling. She longs to work on more homes, bringing rooms together with designs and colors that pick up on patterns in carpets, lace or objects.
"I seem to relate to painting in homes now when I paint on canvas, it feels restrictive," she says. "I like painting seeing the designs emerge and pulling people’s furniture together with the walls and making everything work."
To contact Jeanie Garrison, call (435) 657-0751 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about her work, visit jeaniegarrison.com.