Columbus, Ohio USA
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Three Decades of Decorative Art
Heart of Ohio Tole Chapter's 30th Convention
By Margaret Marten
August 2010 Issue

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A painted bra by Mary Wiseman of Sterling, Mich., will be sold by silent auction to benefit the Stefanie Spielman Fund.

The Heart of Ohio Tole Chapter will hold its 30th anniversary celebration at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, 400 N. High St. the week of August 9 through 14. HOOT (their affectionate acronym) is the Columbus chapter of The Society of Decorative Painters, an international organization based in Wichita, Kansas, founded in 1972, currently with over 22,000 members.

Back in 1975, the Wichita organization received two separate calls from Columbus about forming a chapter. The two local groups of women eventually met together in a bank on the east side of Columbus and became the founders of what has now become a 30-year-old organization boasting a membership of hundreds of enthusiastic students, teachers and practitioners of decorative painting over the years. Decorative painting is a centuries-old art form that includes tole painting (from which the Columbus organization derives its name), referring to the tradition of painting on tin surfaces – the word ‘tole’ is French for ‘tin.’ Toleware would include utensils, coffee pots, and household items, but the concept of decorative painting more broadly expands into other areas such as wooden objects and furniture: tables, chairs, jewelry boxes. Artists now use the styles and techniques of the past to embellish materials and trends of today.

Any surface or medium is within the scope of contemporary decorative painting, according to Phyllis Gibbs, longtime member of HOOT, “If you come to our convention, you’ll see people coming in clothes that they’ve painted. If anybody’s walking with a cane, they have probably painted the cane. We’ll paint on anything if it holds still long enough.” Wall painting and murals also fall within the realm of the decorative art form.

Hoot members have taken a very innovative approach to surfaces this year with their “Painted Bras for Breast Cancer Awareness” project. Gibbs came up with the idea after learning about another fundraiser featuring quilted bras. The painted bras, created by members of HOOT, will be sold in a silent auction to benefit the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research. Guests are invited to vote for their favorite painted bra, and a People’s Choice Award will be presented to the artist of the most popular one. In
addition, there will be art items raffled for the fundraiser – an antique cracker box, wildlife table, and quilts – all meticulously painted by HOOT members.

Sharing their time and talent and resources with those in need is an important function of this organization. Members recently decorated 35 flower urns for “Plant Pride on Parsons,” a cleanup event brightening up the Parsons Avenue corridor from Livingston Avenue south to Marion Road on the east side of Columbus. The Memory Box Program, another philanthropic project, supplies decorative boxes to bereaved parents of infants lost to miscarriage or early death. After a loss, families often return home with no child and only a few precious keepsakes given to them by the nursing staff, usually in a paper or plastic bag, so the decorative boxes serve to humanize that difficult transition. Over 4000 boxes have been donated since HOOT began participating in the program in 1998. In addition, HOOT donates art supplies to a number of charitable organizations as well as painting murals and selling artwork for fundraising events.

Contemporary decorative painting is considered a highly teachable art form, and the six-day convention will offer painting classes at all skill levels in a wide variety of mediums. Gibbs, who has been teaching for almost 35 years, says that nobody has to know how to paint to begin to learn how to do this. “You don’t have to know how to draw to do it,” she said. “You can use patterns. A lot of people are not designers, but they can certainly learn to paint using the techniques that we teach.” Her favorites are beginners and intermediate students. “I like to get them hooked,” she joked.

Some educators or teachers become well-known for certain things, she added. “We have those who do beautiful animal paintings, some who specialize in landscape painting or still life, some with florals, very whimsical things or cutesy, so we have something for everyone.”

An invitation to teach in Japan was an unexpected perk Gibbs picked up as an active member of HOOT. A Japanese student who studied with her in the states later arranged for classes to be held in her homeland. Gibbs made the trip overseas five times, not only broadening her understanding of Japanese culture but her circle of contacts as well. “A lot of the friends that I have now,” she said, “I never would have had if it hadn’t been for painting.”

At this year’s convention, an exhibit sales floor with close to 100 booths will display craft supplies for decorative painting, scrap booking, stenciling, and many other hobbies. And, of course, there will be art exhibits, painting demonstrations, and a gift shop – all open to the public. Registration is required for the classes, but everyone is welcome to stop by August 12 - 14 to browse, make purchases, and ask questions.

“Our annual convention is like a big family reunion,” said Gibbs. “It’s just so much fun to get to go see everybody who we haven’t seen for a year.”


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