Handmade Holidays

Whether on the tree or under it, hand-crafted art pieces make thoughtful gifts and make it easy to deck your halls this season. Meet a few local artisans making things merry and bright.

Story by Julia Owens | Photography by Josiah Connelly

The Holiday Shop at The Artisans Village Art Gallery in downtown Eatonton opens Nov. 30 and features a variety of locally-made items available for sale from noon-6 p.m. through Dec. 21. A preview sale begins Nov. 16 and runs through Nov. 29. For more information, visit theartistansvillage.org.

When Gail Vail was in the sixth grade, she took her first oil painting lesson. Even before that first lesson, Vail knew art was her natural inclination. For her, it just felt right. The chance to create just resonated.

Vail had little time to paint during her 30 years of working full-time in corporate America and raising a family. As her children got older, Vail was able to return to her palette and brushes. “It was like coming home,” she says.

When asked what she thought every artist should know about crafting their art, Vail did not hesitate in her reply, “Paint what inspires you as it will show in your final painting.”

To find that inspiration, or overcome “painter’s block,” Vail says that she cleans her studio, goes to a museum, looks for creative work online, or rifles through her boxes of photos.

Holiday inspiration comes easy. She has created a collection of handmade Christmas ornaments, each featuring one of her paintings, that will be for sale during The Holiday Shop at The Artisans Village Art Gallery.

Glass artists are typically considered to be either “hot” or “cold” – creating with or without the use of heat. Sandy Evans is a fused glass artist and she is hot. Evans uses a kiln to heat glass at such a high degree that it actually melts.

Evans, a member of The Artisans Village Guild and a juried artist of its gallery, is also an accomplished painter. Oil painting and fused glass are creative devices for expressing herself, yet Evans does not consider herself to be an artist.

“I am just striving to create,” she says.

Evans says she has always enjoyed working with her hands – shaping something into existence from what was just a thought. During the last ten years, she has learned the art and techniques of glass fusing. Through her painting and new expertise of glass fusing, Evans has found that the process of creating art is truly satisfying, rewarding, and surprising.

“I enjoy the challenge of creating a piece of art,” she says. “I want to encourage people to try it. They may just surprise themselves.”

Evans will be bringing a great assortment to the Holiday Shop of her glass fused work and several of her paintings. Last year, her pieces sold quickly, which surprised only Evans.

David Lang’s background as a scientist in the electronics and communication field fueled his natural drive to learn and to discover new ideas. His quest for an engaging and gratifying hobby led him back to his lifelong love of woodworking and became Lang’s link to wood turning as art.

Wood turning offered him many opportunities to have fun being creative. For Christmas, Lang is in a perpetual state of happiness as he finds it hard to keep up with his orders for festive miniature Christmas trees.

The trees, made by turning them on the lathe, are three-to-five inches high. Because of their simple design, the trees are inexpensive, making them an ideal gift for teachers or perfect for grouping together as table decorations. The unfinished trees can be painted and decorated and are great for keeping children busy on a hectic day.

Lang’s philosophy on his art? “Do what you love,” he says.

Obviously, he does with every turn.

In 1994, Kay Cowan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis – a diagnosis, she knew, would rob her of the many athletic activities she loved. Cowan knew she was going to have to choose a different path, a path that could coexist with MS.

At that time, she said she could “not even draw a good stick figure,” but a friend convinced her to join her in a beginning watercolor class.

“I never dreamt I could learn what I have and make paintings that others love,” says Cowan. Art became her new passion and her new path.

Even with the brusque and unexpected diagnosis, Cowan says that the switch from athletics to art has been a gradual process, entrusted to her by God, that is still unfolding.

“I love sharing the beauty of God’s creation and, hopefully, I will be able to do that for years ahead,” says Cowan.

Cowan moved from Florida to Eatonton three years ago. She says she was apprehensive about leaving her friends and activities behind, but found a new artist community and is an active member of The Artisans Village Guild in Eatonton. “I have been blessed,” she says.

Her paintings of Santa have become a Gallery favorite. Her small prints and note cards of Santa and her poinsettia paintings are affordable and make thoughtful gifts for a teacher or a special friend.

Travis Kidd, a former administrator for a major defense contractor, lives on Lake Oconee with his wife, Joan, where he is able to slow down and enjoy his longtime “hobby” – taking zebra wood, maple, or box elder to his lathe to create delicate, miniature bird houses.

“What I do is a hobby for fun and enjoyment,” he says. “I take materials of nature and make items that are of interest to me and sometimes to other people. It is just something I enjoy doing whenever the mood strikes.”

Kidd has been woodworking since he was ten years old and began using the lathe for wood turning about 20 years ago. When his job started requiring more of his time, Kidd had to set his hobby aside. It was only after he retired that he was able to occasionally go back to his shop to turn. 

“There is enjoyment in working with wood, exploring the textures, colors and grains, and making each piece different in some way,” he says. “I don’t think of what I do as art. It is a hobby that anyone can do if they take the time, have the desire and enjoy working with wood.”

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