Portrait of an Artist: Carla’s Collections

You can learn a lot about a person by the things they collect, and the stories they tell about those objects. A collected object often has a history of how it was found, when and where.

Or was it gifted? Then there is the story of who gave it and why. Maybe it was abandoned, and if so, there is a rescue story. Sometimes objects have been altered. Sometimes there’s a mystery — Who made it? How was it made? How old is it? What is it??

For an artist like Carla who uses found objects in the creation of art, the way objects are collected, organized, and stored is a window into their soul. Especially for someone who lives in a small house, everything saved is precious because space itself is precious.

When I visited Carla on Monday, she had just hung artwork in two shows, so her studio was almost empty, clean, and ready for new projects. Everything was stored neatly on shelves behind homemade curtains — until she started pulling out her collections of inspirations, resources, and materials to show me.

“These are old photos that I found at the Treasure House pawn shop”

“Here are some antique Japanese books that Hueping gave me”

“Here’s some scrap sign vinyl from your Halloween party”

“These are globs of paint that I peel off yogurt lids that I use as paint-mixing palettes”

“These are painted papers I’m going to cut out for collage”
“How did you make them, with a dry brush?”
“Yes, and with sponges and that one on the corner of the table was done with a cabbage.”

She showed me a photo of four people in a boat. We guessed it was from the the 1920’s judging by the style of clothing and hats and wondered who took it.

A Japanese book, a thistle, paint peelings, and painted papers

“Hueping gave me this Japanese book. Look, I can carry by the string like a purse!”

Some things are too beautiful to cut up, so Carla scans them and preserves the original.

A collage of two houses that hangs in Carla’s hallway has always been one of my favorites. Curiously, it’s hanging right outside her son’s bedroom, a boy whose time is divided between his mother’s house and his dad’s house that is right next door.

When I stopped back by later that evening to see how the light had changed, Carla had already cleaned up her studio because she is getting ready to go on a trip.

Going to visit her family, Carla showed me old photos from her childhood and her mom’s Chinese family in Hawaii. Her dad has passed away and her sister is struggling, Carla is going home to help her mom move into a nursing home.

This is a photo essay that I did as part of a Mobile Phone Workshop I’m taking with Sion Fullana. All the photos were taken on my iPhone and edited with photo apps including Snapseed, Noir, Crop Suey, and touchRetouch. Thanks for letting photograph you Carla Stine!