Coming in early November is our inaugural Early American Artisans Fair featuring the works of contemporary artisans from Ohio and surrounding regions. Andrea Durnell is one this year's artisans. Andrea is a multimedia artist who creates carved wooden animals from fallen wood and incorporates antique materials to complete them. Her work is influenced by the personification of animals often seen in 19th century American culture, but expressed through the personality she finds hiding within the shape of the wood that defines each creature.
What is your skill/craft?
I am a multimedia artist creating carved wooden animals from fallen wood and using antique materials to complete them. I also use merino wool and alpaca roving to create vintage-inspired hats using antique and vintage wooden hat molds that are no longer of use to a traditional milliner for blocking.
How long have you been doing this?
In some capacity, I have been creating dolls for almost 40 years. I have been making hats for around 15 years.
Photos courtesy of Andrea Durnell
How did you get started?
(See the question below about my biggest influences) I would add that I have collected textiles for decades, particularly dilapidated ones. In order for them not to take over my studio, I use them both on my dolls and on my hats. I am incapable of cutting up a perfect specimen so I salvage things that are on their last leg and give them one last chance to shine.
What motivates you and pushes you forward in your craft?
Strangely, the more entrenched in modern technology our world becomes the more I use it to delve back in time to enjoy what once was. I see people doing so much less with their hands and I strive to do more. I find that I can relate what I am thinking about and experiencing into work I do with my hands. My hats often have botanical themes because they are coming alive in the grey winter when I am craving the sun and being finished at the time that my first spring blooms are bursting open outside my studio. My dolls are always a reflection of my sense of humor, my love of travel and my interest in antiques, particularly textiles, and the fact that I simply cannot unsee what I see in the wood on my daily walks with my dog and want to carve them until everyone else can see what I see.
Who and what have been the biggest influences in your work?
I have both modern and traditional influences for my work. I have long loved how animals were personified in the 19th century by such authors/artist as J.J. Grandville and my current work reflects this. This time period was rich with satire and the personification of animals. But, I would never have made a single doll had my mom's house not been in Country Living Magazine in the 1980's. In the 8 page spread was a tiny photo of a doll whose clothes I had made for my mom. A magazine patron contacted the magazine who contacted my mom and my first doll was sold. The hats came about because a customer who bought a doll liked its hat and asked me to make her one. I had acquired a hat mold and had been gifted some wool and the first hat emerged. I made two. I wore one to a coffee shop and the ladies in line behind me asked me where I got my hat. I told them I had made it and they wanted to try it on. They disappeared into the bathroom and came out with cash in hand asking to buy it. I really didn't want to sell it, but they were offering a large handfull of bills and eventually I relented. I went home and made a few more and decided to repeat my coffee shop visit, but with a basket of extras. I sold two. I repeated this at many coffee shops, my yoga classes, and a few airports when I traveled and eventually conceded that maybe I had something? My business was born.
Photos courtesy of Andrea Durnell
What's your favorite project you've completed?
A few years ago we found several hundred letters my dad wrote to my mom while he was in the navy and they were courting in the 1940s. He died when I was nine and these letters allowed me to know him as an adult. He was a prolific and humorous writer and used a lot of the current slang, referenced movies, music and other pop culture that took me right back to the late stages of WW2. He signed all his letters, "Ain't Life Teejus, Just Plain Jerry". I did some digging and learned that "Ain't Life Teejus" was the refrain from a song written by Walter Brennan that would have been playing on the radio while my dad was writing these letters, and indeed, life in the navy was pretty tedious. A few decades later, Hank Williams rewrote the song. My dad loved Hank Williams. I found a piece of wood that resembled a mule (my mom had said my dad was stubborn!) and carved a banjo-picking(dad was musical), fedora-wearing( iconic 1940's headwear), pipe-smoking (dad smoked a pipe) mule. I named him Hank Teejus and put a copy of the original Walter Brennan lyrics in his pocket. He sold quickly at the first show he went to to a lady who's son's name was Hank and who's husband loved Hank Williams....and they raised mules. The circle was complete. Rehoming my dolls is always a way to complete the circle and the reason I prefer to sell at shows instead of online.
To what degree do you employee traditional techniques and tools and do more modern processes or tools play a role in your work?
I am very attached to traditional techniques. My hats are built one fiber at a time over antique wooden molds and hand felted using a technique that dates back to the middle ages. It is enormously satisfying to know each hat is one of a kind and made by me down to the last fiber of its being! I only use hand tools for carving my dolls. I even use a hand saw to cut the wood from the fallen tree. The only concession to modern tools is that the less visible seams are sewn with a machine. The rest are hand stitched. As a nod to my traditional methods, I use as many antique or vintage materials as possible to embellish my hats and to complete my dolls.
Contact Andrea or view more of her work at www.andreadurnell.com.
The Early American Artisans Fair is November 1 - 2, 2019 at Harvest Ridge Event Center in Millersburg, OH. We are expecting artisans who practice in the following:
Also happening on the grounds at Harvest Ridge the same weekend is another event - Earlier Times Antiques and Folk Art Show. Located in a neighboring building, Earlier Times vendors bring with them a collection of antique and primitive furniture and related items. The grounds at Harvest Ridge will offer visitors a great opportunity to explore finely crafted objects from pre-industrial through modern times.