Wearable Art: Cultivating Creativity in Grove Park
Normally if a person sees paint on their clothes, they see a mess.
But when Marian Collier and JoElyn Johnston see paint on clothing … they see art.
Today, each of these two Grove Park artists-in-residence has a studio in the 1566 Donald Lee Hollowell Building — home of Grove Park Renewal, Dwell Communities, PAWKids, and other business and non-profits serving on the Westside. They can walk down the hall to chat and collaborate on projects. JoElyn’s studio has a large table where they can each spread their materials out while they plan. And when they are working on a project together, being able to pop in down the hall keeps it on each woman’s front burner all the time.
But it wasn’t always that way. For a long time, they worked in the same building but had never met.
A Man, Two Women, and a Jacket
Until 2019, JoElyn and Marian each rented studio space at The Goat Farm in Blandtown, just off of Huff Road. Marian actually met JoElyn’s husband Chuck first because he used JoElyn’s studio early in the morning to write. Marian was also a morning person, so they would pass each other in the halls and say hi.
One day he stopped by Marian’s studio looking for a creative birthday present for JoElyn. He took a liking to a reversible Afrocentric jacket that was on display and asked if she could make something similar in his wife’s size. She suggested other decorative ideas for the jacket, but he said no, he wanted the African mask.
“I thought, ‘Who is this white man coming in here wanting an African mask jacket for his wife?’” Marian laughs. “But he was right. She loved it.”
Marian and JoElyn didn’t yet know each other because JoElyn painted in her studio in the afternoons.
“I would go in, turn on my music, and pretty much stay there,” said JoElyn.
By the afternoons, Marian was off doing one of her other many projects — like creating custom costumes on TV and movie sets — so their paths didn’t often pass. But after making the jacket, Marian determined that they would get to know each other. When they did, each found in the other a kindred spirit.
It wasn’t until JoElyn was organizing a fundraiser in early 2019 for PAWKids, a Grove Park after school and family enrichment program, that they decided to collaborate. JoElyn was going to be showing and selling her canvases and donating the profits to PAWKids. She invited Marian to participate and showcase her custom clothing.
When Marian decided to try working with painted fabric, she didn’t intend to collaborate with JoElyn. She originally thought she would paint on fabric herself, then make it into beautiful jackets, skirts, and dresses — Wearable Art.
“I opened up the paint and it exploded all over me, all over the floor, all over the fabric behind me,” says Marian. “So I just packed it all up and gave it to JoElyn. She could do the painting. I’d stick to the clothes.”
JoElyn paints a design on a large piece of fabric, then Marian designs custom clothing around the fabric, using the design and the shape to influence the design. Their collaboration got a serious boost when beloved television anchor and Atlanta icon Monica Kaufman was the first person to purchase one of Marian and JoElyn’s creations just prior to the fundraiser.
A Home for Artists in Grove Park
At about the same time as the fundraiser, both artists found out that they were losing their studio space. The Goat Farm was closing for two years for major renovations, and everyone had to move out.
Before she knew it, JoElyn was signing a lease on her new studio space in the 1566 Building, right around the corner from her Grove Park home. She loved the light and space — but also the opportunity to bring her art directly into her neighborhood. Then she found out that there was only one additional studio space left in the not-yet-completed building.
“She called me and said, ‘No pressure … but you have to come see it today!’” recalls Marian.
JoElyn laughs and objects to the characterization. “I wasn’t being pushy. I just called Marian and called Justin [Bleeker, of Grove Park Renewal] and asked him to show her the space. He showed them around and told them the history of the building,” said JoElyn. “But I did say she had to come that same day.”
“JoElyn was right. The space was perfect. I took the last spot downstairs,” said Marian.
JoElyn and Marian are collaborating again on more painted fabric — more Wearable Art. They are set to be featured at Carla’s Boutik — a Fayetteville boutique that features unique and custom clothing — which was closed for renovations when the pandemic hit. The store plans to re-open whenever they are allowed to, and they will have several pieces from Marian and JoElyn to showcase when they do.
Until things return to normal, Marian and JoElyn continue to create. And wait. And when the pandemic has passed and our lives return to something resembling normal, the world will see what creative minds and hands have been doing while no one was looking.