Jeanne Sullivan finds inspiration for her collages in many different places. It could be an image from a dream or something she saw during her travels.
“Sometimes, it is just a piece of paper I find and say, ‘Oh, these papers would look lovely together’,” she said. “Sometimes, it is just a color pattern. I will see two or three colors that I like together, and I just start from there. …I don’t run out of ideas. I just run out of time. Collage, as you work on it, there is always a new problem, something new that happens.
“It’s constant problem solving. Sometimes, from the collages I make, I get inspired to make more from what I just did.”
Figuring out a color scheme first, she uses paper — old book pages are a favorite — for her collages, often making her own by altering the papers through painting, printing, stamping and/or stenciling. “Usually, every piece of paper that I have in the collage has been altered by me in some way,” she said.
Two of the Gaithersburg resident’s favorite pieces are “Lady of Letters,” a 2 by 3-foot collage of a woman made from replicas old postcards and letters from the early 1900s to 1920s, and ‘School of Gifted Fish,’ a 16 by 20-inch collage of letters, numbers and books combined to make a sea of information for ocean residents to swim through.
Four of Sullivan’s works are on display at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, where she, along with jewelry designer Maritza Suárez-Valenti, were recently named to its artist-in-residence program. The two were chosen to compliment current resident artists Jack and Jaree Donnelly of Arts Entwine.
The program has been a part of the Arts Barn since its opening more than 15 years ago. “The idea was to provide patrons that come to the building the opportunity to experience artists working in their studio, to be able to see them create and talk to them about their creative process,” explained Jaree Donnelly, who is also the Arts Barn’s art education program coordinator. “(Patrons) have that more unique experience of not just seeing the end product, but seeing work actually in progress.”
The other aspect to the program has the artists host workshops and classes to help educate others about their art forms as well as do community outreach projects. “Being a resident artist is beyond just having a studio space to work in,” Donnelly said. “It really is being very much involved in the community of the Arts Barn and our neighborhood.”
Sullivan worked for 23 years as a recreation specialist for Montgomery County Department of Recreation and nearly two years as director of education and community engagement at BlackRock Center for the Arts. Now retired, she takes classes and visits museums to learn ways to hone her medium.
She hopes people get a sense of mystery from her collages. Take her piece, “Siren’s Song,” for example. Viewers will see a mermaid’s tail along with broken ships on rocks. Upon closer examination, the rocks are made from old navigational charts.
“I want somebody to see something, be attracted to it from across the room and say ‘That looks interesting. I’m not sure what is going on there.’ Then be drawn closer and each time they look at it, they see more,” Sullivan said.
Suárez-Valenti has been showing her jewelry, Ma-Chi Jewelry Designs, in the Arts Barn’s City Shop for several years and will be sharing workspace and equipment with metalsmith Jack Donnelly.
Beginning jewelry design as a hobby in 2008, the New Market resident began by playing with beads and color combinations and later adding wire to allow different possibilities of bending and twisting the metal. Suárez-Valenti recently incorporated fire into her design by bonding metals.
With a passion for experimenting with non-traditional materials, she works with colored pencils, peanut oil and cement; she plans to expand into plexiglass. Inspiration for her pieces, mainly necklaces, earrings and rings, comes from multiple sources including modern sculptures and nature, especially botanic gardens.
Suárez-Valenti hopes others will recognize a unique piece of jewelry when they see her work. “You won’t find it in any other store,” she said. “It is something they will say ‘I have never seen this one before’.”
Making jewelry gives her peace of mind. “It takes me to another place,” she said. “I get into myself and I don’t think of anything else other than what I am doing.”
Throughout the year, the four artists may be found working in the Arts Barn studios, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. For their hours, call 301-258-6350 or e-mail email@example.com.