In a market revamped by COVID-19 restrictions, the holiday season has been a time to shine, take it easy or switch it up for Capital Region creatives. Expect angels covered with book print, tiny sleds, colossal stars and wild wreaths.
Here are four local artists’ experiences with holly, jolly, handcrafted art.
Growing up at a family-owned ceramics shop, Judy Houbre gained an appreciation for decor. Decades later, she became fascinated by converting discarded materials into new products: upcycling.
In 2015, both interests intersected. Houbre gifted small trees made of old literary titles to members of her book club. Only one member of the group, an avid reader, questioned the creation.
“She’s like, ‘I can’t believe that you would ruin them and disrespect it, and turn it into something, like a tree,’ ” Houbre recalled. “And my husband was like, ‘Well, where do you think books come from?’ ” He called it ‘treecycling.’ ”
Based on her husband’s wordplay, a business was born.
Since then, Houbre has crafted year-round holiday trees from both raw and spray-painted sheet music, book pages and publication clippings. Using signature materials, Treecycled has produced origami-like flowers, Christmas angels, ornaments and witches.
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Houbre now has a following, some of whom even encouraged further production through material donations. Her residential garage in Waterford has stacks and stacks of gifted books.
“I have no shortage of books,” Houbre said.
Etsy.com sales dramatically made up for pandemic-induced craft-fair losses, Houbre said, with a 354 percent spike in overall revenue. The 56-year-old expects to retire from her full-time gig as a project manager with the state Department of Education should expansion continue.
Treecycled crafts are also available at Boho Chic in Ballston Spa, T&J’s Handcrafted Soap in Troy and 4GoodVibes in Boston.
With a decreased demand across her customer base, this is the first year Colie Collen has enjoyed creating wreaths for the holiday season since she started Flowerscout in 2013.
“It’s by no means a hectic, robust business,” the florist said at her South Troy workshop. “But it’s nice every day when I make a couple [of wreaths].”
Additionally, Collen recently received a clamp machine for production. In past years, she wired each wreath by hand. The former process was tedious, the florist explained. Her curiosity remains consistent. She studies the number of neighbors interested in year-round wreaths and often experiments with new designs at home.
“I have a wreath that’s just greens behind columns,” Collen said. “There’s no ribbon or anything. I obviously keep it a little more natural and a little wild.”
Her perishable wreaths often include minimal decorations dovetailed with assorted greens to “insert a life more into them.” Branches such as white pine and balsam are sourced from local farms and woodlands. Collen purchases juniper from a wholesaler in the Pacific Northwest because the stems, she said, are of higher quality.
Beyond wreaths, Flowerscout sells potted plants, funky flower arrangements and even Risograph prints of Collen gardening from her partner’s studio. She also supplies bouquets for a 35-plus-member, community-supported agriculture program in the summer.
“Doing work in a very different style that doesn’t look like your traditional florist, people are eager to get [flowers] who wouldn’t buy flowers normally,” Collen said.
Within the past seven years, Collen has acquired and transformed two foreclosed lots in Troy into gardens. Collen’s shop and portfolio are available at flower-scout.com.
PhD Design & Photography
Paul Hergenrother dangled a glass General Electric building ornament in one hand, and in the other a miniature red and white snowman constructed from ornament balls. The latter item strays from his style.
“It’s good because it gives me a break from the computer,” Hergenrother said about holiday decor. Year-round products at Hergenrother’s PhD Design & Photography are centered on shots of historic local structures and northeast college campuses. The selection includes Nott Memorial (Schenectady) coasters, RCA Building (Albany) silkscreen posters, bookmarks of the Olana villa (Hudson) and more created by local vendors.
His winter collection includes architecture-themed cards and snowflake prints as well as handmade popsicle stick sleighs, glitter-splashed pine cones and traditional ball ornaments.
Crafting his own decor, he said, can be a “therapeutic” task and drive a quick return in investment. Working in the gift industry for 15 years and in commercial design for 30 years, Hergenrother believes he has a gauge on holiday marketability. As of late, the 50-year-old Albany resident has struggled to restock his daily inventory.
“I kind of know what sells,” he said, “and everybody loves that.”
Hergenrother’s collection is available at Lark Street Mercantile in Albany, Clinton Street Mercantile in Schenectady and at phddesign.org.
In the summer, 52-year-old community artist Angela Cuozzo had an excess of paper bags at her Schenectady residence.
She decided to fit the material into a storefront display proposal for the Albany Business Improvement District’s Winter Wonderland Public Art Program: a spotty mix of blue-tinted paper stars suspended from the ceiling.
“It just hit me and I was like, ‘What if I took a bunch of these [paper bags] and completely filled the windows?’ ” Cuozzo recalled. “‘This might be a perfect fit for this piece.’”
Requiring a large swath of window space, Albany BID assigned Cuozzo to install her display at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites on State Street.
In total, it took her 12 hours to create the stars, two hours to spray-paint each object and four hours for installation on Black Friday.
For Cuozzo, who has a background in graphic design and art instruction, it was her first crack at creating a winter art display.
She noticed flaws in the final product’s scale and volume.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations,” Cuozzo said. “But that’s OK, and now I know what I might have to do differently the next time I try to come up with an idea or a creative way to do something.”
More of Cuozzo’s art is displayed at cuozzocreative.com.
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