Postcards from the world: Margaret Huddy and the travels of TFAA artists

Summers at the Torpedo Factory are so busy that it’s easy to overlook how many TFAA artists sneak away from Alexandria. They travel the world, from Lebanon to Utah–and by the time a chill strikes the evening air, you see their journeys reflected in art.

“That’s a church in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia,” explains Margaret Huddy, pointing to a freshly framed acrylic-on-panel painting in her second-floor studio. Huddy and her husband recently explored Baltic and northern European cities on a cruise that also took them to Oslo, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Bruges, all fresh and welcome sights for a plein air painter.

“I’m a landscape painter. I have to go out,” says Huddy, who works outdoors at least one day a week. But when you typically paint on terra firma, is it tricky to paint on a ship?

“I can paint small paintings even on rough seas,” she explains, adding that she long ago learned how to work under less-than-ideal conditions. In her studio, several watercolors of the Rhine attest to her ability to paint the landscapes that fly past the window of a speeding train.

While traveling, Huddy loves to help the people around her see landmarks and landscapes with an artistic eye. “I’ve been a teacher for many years,” she says, “and it’s very rewarding to teach painting and travel sketching on cruise ships.” Some students are new to painting, while others come highly prepared.

“Many British students have a background in watercolor painting, so they bring their own paints,” she says, “but I also meet absolute beginners who’ve never held a brush before.” Even amid serious discussions of composition and color, the results can be emotional.

“Art is wonderful therapy for anyone,” Huddy says, recalling many memorable cruise-ship students. “I met a priest who said it was such a relief to forget everyone else’s troubles for just a little while, and a man in a wheelchair who discovered a talent for painting he didn’t know he had. He was so happy. He’d waited years to say, ‘This is something I love that I can do from my chair.'”

This fall, as you explore the Torpedo Factory studios, look for paintings, drawings, and photographs inspired by our recent travels. You’ll soon find a summer postcard–a story an artist is eager to tell.

“Hey, Don’t Throw That Away!”: Alison Sigethy at the Capital Home Show

Torpedo Factory artists find insight in unexpected places. If you were at the Dulles Expo Center last weekend, you may have discovered–among home remodelers, window and door manufacturers, granite dealers, and spa vendors–a luminous tribute to the natural world by environmental artist Alison Sigethy.

Sigethy spends her days breathing new life into objects that others are quick to discard, and her presentation at the Capital Home Show–“Hey, Don’t Throw That Away!”–highlighted the use of salvaged materials in creative, even ingenious ways. Sigethy’s striking Sea Core Bubble Tubes never fail the draw the eye–but at first glance, most Torpedo Factory visitors may not realize that these glowing, kinetic sculptures of water and glass don’t just evoke the natural world; in small ways, they also help preserve it.

“My choice in glass is largely environmental,” she says, pointing out the unique, organic-looking shapes inside each Bubble Tube. “Structural glass, which makes up the majority of all manufactured glass, is not recycled but buried in landfills–so using building glass is part of my mission.”

Even at a home show, where everyone appears determined to keep elemental nature out, Sigethy sees a fundamental human need to bring the best of nature inside.

“That’s why we respond so favorably to materials like wood in the bath and stone in the kitchen,” she explains. “While I make no attempt to portray actual plants or animals, I do want my creations to look like they could have lived or grown somewhere.”

This weekend, amid curious questions about her Bubble Tubes, Sigethy witnessed the need to seek comfort where nature and art intersect.

“People have stressful lives, and they’re looking for ways to turn a home into a more relaxing place, a private sanctuary,” she says. “It’s another way we ground ourselves and find peace, even if it happens on a subconscious level.”

Friends, Greeters, Sentinels: Dogs at the Torpedo Factory

From Velasquez to Warhol, artists have long honored dogs in their work. Members of the Torpedo Factory Artists Association (TFAA) are no exception. Enter one of our members’ studios at the Torpedo Factory and you’ll find a surprising number of wagging tails — and not just in paintings and photos. Alexandria is one of the country’s most dog-friendly cities, and many TFAA artists gladly bring their canine friends to work.

 “People definitely need to know that dogs are welcome in the Torpedo Factory,” says photographer Min Enghauser, who’s never without Lucy, a 13-year-old border collie-German shepherd mix. Lucy appears in none of the gorgeous landscapes that line the studio where she naps, but she’s always there, just beyond the frame, to witness the making of art. “She’s been with me for every single one of my photos, except for a few shots of the desert,” Enghauser says. “I often have to say, ‘Lucy, get out of my picture!’,

In a town where even the Irish pub on Pitt Street serves a special “doggie menu” on its patio, the dog-friendly nature of the Torpedo Factory ought to be a given, but Enghauser still sees surprised faces. “Some people meet Lucy and say, ‘I wish we’d known dogs were welcome. We would have brought our own.’,

Tamara Embrey, who makes colorful, one-of-a-kind clothing from recycled fibers, says that Sparkle, her Australian shepherd, loves life as a studio dog. “Whenever she sees me getting my stuff ready, I can barely move in and out of the door without her tripping me. She is insistent.” Sparkle enjoys the attention she receives from friends and strangers alike, while Embrey admits to being amused by the occasional startled visitor. “Some people say, ‘Oh, she looks like a piece of artwork!'”

Embrey finds that Torpedo Factory visitors are sometimes nervous about entering an artist’s workspace, but a dog helps them relax, drop their defenses, and open themselves to art. “That’s not why I started bringing her at all, but it’s been a wonderful side effect,” Embrey says, noting one pleasant irony: “The presence of the dogs lets them see that we’re human, just like them.”

Every day, a valiant four-legged sentinel named Seal protects printmaker Rosemary Covey from a smiling UPS deliveryman. Covey believes that Seal is a mixture of keeshond, German shepherd, husky, and chow; her previous dog, a husky named Nikki, was a Torpedo Factory celebrity. Covey jokes that an art center is a dog’s natural habitat: “Dogs are great art lovers, as you can see by how many of them have posed for portraits around the building.”
Even so, Covey’s humor belies a serious point: Dogs are vital companions for artists, who tend to work in solitude, not always by choice. “I lost all other family members, human and animal, in the last few years, so Seal’s ability to come with me to work is of ultimate importance.”
Covey speaks fondly of fellow artists who keep treats on hand for canine visitors. “There is a lot of kindness and tolerance in the Torpedo Factory where dogs are concerned,” she says. “It’s a gentle way we come together as a community.”

Saaraliisa Ylitalo solo show in Fiberworks

Artist Saaraliisa Ylitalo will be featured in a solo show in Fiberworks, studio 14.
Saaraliisa creates meditative mixed media works featuring handmade paper and fiber techniques. A world traveler, Saaraliisa’s work often speaks to social conscience and the struggle between hope and despair.

Saaraliisa YlitaloWABI-SABI
October 3, 2012 — November 5, 2012

Artist Reception
Sunday October 14

Studio 14
Torpedo Factory Art Center
105 N. Union Street
Alexandria, VA 22314