“It’s something my mother used to say,” Cilla Sheehan explains. “I hadn’t thought of it in years.” She says she doesn’t usually get the title first for a new piece, but this time it just popped into her head.
A mixed media artist from Bristol, NH, Sheehan is always on the lookout for things that want to be art someday. In this case, it all started with a Styrofoam head she found in a beauty shop. “Because I’m a self-taught artist, I’m always trying to figure out how you do something. Styrofoam resists color so I had to find a way to paint it. I discovered an acrylic medium called ‘stucco.’ It’s like face cream but gritty.” The medium stuck to the Styrofoam and the black, green, and copper paint stuck to the medium. She decided it wanted to be part of her pull-toy series. “Some things suggest themselves for the pull-toy series and some don’t. So it was sort of serendipitous that these things were happening simultaneously.”
Sheehan appreciates the opportunity these odds and ends give her to combine eras. “You get something from the turn of the century or from the forties. The story they end up telling is about something totally different. Old things seem to go together in a way that newer things don’t.”
Her interest in mixed media began with the rusty nails, seashells, or interesting rocks that made their way into her pockets as a child. She loved the work of Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson. “It made me wonder how it works. Cold adhering? Welding? Soldering? How do you make something heavy stay where you want it to be? Each piece is a problem you want to solve. It’s fun to solve those problems, one at a time, until you go that works—that’s kind of what I had in mind.”
Sheehan says she tends to visualize pieces at a particular scale—some want to be large, others want to be small. Then she has to try out different objects to see what will work and become part of the piece. “What is the main focus and what counterbalances that?” Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. “If I finish a piece and think eh, I’ll let it sit for a while and then I’ll end up cannibalizing it for something else. If it sits around too long, it’s fair game. If it doesn’t work, you pull it apart. You still have all those parts to use in something else. And you learn something with every piece.
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I'm Marcia Santore, an artist and a writer. This blog is all about artists and their stories. See my artwork at