Local Artists Add to Tulsa’s Individuality

Contributing Editor

(Left)METAL LOVER: Lisa Regan, the “Garden Deva,” stands beside her sculptures in her studio at 4th and Trenton. Regan’s studio and shop also sells items from local merchants, such as tote bags from Funky Fabrics. Regan’s metal works include garden posts, trellises, fire pits, fireplace screens, and other indoor and outdoor creations. (Right) CREATIVE ART: Susanne Darnard, left, and Traci Cole meet at Darnard’s store, Bead Merchant, once a month for Cole’s batik workshops where she teaches the design method. The workshops have grown in attendance each month and have spread the word about Cole and her unique style. Darnard and Cole are just two of many local artists seeking to turn what they love into a way to make a living.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

Visit any local art festival or one of Tulsa’s art districts, and it won’t take long to discover that this city is brimming with visual art talent.

Lisa Regan, owner of Garden Deva Sculpture Company, has 20 years of welding artistry under her belt. After feeling unsatisfied in her work life, she began searching for an artistic form of self-expression. During her search, she came upon metal work.

“It’s challenging work,” she says. “It’s hot and dirty, and the pieces are big and heavy. But metal just resounds with me.”

Regan creates garden trellises, hanging sculptures, fire pits, and other indoor and outdoor sculptural pieces.

She soon developed a local client base and started attending national art shows, placing her items in stores across the country, and thus expanded her exposure throughout the states.

Over the years, she has created sculptures for Philbrook Art Museum and the George Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2007, she was asked to make a menorah that was used to create a U.S. postal stamp. The stamp was in distribution for a number of years.

Another well-known artist, Susanne Darnard, owns Bead Merchant, a bead and jewelry-making store. Darnard began pursuing her love of jewelry making at 23 years old, operating a small store in her parents’ home. “It made sense in my head to start small like that,” she says. “I wasn’t making promises I couldn’t keep by starting too big.”

A couple years later, she opened her store on 15th Street, and residents embraced her. As her business grew, she expanded the items she sold to include not just beads but bindings, chains and jewelry-making tools.

“People need to have a craft or hobby—it feeds the soul,” says Darnard. “In the past, people would quilt or needlepoint, but jewelry is a smaller, more bite-sized, project, and it fits into our time budgets today. And for many people, it’s therapy.”

Traci Cole is a long-time artist who recently began blazing a new trail for herself. Two years ago, Cole started Funky Fabrics, where she designs, makes and sells tote bags using a fabric dying method called batik. Batik uses melted wax to create patterns and designs.

Cole has always had an affinity for art. After graduating college, she worked in advertising for a short time until she couldn’t deny her love for art any longer. She started an antique refinishing business that she continued for 12 years and later entered the faux finishing business. She has also created murals and oil paintings, selling them in local art galleries, shops and restaurants.

Her current journey is about melding her creativity with functional art.

Cole has spent much of her time finding ways to speed up the time it takes to create her bags and searching for the right materials at the right price. However, as an artist, Cole finds that speed doesn’t always allow for creativity. “I struggle with sameness,” she says. “When I am making something, I look at a fabric and think, ‘what can I do with this?’ Whereas, in creating items for sale, often artists have to create what they know will sell.”

“Having your own business as an artist is like a dance,” says Darnard. “You’re trying to do your thing, but you need to be flexible and cater to customers and the styles they want.”

Cole’s creativity is able to shine brighter in her offering of customized bags where individuals choose the fabric and general look of their bag, but Cole still taps into her unique creativity to make it.

Regan deals with a similar creative conflict. “When I am approached with a custom project, I find out the broad spectrum of what a client wants, but I still have the creative aspect to play around with and enjoy my work,” she says. “It’s still my art and my style that the client is getting.”

Regan also makes time to simply create.

“Sometimes I make something just because I want to make it,” she says. “If I have a strong desire to make a certain piece, I do it just to satisfy myself.”

For Darnard, she finds joy in helping customers bring their ideas to life.

“I enjoy collaborating with customers and considering their needs and wants and going in a direction with them that they want to go but also taking them in a slightly different direction,” she says. “It’s a hands-on learning experience for both them and me.”

No matter the reasons for their artistry, though, most artists agree that there is never too much art.

“I have never felt overshadowed by other local artists,” says Darnard. “Everyone has a different voice and style that develops over time.”

Darnard, a long-time friend of Cole’s, looks forward to watching Cole’s new path develop and blossom. “I think Traci has tapped into a very unique niche with batiking,” she says. “Her bags are different, and no one else is doing that right now.”

“I don’t think you can have too many artists in an area,” Regan says. “Art is what brings joy to a community.”

Updated 08-10-2012

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