Mural Blends Virginia and Family HistoryWEISS HOUSE DREAMSCAPE 'LIKE WALKING INTO NARNIA' Article by Melinda GIpson Photography by Patricia Taylor Holz, Melinda Gipson Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle
“We’re the Thanksgiving house,” Monica Weiss said, in explanation of why she wanted to spruce up her foyer for the holidays. In a search for something that would complement her antiques and resonate with the history of her 1823-built home in Hamilton, she dropped in at Paint & Paper in Purcellville in search of “wallpaper with a hunting theme.” Patricia Taylor Holz works there as a colorist and a new type of hunt began. When the pair failed to turn up anything suitable, the manager suggested, “Why don’t you paint it for her, Pat?” So began a month-long project to transform the Weiss’ home lobby into a kind of historical, hunt-country dreamscape – homage to a combination of the family’s love of Virginia history, dogs, wine, water, woods and a good ramble. Says Patricia, “This is a dream landscape, composited together from our photographs. They had a list of things they wanted included in the mural. They wanted ponds, an oak tree. The owner is a landscape architect, so very particular about trees, so I suggested a dogwood be added, as it is the state flower of Virginia. “They wanted an equestrian theme, the vineyard (the mural uses Bluemont Vineyard for its rolling hills of vines), and the far wall boasts a painting of Morven Park Mansion. When we met the owners’ dogs, we said, ‘We have to put these cute dogs in there,’ so they shared photos, including some of their favorite dogs who had passed.” It turns out that Monica couldn’t have been in better hands. Patricia, besides being a color consultant, has been painting professionally for two decades, and has designed and painted sets for the theatre – experience that more than qualifies her to master perspective in a larger work, has done a number of community murals and shown her work widely in local galleries. But, because her deadline was just a month away, she called her friend and fellow artist Penny Hauffe to collaborate on the project. Both were classically trained in prestigious art schools ranging from the University of Michigan (Patricia) to the Gemini School of Illustration in the U.K. (Penny). Penny was born in Namibia, Patricia in the Caribbean, and both adore bright colors drawn from their “warm” cultures, but for this project they drew on their unique ability to paint to a very constrained palette, mimicking each other’s styles, to create the impression that the work was painted on parchment that had naturally aged. The hunt for reference photography began at the Thomas Balch Library, a history and genealogy library in Leesburg. Patricia found many photographs depicting how Virginia looked in the 19th century. This house was built in 1823, so this refined her search to when the home was built, and created the impression, through the many sepia-toned photos, that that this creamy hue would serve as the backdrop with splashes of color for the red from the hunter’s jacket, the white and brown of the dogs, the black of the boots, the pink of the dogwood, and the blue of the ponds. Having studied the old masters, she found a photo of a hunter from the 18th century that picked up a bit of color and that became the starting point for an elaborate blueprint. Equine photographer Deborah Morrow provided reference photos for the opening, winter scene with a woman riding sidesaddle and the fall scene with two fox-hunting parties. Because the family hailed originally from Pennsylvania she also looked at a lot of Andrew Wyeth's landscapes to grasp a feel for natural finishes. Piece by piece the design took on the elements of an elaborate puzzle, which Patricia then took to Photoshop to make a composite that was to scale. She then did a drawing that was transferred to the wall with a projector. “Because I’m a set designer and took interior design, I learned to draft and make models and painter’s elevations to scale. When you make scenery, you have to bring the people to the front so that you can see everything to scale as well.” Penny had the idea to add the scrollwork at the top as a nod to Monica’s love for collecting old books, and the design was finished. As the painting began, the artists made a point of switching places in the same drawings so that their styles would commingle. Said Patricia, “We painted over each other’s layers,” added Penny, “And finished each other’s sentences!” Patricia explains that she took a sander to some of the shinier patinas on the horses’ flanks, for example, to make the work look just a touch distressed as if by age. Quipped Penny, “I thought it was just because you like to play with power tools!” Each drew on every bit of her classical training. Says Patricia, “I remembered this technique from the old masters using underpainting called grisaille where you do a whole underpainting in shades of just one color – in this case grey – and then you start taking it away. You sculpt the painting by taking the color away in places where you want the underpainting to show through. For example, I painted the horse black then sculpted the color back. The whole piece is base coated in shades of brown and black.” Penny comments that Patricia sometimes took the tactile nature of this technique to extremes, rubbing the wall with a rag or her sweatshirt to get the texture just right. What it is, is more of a museum installation that what you’d ordinarily think of as a mural. Patricia says, “It transformed the energy of the whole room. You kind of walk into Narnia when you walk in the door – you go somewhere else.” It’s certainly something you’d never find in a wallpaper catalog. Patricia agrees, adding, “It’s magical and special. It’s very much custom, and client specific, I wanted them to be part of the process so they had an emotional connection to it. That’s the difference between an artist and a designer. An artist expresses their inner world and a designer can use the elements that are already there and make them into something else. We created something special and unique for the house. It’s an emotional landscape that flows from winter in the front to a warmer landscape in the back where there’s a canopy of flowers blooming in spring.” And, it has to be said, they all had fun in the process, and drew from their fellowship with the artist community to pull in artist Ute Gil toward the end to paint detail and help with the final two coats of mural varnish. As a tweak to the homeowner’s status as an Ohio State alumnus, Patricia even hid small pictures of “Brutus Buckeye” the OSU mascot, and a wolverine to represent her rival alma matter the University of Michigan. Said Monica, “It’s enchanting,” the way the mural captures everything about her home and “about us. We love Virginia and where we live, and of course we love our dogs, both living and passed. Including them was the chicken soup for me. I just love it.” The Weiss Mural was painted by Patricia Taylor Holz ( http://pthvisualarts.com) & Penny Hauffe (http://pennypaint.com), Equine Photos by Deb Morrow (http://www.deborahmorrowphotography.smugmug.com). You can reach Patricia at email@example.com, 610-551-2789 or through The Paint & Paper Place, 701 W Main St # C, Purcellville, VA 20132. Come in asking for wallpaper and expect to be surprised! See http://vimeo.com/leesburglifestyle for a video detailing the mural’s installation.