Former bookstore worker turns over new leaf, to woodworking Lifelong love of trees is heart of her work

September 06, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- A huge tree trunk hugs the wall in Shawn M. Scanlan's living room. For the past 20 years, the 3-foot-high, 2-foot-thick stump has been part of her decor.

"Oh, that? It's just a tree," she says whenever anyone asks. "Not everybody decorates with trees."

Maybe not everybody. But her sister has a near-perfect match, which fell from the same tree.

The dual heirlooms trace their roots to the day the sisters saw a favorite tree sprawled across the ground. They chose two pieces, loaded them into their car and rolled them up three flights of steps to their apartment. A coat of polyurethane helps preserve the wood to this day.

"I have a thing about trees," Mrs. Scanlan said. "I used to draw them all the time until an art teacher told me to branch out."

She took his casual remark to heart. She now works in wood, clay and relief printmaking in a business she calls Patchwork Heart.

"The name came from a love of nature, Celtic roots, mythology and a belief that all living things are interconnected," she said.

Juried into the Carroll County Crafts Guild last year, she will participate in the Studio Tour 1992 this weekend. Visitors will find Mrs. Scanlan and her works at the Arts Council, 15 E. Main St. She will be the one carving her smaller blocks during the show.

"If I am not doing something with my hands, I get irate, moody," she said. "I pray I don't get arthritis like many in my family. I do too much with my hands."

Printmaking remains her favorite art, she said. She carves original designs into wood or linoleum blocks. She then inks the blocks, places paper on them and rubs gently with a wooden spoon to transfer the carving onto the paper.

"I am not afraid to get messy," she said. "My fingernails are usually black and broken."

She also has learned to "think in reverse." Whatever she cuts out in the wood will appear in reverse on the paper.

Several of her prints will be available during the tour. Many are matted with paper she has marbleized.

A few years ago, she started "messing around with wood." She designs, cuts and finishes her one-of-a-kind pieces.

"Art should have a soul and it shouldn't be mass produced," she said. "I have no high-tech equipment. I cut, sand and paint every thing myself."

Her husband, Thomas, an English teacher at North Carroll High School, gave her a a band saw to make her job a little easier. She said she couldn't have been more delighted with her new "low-tech" tool.

"I used to work with a hand saw and move the wood myself," she said. "With the new stationary saw, I just feed the wood into it."

She does not allow herself the luxury of pre-cut wood, she said. The only problem arises when a buyer asks for an exact duplicate of a piece.

"Close, but not exactly, I tell them," she said. "Every piece is different."

Recently, she branched out into jewelry, using linoleum blocks to make impressions in clay. She bakes the mold in a low fire in her kitchen oven. The unique jewelry is light enough for earrings.

At 39, with her two sons off to school, she has decided to devote herself full time to her art.

"I am close enough to 40, I can't ignore it any longer," she said. "No job satisfies me like art, I can't deny it forever."

A few months ago, she left her job as assistant manager of Waldenbooks in Cranberry Mall.

"I have put this off for quite a few years," she said. "At this point, I am going to make my art work, no matter what."

Presenting her work for sale is the most difficult task she faces, she said.

"People don't realize how much time goes into the creative zTC process from the idea to the finished product," she said. "But if people don't buy, I feel rejected."

If they do buy, she has another problem: She misses her works.

"There is the attachment an artist feels for each piece," she said. "You are selling a little piece of yourself to strangers. I need to find a happy medium."

Now, with a little more time on her hands, she may return to another branch of her art. Several of her paintings hang on the walls of her home.

"I really have to immerse myself to paint," she said. "I can't have any distractions and that usually means late at night, when the light is horrible."

Mr. Scanlan is building a room downstairs. It may become a bright workroom free from distractions.

"Maybe," she said with a smile, "but my 14-year-old and I are

fighting over it."

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