Living On The Bright Side

September 24, 2006|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,[Sun Reporter]

It's easy to be cynical about artist Sandra Magsamen. When her signature ceramic plaques first started appearing in stores 17 years ago, with sweet little messages like "Believe in yourself" and "Let your dreams take flight," they seemed fresh and charming. But nowadays she's a lifestyle industry, with a new book out, Living Artfully, a new line of baby clothes and scores of home decor items, greeting cards, cookware and calendars. Her elongated hearts and upbeat sayings have become this decade's version of the smiley face.

You might ask, now that she's head of a multimillion-dollar gift company -- with all the work that entails and also the money it brings in -- if she still dances when the spirit moves her, enjoys life every day, dreams big, bakes a cake for her soul mate and celebrates others.

Does she really live as artfully as her book advises?

"I don't live that way every day," she says with a smile. "But I try to."

What's impressive is how good a job she does do at living by her principles. Of course, it's easier if you're the kind of person who -- for instance -- really does see fixing dinner as a creative process rather than another chore at the end of a long day.

Spend a morning with Sandra Magsamen and you

realize she's genuinely good-hearted. She has a world view that doesn't encompass people who would rather watch Law & Order than play with their grandchildren, or who won't give their spare change to a homeless person because he might use it for drugs or drink.

Artistic but not ornate

A tall, attractive 47-year-old, she isn't overly concerned with how she looks. Her blondish hair is swept up and pinned haphazardly on top of her head. She's wearing hippie clothes and earth shoes. Oddly, there's no jewelry except for a couple of rings (oddly because her art is covered with beads and decoration, and you'd expect her to be, too).

The Baltimore native shares a home in Glen Arm with her husband, painter Mark Barry, their 18-year-old daughter Hannah, a senior at Oldfields School, two dogs, a cat, three chickens and a goldfish.

A first-time visitor might expect something grander than this two-bedroom Cape Cod on a couple of acres of wooded land, now that they have the money to live anywhere. Inside, too, the house is pretty unassuming. The windows are uncurtained, the walls painted white and hung with Mark's large, color-filled canvases. The bare hardwood floors need refinishing. (She loves the bare wood, Sandra says, and she can just sweep up the dog hair instead of running the vacuum.)

The kitchen hasn't been renovated, and the furniture looks as if it was bought at a flea market. It's peeling and beyond shabby chic. Upstairs, the one bathroom has a claw-foot tub, no shower.

But there are two showers downstairs. And the reason there aren't more bedrooms is that Sandra and Mark have their own large studios. There's a small, cozy office for Sandra.

Back in the living room a contemporary loveseat in plush red velvet sits in front of a cheerful fire. The coffee table and the mantelpiece made from an old bumper are works of art, fashioned by local sculptor David Hess. The house is filled, in fact, with pieces that look as if they ought to be in the American Visionary Art Museum. That's not surprising, considering that Sandra is a founding board member of the museum. Walls and shelves display a cheerful clutter -- bright samples of her work, her collection of hearts, clippings she loves, and family photographs.

Don't forget to play

"Surround yourself with the things that reflect who you are," she advises in Living Artfully. Her husband loves flowers, so they mounted five tin containers filled with five different kinds of flowers over the bed's headboard.

"It's like waking up in a garden," she says.

"The best and most treasured gifts are not found in a store," she writes in the book. And while someone else might have wanted a diamond necklace, she treasures the lavender garden Mark planted for her for their 24th wedding anniversary last year.

Open Living Artfully anywhere and you'll come across some bit of advice that has to do with loving yourself or others. Take one at random: "Eat dessert first."

She doesn't mean that literally, does she? It's just a metaphor for being a free spirit. But the next moment she's opening the oven door and bringing out a berry tart, warm and fragrant, to have with late-morning coffee.

"Entice your creative spirit to come out and play," Sandra writes in the book.

The current centerpiece of the dining-room table is a row of cheerful "mussel girls." On vacation in Maine with family this summer, everyone had to create a doll with mussel-shell heads and other found objects. The three-dimensional skirts are fashioned from magazine pictures.

'We can help out'

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