Launched in 2015 to celebrate and steward art within our community, the Overland Art Program promotes both established and emerging artists, inspire the design process, and encourage creative thinking. As part of this program, Overland hosts a series of rotating art exhibits throughout the year.

Last month Architect Tamra Collins and I had a chance to visit local artist Margaret Craig’s studio.  Before this experience, I had only been to the studio of an amateur classical style painter and sculptor whose sparse but expansive space had one sculpture in progress and a few constrained charcoal figure drawings, no tools or materials in sight. This was nothing like that.

We were greeted by one dog and two cats (all friendly, none hers) and a mountain of plastic bottles.  It reminded me of my years in architecture school hoarding cardboard and scraps of metal waiting for the perfect project as the bottles spilled off of the table and onto bins on the floor. In fact, there were so many plastic bottles in that Margaret Craig asked friends to stop bringing them, rather she explains “I can always use more broken toys.”   Her studio is small, but like her work, it is full of little surprises upon close inspection.

Margaret Craig San Antonio Studio

On the other side of the door as you walk in a backlit aquatic bouquet is spilling out of its wood frame.  Across the room, a sculptural installation spills across the one available wall, a closer look reveals a plastic hanger skillfully tucked in. Leaning against the wall facing us a large painting whose intricate flowers are actually tar gel etchings recessed in openings drilled through the wood canvas.  In one corner, The Albatross, a wearable piece she created for 2016’s Luminaria, sits unassumingly. Even the metal plates Margaret uses for the Tar Gel Pressless Etching technique she invented to capture our attention.  They sit on the two large wood tables worn from use and in the slightly ajar drawers by her workspace, the intricate patterns etched in copper hold traces of layered blues and greens accumulated through use.  The small colorful flowers and unformed resulting pieces are lightly scattered about.  A collection of broken toys, brightly colored objects and crayons is grouped across the table from the heat gun.  It is organized chaos. It looks like an invitation to create.

Margaret Craig San Antonio Studio

Margaret clearly delights in the found: utilizing recovered materials, discovering new methods, incorporating small surprises in a work.  Even her artwork discovers the intersection between two of her passions: art and biology.  There is a visual complexity in all of her compositions, found objects working in relation to the objects around them.  She is a Professor and the Chair of Printmaking at the Southwest School of Art here in San Antonio, yet the three-dimensional qualities of her compositions transcend the tradition of printmaking, bringing her work to life at the juncture of several different media.  Many of her pieces include five or six different media. From watercolor to post-consumer plastic to lithography, each time forming a fascinating arrangement that holistically resembles the edge of a coral reef or patch of wildflowers invading a vacant lot.  Look closely and you will see that each is made up of seemingly disparate pieces figuratively stitched together. Her use of these materials makes a sort of tongue-in-cheek statement by transforming the very toxic materials that degrade the flora, fauna, and ecosystems she draws inspiration from into intricate and energetic worlds.

Her work is a reminder of tensions we as designers need to constantly be conscious of. It’s a call for us to critically reflect on our work, methods and materials and how they relate to our buildings’ users and the natural environments. Yet, it also reminds us to create moments of joy, enabling a sense of discovery and to seek opportunities for innovation.

Malleable Objects from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for future updates about the Overland Art Program and Margaret Craig. To read more about her work, visit her website here.

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