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Artist preserves memories

January 18, 2000

Barbara PowellBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: YVETTE MAY / staff photographer




HALFWAY - Barbara Powell paints memories.

Her detailed miniature wooden replicas of historic buildings and private homes serve as reminders of times past, she said.

A tiny "village" flanks one wall of the studio in Powell's Halfway home.

The Washington County Circuit Courthouse rests on a shelf beside Earl's Market, of State Line, Pa. Standing nearby are The Country Inn and The Berkeley Castle, both of Berkeley Springs, W.Va..

A photograph hanging above Powell's village shows a sentimental keepsake that was one of the many $80 to $100 replicas Powell sent to current and former property owners as Christmas gifts commissioned by loved ones, she said.

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The wooden replica in the photo is all that remains of an old Sharpsburg Pike house that was torn down to make way for Alterra Assisted Living Facilities in Hagerstown, she said.

"These are hand-me-down keepsakes. They should last forever," said Powell, who is in her 50s.

She said she has re-created miniature renditions of thousands of historic buildings and private homes since she launched her painting career seven years ago.

Powell also designs murals and ceramic tiles, and was commissioned recently to create circus-oriented plaques to sell over the Internet and to paint Prohibition-era canvases for The Steakout restaurant in downtown Hagerstown, she said.

"I'm always wanting to do artwork - any kind of artwork," Powell said. "My mother said when I was a little girl all I wanted to do was draw."

She followed her dream to paint for a living after quitting her job selling Miracle Ear hearing aids at Montgomery Ward in Valley Mall. Powell submitted some craft items to a store in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and surprised the owner with a detailed wooden replica of the business, she said.

That replica, which the store owner displayed in the shop, sparked an avalanche of orders.

"It's amazing. It's all word-of-mouth," Powell said. "It's skyrocketed to the point that I'm just painting seven days a week."

After her work was featured briefly on a Baltimore television station, Powell began getting orders from all over the country, she said.

"I've done houses for people I've never met."

During the Christmas season, she often paints into the wee hours of the night to fill orders, she said.

Out-of-town orders often come with detailed notes and photographs, said Powell, who adds to her houses such personal touches as family pets, flower gardens and custom door wreaths.

She shoots her own pictures for local orders.

After studying the photographs, Powell sketches an oversize, detailed drawing, reduces the picture to the appropriate size, and outlines the sketch on durable pressed wood.

Her boyfriend then cuts the wood, which Powell fashions into a detailed replica, paying close attention to matching paint colors.

It takes her six to eight hours to complete a replica.

"I'm hard on myself. I like that house to look exactly like the photograph," she said.

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