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Artist lends creative touch to Habitat

February 05, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Lynn and Jackie Shaw's historic Smithsburg-area home has served as a gristmill, whiskey distillery, fruit packing plant, rabbit hutch, publishing house, photography studio and artists' retreat.

And for the past decade, the Shaws' abode has been the creative center for a local charity's biggest annual fund-raiser.

Artist Jackie Shaw has coordinated the design and creation of hand-painted centerpieces for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County's annual dinner auction since the event started in 1994. Her home now holds dozens of hand-painted mailboxes to illustrate the Letters of Hope from Habitat theme for the 10th annual dinner auction on March 22.

Shaw and members of two Quad-State area art clubs - Apple Valley Painters and Potomac View Decorative Artists - volunteered their time to turn ordinary metal mailboxes into works of art for the auction, she said.

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The mailboxes will grace dining tables at the event before they are auctioned off to support the nonprofit organization's efforts to build affordable homes for deserving families in Washington County.

"It's a lot of work, but it's been very fun," Shaw said. "The artists are really super. They are just special people."

About a dozen artists from the two art clubs gathered at the Shaws' Edgemont Road home for a weekend in late January to prepare for the dinner auction and paint an elaborate dollhouse that will be raffled later this year to benefit Habitat. Nick Hill of Clear Spring built and donated the detailed house, onto which artist Fran Schmitt and others carefully stroked shades of blue and cream.

"We have a great time doing this," said Schmitt, president of Virginia-based Potomac View Decorative Artists.

The annual centerpieces have become a focal point of the auction, drawing an increasing number of bids each year, Shaw said.

"Every year we've watched the prices go up," she said. "It's so exciting that now, even before the auction, we have people asking what we're planning to do for next year."

A former teacher and child development specialist, she took a few fine arts classes and began painting in 1971. The hobby evolved into a full-time job as Shaw moved from teaching painting techniques to a few interested neighbors in Rockville, Md., to opening a wholesale paint supply store, writing 33 books about painting and traveling around the globe teaching at painting seminars.

"I was on the go constantly," Shaw said. "It got to the point that I was ready to slow down."

The 150-year-old stone barn that she and her husband found near Smithsburg in 1982 promised - with some renovations and additions - an ideal location for Shaw to host art seminars without leaving her home, she said. The Shaws also started a small book-publishing company out of their home after Lynn Shaw, a photography enthusiast, retired from the military.

The couple has slowed their pace in recent years, but Jackie Shaw has no immediate plans to curb her charitable work, she said.

"It's hard to think of not working with Habitat," she said.

Her biggest challenge is coming up with cost-efficient centerpieces that have wide sales appeal and will fit in the center of a table without too much obstruction, she said. Past centerpieces have included fairy-tale houses, miniature papier-mach birdhouses, tropical fish, plant-filled cache boxes and butterfly houses, Shaw said.

Many of the artists who volunteer their time and talents to the centerpiece projects also donate other artwork for the auction and other worthy causes such as memory boxes for bereaved parents, she said.

The hand-painted memory boxes are donated to hospitals so they can be filled with gifts for families who lose children.

"It's a wonderful program," artist Linda Smiley said. "If families lose a baby, they don't have to go home from the hospital empty-handed."

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