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Imagination full of fantastic whimsy

May 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - Folk artist Lee Milefsky adds a touch of whimsy to a town known for its antiques and history.

Milefsky's gallery and studio at 2 E. Baltimore St. features an interesting array of brightly painted tables, benches, walking sticks, soft sculptures, and wooden creatures and critters created with branches, cloth, paint, feathers - and a healthy dose of imagination.

"I have all this stuff in my mind," Milefsky said. "It's hard for me to focus on one thing because my mind is always working."

The artist moved her gallery and studio from a smaller Funkstown location after her business manager, Miriam Meglan, purchased the property on East Baltimore Street. The airy gallery and studio on the corner of Baltimore and Antietam streets occupy the bottom floor of a house with high ceilings and windows that flood the rooms with natural light.

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Milefsky shares her work space with flying dragons, inquisitive cats, animated alligators, smiling serpents and cheerful birds painted from a primary palette that includes black, yellow, green, red, white and blue.

Milefsky names all the fantastical critters and creatures that she sees in the downed branches from which she crafts much of her art, she said.

"The wood has to speak to me," Milefsky said. "And usually the names just come to me, too."

There's Zeek the flying dragon, a little wooden critter that's "better than any watchdog," according to his identification card. And Raymond the hand-painted alligator limb, who "could eat (his) way through any swamp."

Birds named Mr. and Mrs. Gunther are among the pillow-like soft sculptures that Milefsky designs with folksy fabric. She's painted flowerpots, wooden cutouts and hat boxes, even her studio's storage shed - any medium is fair game, she said.

"I don't limit myself," said Milefsky, who holds an art degree, and focused on graphics after graduating from college in 1973. "Anything I can think of to do, I do. And I use whatever strikes my fancy."

Her textured work often includes swirls and stripes, squiggly lines, triangular teeth and Matisse-like flowers. She sometimes uses marbles and pebbles for eyes. Some critters come complete with turkey feathers. And polka dots abound.

"I love polka dots. I just can't stand it if it doesn't have polka dots," Milefsky said.

She is inspired by nature, interesting people and African and aboriginal tribal art, she said. Milefsky forages for wood with great care, taking only fallen branches and avoiding animal dens, she said.

The artist now is focused on building her inventory to fill the gallery - a slow task because she spends about three months alone creating one of her trademark tables, she said.

Though Milefsky devotes most of her creative energy to her tables and critters, she also designs silk-screened T-shirts, mugs, stationery and other items. And she'll always make time to introduce her "pets" to gallery visitors.

"I love to have people come in and look," she said.

Milefsky's work will be on display in June at a Washington County Fine Arts Museum show and at the Frederick (Md.) Festival of the Arts. Her gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, and other times by appointment.

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