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Artist preserves vanishing Americana

November 09, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

After looking at her unique prints of hand-colored negatives, people often comment to Peggy Meckling that she must have traveled around the country to find such scenes of vanishing Americana.

Actually, she replies, she doesn't have to travel far from her Jefferson County, W.Va., home to find such scenes, but they are becoming fewer.

As around 10 visitors meandered through Meckling's studio - one of nine open to the public this weekend during the 14th Annual Over the Mountain Studio Tour - she discussed how progress can impede her art.

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For Meckling's "Drive-by Icons" series, in which scenes of Americana are depicted, she hand paints a black and white negative. Scenes include an abandoned post office, a carnival-like custard stand next to a teepee and, one of her most popular pieces, a sign advertising "Last Chance Fireworks."

For every scene she has photographed, Meckling said, another has disappeared. Around her home, new homes are quickly replacing barns and farmland.

Even some spots she has shot in the past have since disappeared or changed, Meckling said.

Along with Meckling, 17 other Jefferson County artists also showed their work and studios to the public during the tour, which continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sheila Brannan, who does stained glass, murals and faux painting, had work on display in Meckling's studio.

"I think her stained glass and my colored pieces complement each other well," Meckling said.

The two artists have done the show together for five years, since Brannan's home studio is not conducive to visitors.

"If people make the effort to do that, they're actually interested in art," Meckling said of those taking the tour.

Meckling originally concentrated on painting, then purchased a nice camera to shoot scenes. After taking a darkroom class, she was hooked.

"There's so much you can do creatively in the darkroom," said Meckling, a full-time artist. "I've kind of come full circle" by painting negatives.

Brannan, working on a new creation in one area of the studio, has been working with stained glass since 1976, but only recently began doing "free form" pieces.

Three-dimensional, her work features twisted pieces of glass or other objects. One piece had a wine glass incorporated into it.

Watching people identify with a certain piece can be interesting, she said. Some prefer symmetry, while others are drawn to irregular shapes.

While smaller pieces can take a few hours to complete, larger ones may require weeks of work, Brannan said.

"Stained glass is labor-intensive, and people don't realize that," she said.

Brannan must place bronze-colored foil around the edge of each, solder them together and put a patina on top.

With a brush in hand, Brannan has created large murals for various businesses and also does faux painting for commercial or residential customers. For faux painting, a wall is made to look as if it were made of stone or another texture.

"The work is a reflection of someone's personality," she said.

Barbara and Joy, two sisters who would not give their last names, said they have gone on the studio tour before and enjoy it each time.

"The artists are friendly. They're willing to talk to you about their work," Barbara said.

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