A steady hand and a love of color drive Starksboro artist’s work in silk
Patience is a virtue — or so they say. Many of us consider ourselves patient, thoughtful Vermonters; enjoying the beauty of our natural world, taking a moment for art and appreciating the slow pace of country life. But then, there’s a traffic jam that has you throwing up your hands, a chirping fire alarm that nags you to change the batteries, endless loads of laundry and missing socks … Whatever it is, most of us have suffered a moment when our patience (and virtue) went out the window.
Ellen Spring is just about as patient as they come. She’s spent the past 35 years hand-painting silk. How? She applies a cassava paste to the silk in her own patterns and designs. Then the paste acts as a dam when she adds the color. “I can’t sneeze, cry or laugh when I’m doing this,” she said. “It’s very precise work, but there’s something wonderfully meditative about it.”
But even Spring has moments when her patience wanes.
For example, a few years ago Spring’s husband, Louis DuPont (a local woodworker), renovated their Starksboro barn into a two-story art studio. With the new space and new skills in Shibori — a bound-to-resist style of silk dying that Spring describes as “serendipitous” — the 58-year-old Craftsbury native almost gave-up on her hand-painting.
“I thought I was done coloring in the lines,” she said. “But I guess not. I just needed balance.”
That’s her secret.
“I keep it interesting with new techniques and building on my knowledge,” Spring explained. “I try to get better at things and then there’s always something new to try.”
That, and Spring has an undeniable draw to color.
“I’m a colorist; I love color,” she said, remembering back to her first silk-painting workshop in 1982. “Silk takes the dye so beautifully … I still remember the exact moment I touched a dye-laden brush to the shimmering silk. Ah, the color!”
That was a summer during her on-again off-again college/work pattern. School had always had an art-backdrop for Spring, so it wasn’t a big deal for her to take seven years to finally earn her degree from the University of Vermont. Growing up, her mom, Janet Spring, was the art teacher at the Craftsbury school, and a watercolor artist herself.
“We had a class of 14 people. It was a warm environment and there were no cracks to fall through,” Spring said. “Mom encouraged all creative endeavors. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do if she turned her creative energy to it. She was always making us look a little closer.”
Janet Spring passed away earlier this summer.
“Art was always around me,” Ellen Spring remembered of her mother’s artwork during childhood. “It wasn’t intimidating for me to become an artist because it was right there all the time.”
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