Category Archives: Mentions & Coverage

Moment: Artist at work doing oil paintings of Wally’s Restaurant

From an article by Tim Barber for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Outbound traffic on McCallie Avenue begins to build to rush-hour levels on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-December as local artist Hollie Berry applies the first strokes of color to her latest oil painting.

Dressed in full winter outerwear with fingerless gloves, Berry glances at the fading image of a setting sun through gray skies, feels the chilling wind and considers packing up her brushes and moving from the sidewalk across from Wally’s Restaurant.

City buses and delivery vans pass by just feet away as Berry steadies her flimsy wooden easel in 46-degree temperatures.

“There used to be a really cool retro sign for Wally’s,” she said, comparing photos on her cellphone. “It’s not up anymore, but it’s in the old pictures.”

The spot she chose on the sidewalk is the exact angle depicted in the 1950s photograph she is painting, Berry said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

“I’m doing a couple of paintings,” said Berry. “One of their restaurant the way it looked in the 1950s, all in sepia tone; then another one the way the restaurant looks now, in all color.”

When completed, both paintings will hang side by side in the Highland Park community restaurant, she added.

Berry, a two-year Chattanooga resident, began painting at age 8. Now, the graduate from the University of Texas at Austin has gone full time in the business and has a studio in the Chattanooga WorkSpace downtown.

“I’m going to make myself stay out here for about 30 more minutes,” she said as the afternoon shade crept across the sidewalk. “I was going to stay longer, but it got cold too fast. If I get a sunny day, I’ll spend a full day on it.”

Contact staff photographer Tim Barber at or 423-757-6640.

Bright Darkness: Artist Ploufe likes to ‘play’ with duality

From an article by Lynda Edwards for Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Walk into Renel Ploufe’s studio and your glance sweeps across a multitude of detailed, lovely cityscapes. But there’s one vertigo-drenched painting that grabs and won’t let go.

It looks like the last glimpse a New Yorker might have of his city as he plunges from the top of the Empire State Building into the Manhattan night. The darkness is splintered by golden skyscraper windows. A wild mishmash of brightly lit streets and red warning lights swirl across two panels.

“I call that painting ‘Darkness’ because, although I love cities, every city has dark places, alleys, the neighborhoods where people go in the day but won’t walk into at night,” says Ploufe. “In that painting, the darkness is taking over but you can still see the beauty.

Renel Plourfe's painting "Destination" hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
Renel Plourfe’s painting “Destination” hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
“Yes, it does look like a last moment. But I like to play with that duality. Nothing is ever just one thing. Sometimes putting a dark topic in bright colors can make a visitor see something or think about something he would otherwise be afraid to look at too closely.”

Ploufe, 39, is a magician with paint, an artist who can paint grim and scary subjects in exquisite pastels and gorgeous neon and candy colors. She is one of those artists who can earn a living from her art full-time and have time to play with her twin preschool daughters.

“Renel recently donated two paintings to a local homeless shelter because she wanted residents to have something soothing and calming to contemplate,” says WorkSpace manager Kathy Lennon, as she displays the two donations — calming, restful seascapes. “Her paintings have many different moods.”

A French-Canadian by birth, Ploufe counts Montreal as well as New York and Chattanooga as her influences. Her husband’s work as a computer engineer brought the couple to Chattanooga, where she fell in love with the artists’ colony that inhabits WorkSpace, a former nursing home on Sixth Street that was converted into studios and meeting places.

Ploufe also uses different styles — Cubism, abstract expressionism, Impressionism — and one of her paintings, “Fenetre” (“Window”), could be a female version of Munch’s “The Scream.” In it, a pretty blond woman sits in front of the huge window mentioned in the title but the sunlight and glass seem to have exploded and begun to melt. The colors are so happy, the painting could be decorative, even though the subject might be a science-fiction plot gone very wrong.

Renel Plourfe's painting "Fenetre" hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
Renel Plourfe’s painting “Fenetre” hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.

Ploufe’s own favorites are her paintings using metallic shades, so expertly done that the oil and acrylic paints look like shards of steel, copper and iron.

“I especially love using copper hues and tones because copper hides a secret life; it has the bright shiny color we know when it is new then, as it ages, it picks up deep green tones and dark, rich hues,” Ploufe says.

“Copper is the second chance we get in life. We make crazy mistakes when we are young or we don’t know how to protect ourselves in life. In my paintings, rich-colored copper is the life we make after we gain wisdom and experience. That second life can be an unforgettable creation.”

Contact Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or

Moment: A Weaving Spell

(From an article for the Times Free Press by Maura Friedman)

Weaving came naturally. Kim Gavin felt as though she’d done it before.

“I could feel the rhythm of this and it all made sense to me,” Gavin said of her first time at a loom, a year and a half ago.

For each line of yarn woven into Gavin’s tea towel, there’s a woosh as she treddles, using her feet to raise and lower the harnesses of the loom, and a clatter as the beater bar pushes every strand into place. After a few minutes, the pattern sounds musical. It hangs in the stillness of her studio.

“You get into that state of flow,” Gavin said. “You’re doing something that’s a little bit challenging but not overwhelming and you can completely immerse yourself in it.”

Weaving is Gavin’s primary art medium. For her it was a natural progression from “instant-gratification knitting,” when she used big yarn to make projects go by faster. Now no matter the size of the yarn, Gavin’s loom speeds the process.

Gavin said the effect is therapeutic.

“Your brain quiets down and you just go.”

She started weaving on a rigid heddle loom, a simple frame with no moving parts. But this floor loom – an old loom, but new to Gavin – will go even faster and her projects can be even bigger.

Light streams into the studio space and wraps around the cherry wood of the floor loom. Gavin saw it for sale on Facebook a few months ago and went to Charlottesville, Va., to make the purchase and arrange shipping.

The Jack-type floor loom has 50 inches of weaving width and eight harnesses, which means lots of pattern possibilities.

“It’s really just basically your two yarns at right angles to one another,” Gavin said. “But when you start manipulating them over space, you can create effects as if you’re doing diagonal things or circular things.”

Gavin misses a warp thread and her yarn gets tangled. She begins to unweave the problem spot, slowly and methodically.

“You have to go back and fix it and that means patience,” Gavin said. “That helps me practice a skill that I need.”

It doesn’t slow her down much.

The studios in the Chattanooga Workspace, including Gavin’s, are open on the first Friday of every month.

“It’s a good time to come by and see the loom in action,” Gavin said.

Julie Whitehead Creates Upscale Tie-Dye Options

Article by Rachel Sauls-Wright, Chattanooga Times Free Press (published November 13, 2013)

Julie Jones
Julie Whitehead

You won’t see many buckets and rubber bands in tie-dye artist Julie Whitehead’s studio.

It’s more like heavy-duty clamps, hardware and broken CDs.

“There is a lot of chemistry involved,” said Whitehead, adding that chemical reactants like soda ash and heat play a big part in creating tie-dye designs. “People don’t realize that tie-dye is thousands of years old. It uses techniques that come from Thailand and Japan.”

Creating the upscale tie-dye clothing she is known for takes more time, effort and expertise than the simple designs taught at summer camp.

Although that’s not to say she doesn’t create T-shirts too. Iconic “California” style tie-dye shirts are always on offer at her booth at the Chattanooga Market, festivals across the region or online, but she is working to show the area that tie-dye is more than the T-shirts typically associated with the art form. Tie-dye can be part of something to wear to work or as part of a truly put-together outfit, she said.

Whitehead, who lives in Brainerd, also wants to help share the art of dying with the Chattanooga community. She plans to begin hosting classes later this fall or winter on basic tie-dying or more advanced subjects liked silk dying.

“It’s very relaxing just to get out of your element a little bit and take any kind of art class, and it’s also educational,” she said. “Plus, you get to go home with something you made yourself. And with a professional guiding the process, you’re more likely to create something you’ll love and will wear.”

For more information about Whitehead’s designs or to purchase your own, visit

Ali Kay: Chattanooga artist thinks outside the box

Article by Karen Nazor Hill, Chattanooga Times Free Press (published October 22, 2013)

Ali KayWhen Ali Kay moved to Chattanooga from Houston, Texas, seven months ago, she bypassed her residence and headed straight to her new art studio.

The award-winning artist, who specializes in murals, was anxious to start work.

“I literally drove straight to the studio in a U-Haul from Houston,” says Kay, whose studio is at Chattanooga WorkSpace on West Sixth Street. “My husband and I decided to build a new house on the North Shore, so most of our things were in storage when we arrived. I knew I wanted to start working right away, so we packed up the U-Haul with just my studio contents and drove here.”

Kay, 29, received her first art commission when she was 15 and it hooked her on painting murals.

“My friend’s mom hired me to create an underwater-themed mural in their bathroom. I remember I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, but they only lived a few blocks away, so I packed all my paint up in a coaster wagon to take to my client’s home,” she recalls.

Kay’s murals range from floral scenery to people, trees and intricate designs. She also paints on canvas.

While she was in Houston, about half of the murals she was commissioned to paint were on ceilings. She won six design awards for her murals from the American Society of Interior Designers.

“I think the reason they were so popular was that many of the homes I worked in had unique ceiling features such as domes, groin vaults and trays,” she says. “My clients wanted to highlight these features and really make them shine.

“I’ve heard it said that the ceiling is the fifth wall,” Kay says. “It has gotten overlooked as an area to add design and interest to a space. Why should ceilings be plain white?

Kay — who moved to Chattanooga with her husband, Jason, because of his new job at Metaltek — says ceiling murals don’t “seem to be quite as widespread in Chattanooga, but I hope to change that.”

“I think once people start seeing the impact it can have, the idea will spread,” says Kay, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree with a focus in painting and drawing and a minor in art history from the University of Wisconsin.

Local interior designer Mary Jane Tallant Fitzgerald, owner of Tallanted Interiors, says she has worked with many clients throughout her 20-year-career who have murals in their homes.

Fitzgerald says that while requests from clients about murals have been constant throughout her career, the down economy has had an effect of people’s budgets.

“The peel-off decals have become popular in the last couple of years,” she says. “When money is tight, some people turn to that option. But decals do not hold a candle to murals. With murals, you get paint, and with paint you get depth and texture. It adds so much warmth to room.”

Chattanoogan Anne Wehunt, assistant director of athletics communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says she’s a fan of murals.

“When I was a kid, my mother painted the zodiac on one wall in the basement and the planets on another. My bedroom had Cinderella’s castle with the whole Disney crew stretching across two walls,” says Wehwunt, whose late mother was a long-time art teacher at Notre Dame High School. “Her art room at Notre Dame was covered with her students’ work.”


Wehunt says the walls in her home today are bare but she is considering having a mural painted on one of the walls in her office. “I work in the dungeon in the McKenzie Arena and have no windows.”

Kay says her first local ceiling mural will be in her own home.

“I have plans to paint a large medallion around my chandelier in my own home and, I’m pretty sure that once I do, I will be doing more and more.”

In 2003, Kay started her decorative painting company, Positive Space, while a student in art school in Milwaukee. For the next seven years, she did mural work there in private homes and businesses. In 2010, she and her husband moved to Houston.

“This is where my painting business really took off,” she says. “I found an incredible demand in Houston for high-end custom wall finishes and murals. I worked with many talented interior designers on a variety of decorative painting projects.”

Kay’s work in Houston was mostly in private residences, she says, but here she hopes to expand into commercial projects.

“I see so many great restaurants and bars here that are opening all the time and I just think there is a lot of opportunity for custom painting,” she says. “I have a habit of thinking really big and outside the box and a commercial setting lends itself to that.”

Despite their size, some of her works take just one day to complete, she says.

“If it’s a very simple silhouette style mural or a simple wall finish on a single wall, it can be done in a few hours. I have done some very large scale murals that can take up to a month. I would say that most of the projects I do take about a week to complete,” she says.

The cost of Kay’s work is determined by the time it takes to complete a project, the cost of materials, and the difficulty of the space in which she works.

“If I’m working on scaffolding 30 feet in the air, I have to charge more than if I am on the ground,” she says. “I also consider the value of what I am creating. Sometimes the final work of art is very valuable even though it did not take long to create.”

The sources of her inspiration are varied.

“Usually my clients have some sort of direction they want to go with their space, but not always. Sometime, we start from scratch.

“I’m inspired by so many things,” she says. “I have to say that Pinterest changed everything for me. It’s usually the first place I go when I need to be creative. I don’t copy anything I see online, but it gets me thinking. I can use bits and pieces of other projects I see and combine them with my own ideas to come up with something great. I don’t think there is much difference anymore between my canvas work and my murals. It’s all custom fine art.”

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at or 423-757-6396.