To end our show at the Arts Council Carol and I did a little talk. In this blog post I’m including some tidbits that I did not share during the talk, like the part about what we did when we lived in Aspen. And I’m only posting my part of the talk!
Some of this is a repeat of my last post but I did not have the photos there. This is how my life in art unfolded.
I didn’t particularly do any art as a child but when I was a junior in high school I needed to take a foreign language for college. They only taught German in our school but they started an exchange program with another school, where I could take Spanish, which I thought I would have more use for. We went two days a week and could take a second class while there. I chose to take an art class. We had art classes at our school but the teacher was terrible and if you weren’t a cheerleader she didn’t have any time for you.
Well the art teacher in the other school changed my life. We did wire sculpture, clay, painting, drawing, pretty much anything you could think of and I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I went home and told my folks I wanted to go to art school, they said you need to get a real education, so I chose Siena Heights.
I still had a year of high school ahead so I started painting with the neighbor lady and eventually we started going to art shows together and selling our work, we continued to do that all through my 20s.
Once at Siena Heights I concentrated on drawing and printmaking. I went to school part time, worked full time, and went to art shows on the weekends, all over Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Some where along the line I saw a steam locomotive and I was enthralled with it. All the intricate detail, gears, pipes, even the sound.
I searched out more of them and started noticing the depots, and the distinctive architecture of them, which is what got me started with my love affair with architecture.
My Mom was very involved with the local Historical Society and she, I, and the executive director cooked up the idea of me doing drawings of historic sites around our county, we’d do a calendar, they would sell them, I would sell the originals. I did those calendars for about 10 years.
I continued to draw depots, eventually doing drawings of about 40 of them in Michigan. The Michigan Historical Society bought most of them and used some in this publication.
Like I said I worked full time while going to college, which is why it took me 10 years to get my degree. I worked as a senior citizen coordinator, eventually designing and printing a newsletter for them which went out to 10,000 seniors. This is what got me into the printing industry. I worked for a commercial printer and would do drawings for different publications along with typesetting, pasteup, darkroom, running press, even working in the bindery. A lot of people didn’t like working in the bindery but I wanted to learn all aspects of the business. I worked there until 1982 when I got married and we moved to Colorado.
There I began to draw the areas architecture and went to work for the Arts Council and the Aspen Times. We also lived in a beautiful estate on the top of Buttermilk Mountain, which we watched over while the owners were in their Beverly Hills home, or their home in Portland, Maine. Michael worked for John Denver as land manager at his Windstar Foundation. We met all kinds of people while in Aspen, it was pretty exciting. Again people started wanting to use my drawings for advertising and I had a nice little business going doing drawings of peoples homes. And I was once again doing art shows all over the region.
I did a series of drawings of a carousel in the middle of the state. I did prints and notecards of it which I sold at shows and in some shops.
I also continued to draw railroads. At one show the curator at the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library saw my work and ended up purchasing all these railroad drawings for their permanent collection.
We had a great time in Aspen but eventually started looking for a new home, where it didn’t snow and there was water. But before we left I did a simple drawing for some folks for their wedding invitation, the style would come in handy when we got to New Bern.
We left Aspen in our motor home and traveled to San Diego, the Texas Coast, the Gulf Coast, and eventually to the Florida Keys where we stayed for a year.
We started looking for our new home on paper, and telling people we wanted a place on the coast that was on its way but hadn’t gotten there yet. A guy we met from the Outer Banks said you should look at New Bern, it sounds just like what you are looking for. We wrote to the City of New Bern and the Chamber, Arts Council, and Swiss Bear. They all filled our box up! And yes it DID sound just like what we were looking for. I did not say this in my talk but in 1989 you could have shot a bullet down the street in our Downtown and not hit anyone. But they were working hard at changing that. I loved the architecture and we both loved the water, the size of the town, and the walkability of the Downtown and historic district.
We parked our motor home at what was then Yogi Bear. It was not as nice like it is now as a KOA, so it wasn’t long before we wanted somewhere else to live. We were not sure we could make a living here so Michael said lets buy a boat, he’d always wanted to live on one.I said I guess if I can live in a motor home I can live on a boat. So we were the 2nd boat at what was then the Ramada Marina (now Bridgepoint). Within a few days of us coming to New Bern I walked into the Arts Council and picked up a newsletter that said, Welcome to Carol Tokarski our new gallery director, graduate of Siena Heights College. You’ve got to be kidding I thought, my graduating class was less than 100 so to find another Siena person here and one in the arts was pretty amazing. I called her up and said I’m not big into this alumni stuff but I went to Siena too, and we have been friends ever since.
So I started drawing the town, using that simplified style I had started in Aspen.
By this time it had been so long since I had worked in color I had to learn that all over again. So I had prints done of my drawings and would hand color them.
I did a lot of drawings of birds and once again did prints and hand colored the prints.
I drew all the historic churches, hand colored prints, and eventually did watercolors of all of them.
I eventually figured out watercolors and began painting the town.
In 1992 Carol and I had a show at the Arts Council called New Bern City Streets. Hence the name of our current show “Francoeur & Tokarski – 30 Years Later.”
Going back to my simple drawings. Somewhere I heard that Dale Chihuly could get more mileage out of a single idea than anyone. You could say the same about me with these simple drawings. I did a series of little drawings of flowers, herbs, fruit, vegetables, etc, did prints of them and hand colored them. People started asking if I did tiles of them, no, but that’s a good idea! So that was the start of our Celebration Pottery which has continued to evolve through the years.
I started doing a New Bern Christmas card the 2nd year we were here, so I guess I’ve probably done 30 or so!
When we moved here there weren’t many, or any, good souvenirs, so I made that a mission. I’ve done about 30 New Bern Ornaments, I design them then send my image off to a place in Rhode Island that makes the ornaments. It’s the same place that does the White House ornaments. And I’ve done New Bern calendars for over 15 years, which causes me to paint at least 12 paintings of New Bern each year.
And people started wanting to use my images on their advertising pieces, cookbooks, etc, like they did in Colorado and Michigan.
I’ve done the artwork for the Spring Home Tour for the past 15 years or more.
Through the years I managed to do a successful oil painting now and then but it would be so far in between, like a year or two, it was like I had never done one before, starting from scratch each time.
From 1989 through 1995 we were on Middle Street where Earth Wind & Fire are, renting space where we basically had a booth, then we moved to Pollock Street and that is when our business really took off. Up until then I had been selling and promoting my own work, once we moved I was selling and promoting about 50 other artists as well as myself. Someone asked why have other artists, why not just sell your own work. I said I wanted to build a business that I could sell when it was time to retire.
We were in the building on the right for 7 years. And eventually bought the building on the left. An ad salesman told me that he had a hardware store but the only reason he was able to sell his business and retire was because he also owned the real estate. We bought the building and found a partner to help us develop it. After renovations we made it into a commercial condominium and each owned our own space. After moving there business took off even more. And I started really promoting not only our business but our whole downtown.
We had quite a few painting workshops at my studio with different artists.
Business went on and grew and grew. Some of my friends that were artists and then owned a gallery quit doing their art, I said that would never happen to me, and it never did. I continued to paint and do my pottery while still running the gallery.
Michael putting up storm shutters before a hurricane!
After 25 years I got tired and decided it was time to retire so sold the business in 2017 but I continued to be the resident artist. The business has just sold again in 2023 and I will STILL be the resident artist. I’m grateful to still have a place to sell my work, because I still love doing it everyday.
Since “retirement” I’ve been traveling a lot. I always wanted to do paintings from my travels but didn’t want to have a bunch of big paintings laying around, which no one but me would be interested in. So I started doing these tiny 6 x 9″ watercolors, and much to my surprise other people HAVE been interested in them.
And I’ve even done the occasional abstract, these are done with cold wax.
When Carol and I were asked to do this show I decided it was now or never to learn to paint in oil. So we spend from October 2021 to November 2022 doing all the work in the show. It was a great year for me!
So now what? Our show – 30 years later – was a huge success, I will continue to paint in oils, and am back doing some sculpture for the garden for a show at Carolina Creations in March.
I’m looking forward to what 2023 brings.