Artist Spotlight: Catherine Tallmadge
Growing up in Carbondale, Catherine Tallmadge took every art class she could in school and did independent study besides. She then spent a few years working at Main Street Gallery and the Framer in Carbondale before attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. She’s now back in the valley and working on local wildflowers painstakingly imitated in paper, which are on display at the Main Street Gallery in Carbondale. She recently spoke with the Post Independent about her journey and her work.
What sort of mediums did you work with in college and beyond?
They’re really interdisciplinary. Their main focus is turning out successful contemporary artists, and so much these days people are sculptors but also performance artists and photographers.
Because my mom is a seamstress, I tended to gravitate toward the fiber and material studies department. I still dabbled in painting and took some printmaking and drawing classes, but I was mainly immersed in embroidery, weaving, spinning, screen printing … that kind of became my home.
When I left school, I was producing contemporary fiber art, which is a hard medium to show, and I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be a “famous” artist. I’m not cut from that cloth. The physical act of creativity has always been something I’ve had to do, whether it’s doll clothes or sketchbooks or paper flowers.
I say I’m a maker more than an artist.
Tell us about framing.
I was very fortunate to stumble into a career path early on that kind of checked all my boxes. I get to be around art all day long, and I also get to make things, and there’s also this lovely personal aspect to having people bring you the most important things.
I framed in Chicago for 10 years, but I’d visit my family here and wonder why I was getting back on the plane.
I came back in 2013 not knowing if I was going to stay, and then Frank and Sally offered me my old job.
How did you start making paper flowers?
I had a friend who got married, and I made 600 paper flowers for her wedding. They were very simple, but I had all this residual crepe paper and I had a friend ask me if I could make a couple to hang on the wall as art. From that evolved this show.
There’s something about crepe paper that kind of lends itself to this, and there are a few other artists around the country that are making similar things, though they’re mostly freestanding. It’s partially because I’m a framer that mine look the way they do.
What made you chose local wildflowers?
There are certainly plenty of interesting and exquisite flowers in the world, but for that local grab, this kind of made sense.
They’re also three dimensional objects, and I can go on a hike and find an indian paintbrush and examine it hands on. There’s an immediacy to it.
People come in and get really excited about plants they’ve seen. I kind of love that they’re preserved. Otherwise, you have to be in the right spot in the right time to see them.
Tell us about your process.
It all starts with hikes. I’ve always been a very careful observer, and I also have a very good memory. I can look at something and remember what it looks like. I take photos for color reference, but I could sit down and make something fairly close to what I had seen without it.
A lot of people make templates to cute petal shapes, but I just fold paper and then cut it. I think that’s part of the reason that they look so natural. They’re not perfect and they’re all different.
Last year I went to Amsterdam and visited the Rijksmuseum, which is amazing. Everybody who likes that kind of Rembrandt and Vermeer high-style painting should go. At that time, tulips were more valuable than gold. They were ephemeral objects, so they would paint these really lush still lifes with these huge bouquets of flowers.
I want to recreate those in paper, so that’s kind of where this might evolve.
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