The 'Dillo is a whole new party animal this year.
Austin's homegrown Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is morphing into the future with a new venue, a new look and 27 new artists, the most in three decades.
The go-local shopping and music party celebrates its 35th anniversary this week as it opens for 10 days and nights of Austin-centric holiday traditions at the cavernous Palmer Events Center. The party begins Wednesday with more than 160 artists and at least three music shows each day showcasing 31 acts, including Sahara Smith, the Derailers and Terri Hendrix.
"It's about as new as it can get," says Bruce Willenzik, the show's producer since 1981.
"We spent our year looking for characters with good work and good attitude. If they weren't characters, if they were just boring, why bother? This is Austin."
The new logo of a green armadillo transforming into a Christmas tree shaped (sort of) like the state Capitol dome is meant to capture the evolving spirit of the 'Dillo.
"We've been morphing from whatever Austin is to whatever Austin is becoming," Willenzik says.
The first Armadillo Christmas Bazaar was held in 1976 at the old Armadillo World Headquarters, located near South First Street and Barton Springs Road before it was demolished. Willenzik has moved the extravaganza from venue to venue ever since. This year, he stepped up the search for new artists to keep the show fresh as the traditional roster of artists ages.
"I want it to survive," he says. "I want this to be there for Austin's future for generations to come."
Here's a peek at five artists and their new booths.
Lawyers use the same opening statement when they see Collin Welsch's paintings.
"Wow," they say. "Wow. Lucky you. You're so smart."
Welsch used to be a lawyer. Now she's an artist with a Cheshire cat grin. Even her paintings smile.
Her "Skeletons" series of acrylics on canvas show Día de Los Muertos bones in all sorts of whimsical situations: kayaking, mowing the lawn, cooking, soaking in a bubble bath, fishing or taking a coffee break. The skeletons smile so big their teeth look like piano keys.
"Going from the legal profession to the art world was kind of a crazy switcheroo. It was like going from a land of problems and conflict to a place full of rainbows and butterflies," she says.
Welsch grew up in Wharton, where her father was a state district court judge. Law was in her blood. She earned a degree in communications from the University of Texas and a law degree from the University of Houston. She worked as a lawyer in Austin for seven years, but when her second child was born in 2006, she decided to quit.
She wanted to paint. Her husband pointed out that she didn't know how.
"Maybe you should just get me some lessons," she said. He paid for classes at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art, at Laguna Gloria.
First, she painted a Gustav Klimt-inspired tree spreading its bare branches against a dark background speckled with blue dots. Roots snake below ground and a gold star shines in the heavens. She started a collection called "Tree of Life." Her painted branches and trunks are filled with colorful flowers and geometric shapes.
Painting Day of the Dead skeletons and Trees of Life is "kind of yin and yang," she says. "They complement each other in a weird way."
Her latest work is two-dimensional collage that involves pouring resin over paintings adorned with pieces of colored glass.
If you ever want to know whether Welsch has regrets about giving up the law, just check out her necklace.
It says: "Lucky."
Cathie Hutchins never did get back on the bike.
Her cycling race days ended in 2005 with a hip and knee injury that forced her to find an answer to her husband's question: "Now what are you going to fixate on?"
Felted wool bags, she told him months later after learning to knit and felt organic Peruvian wool in a trial-and-error process that resulted in thick, uniform fabric every time.
Hutchins won "Eco Designer of the Year" in 2007 in the Texas Next Top Designer Competition with her colorful line of vintage-inspired bags. Her label, Austin Yarn Co., has caught the attention of actors, musicians and fashion-conscious shoppers. Reckless Kelly instrumentalist Cody Braun has one of her felted wool fiddle cases.
Her husband would be proud. W.J. "Hutch" Hutchins died of a heart attack in 2008. They had been married almost 20 years. "He was my greatest cheerleader," she said. Hutchins ran her wool business and the garage door company founded by her soulmate until the recent sale of the mom-and-pop door business.
Now she's going full blast with fiber.
"We move forward," she says. "I'm lucky enough to know people who want to help me."
Hutchins grew up in New York and earned a degree in graphic design from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She worked in advertising and moved to Austin in 1985 after being recruited by an ad agency.
She lives in a South Austin duplex that is filled with knitting machines, sewing machines, cutting tables and drying lines. It's a chaos of color. Her dogs, Sally and Lucy, keep her company as she sews purses, clutches, pillows and other felted items with her signature saddle stitching.
She hopes she hits it big, but she plans to continue hiring and buying local as much as possible. Her dream is to open her own Texas sheep ranch.
Stephanie Jones Rubiano
Stephanie Jones Rubiano has the mind of a scientist, the soul of an artist and the instincts of a bargain hunter.
She makes art out of found objects; her three-dimensional collages pull the viewer into a tiny world of make-believe filled with wisdom and whimsy.
A little girl in a plaid dress stands atop a small antique light bulb and holds another little bulb in her arm. She wears a crown of gold metal and sports beautiful butterfly wings. A certificate from a long-ago business called the Sunshine Mantle Company provides an ephemeral backdrop. "Enlightened" reads the vintage text glued on her chest.
In another shadow box, a small boy holds an old bus token and his shoulders sport striking yellow moth wings with long scissor tails that sweep down to a metal beetle from some bygone toy.
"They kind of tell their own stories," Rubiano says of her artwork, known as assemblage (ah-sem-blahj).
Her own life story is a collage, too. She grew up in Austin, an introverted child who loved the outdoors and Jacques Cousteau on TV as much as drawing and painting.
She earned a degree in marine biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston and worked as an environmental scientist for the Baker Hughes oil company in Houston for five years.
She dabbled in rubber stamp art and paper crafts more than 10 years ago, which led to the collage work that now takes her around the country to exhibit and teach. She returned to Austin in 2006.
Rubiano creates her pieces at the kitchen counter. A jeweler's saw and tools sit next to a fish tank of beautiful live coral. Working in the kitchen allows her to keep an eye on her active 6-year-old daughter.
She starts one collage by photocopying a Victorian-era photo, gluing it to birch plywood and cutting it out with her saw. She adds a metal crown snipped from old spice tins and butterfly or moth wings obtained from a sustainable source. The real fun comes in choosing the tiny vintage objects that pull the story together.
"I like things with a sense of history that look well-used and well-loved," she says. "I get to repurpose them."
Christopher Alan Smith used a map to find his way out of unemployment.
He drew it himself, connecting the stippled dots until he had a new career in the fine arts world.
Smith's illustrated historic maps of Texas are embellished with characters, weapons and facts that he hunts down in history books.
"Santa Anna fought more battles than Napoleon & George Washington combined," says a blurb next to a small portrait of the Mexican general.
His large map of the Republic of Texas pinpoints 47 frontier forts and 87 battle sites, including the Battle of Medina in 1813: "About 1,300 Republican soldiers were killed," the map notes. "Bloodiest battle ever fought on TX soil."
He creates the historical maps one tiny drop of ink at a time. The map's background is painted with acrylics on canvas to give the document an aged look. Then, Smith uses a refillable Rapidograph pen to make tens of thousands of dense, brown dots for the illustrations, which look similar to art found on U.S. currency or in old Wall Street Journal profiles. One square inch of a map may contain as many as 1,000 spots of ink.
Smith also has drawn detailed maps of the Alamo, the Mission Trail in San Antonio, battles of the Texas Revolution, and the flags of Texas and Texas Ranger badges.
"Most maps just have the political boundaries and the legend and compass rose," he said. "I really think I have something unique."
Smith, a seventh-generation Texan, took his first drawing class as an adult at Austin Community College 20 years ago. He went on to earn a degree in fine arts from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos. He lives with his wife and two children in Leander.
He had a day job as a graphic artist for a textbook-publishing company. At night, he drew historical maps as a hobby. By the time he was laid off in December 2008, he had completed the 40-by-60-inch Republic of Texas battle map.
"No more cubicles!" became his personal battle cry.
Toys were not plentiful in Meiling Chang's house when she was growing up in Taiwan, so she concentrated on embellishing the few she owned.
"When I was a kid, I was into art and sewing," she says. "I was always making clothes and dresses for my stuffed animals or dolls, and I got lots of compliments on them. Mom always made our clothes, so I just watched her, and I really liked sewing, so I started to learn how to use a sewing machine."
Today, she makes clothing for women using her professional skills in sewing, knitting and crochet. Her one-of-a-kind designs are stylish and playful, yet timeless and classic. One popular design is a hand-crocheted bodice of natural fiber that Chang takes to the sewing machine, where she attaches a flowing dress of mesmerizing fabric.
Chang studied at the National Taiwan University of Arts and earned a degree in fashion design from Shih Chien University in Taipei. After graduation, she was a fashion designer in a well-known clothing company in Taiwan and designed knitwear on contract for another.
She moved to the United States more than 20 years ago with her husband to attend graduate school in North Carolina. There, she sewed couture fashions in her own studio.
Her husband got a high-tech job in Austin in 1998, and they raised two children here. Chang is now a U.S. citizen.
"My design is both artful and feminine, maybe even a little bohemian," she said.
She knits and crochets with soft, natural fibers that feel so soft and comfortable you could sleep in them.
"I am passionate about knitting because knits are more than just style, they are a reflection of the artistic heritage of a people," she says.
Her long-term goal is to own a knit design company for fashion and home décor. She knows a small group of impoverished women in China who are skilled knitters but can't make a living in their isolated village.
"I can help them, and they can help me, too," she said. "Knitting takes so much time, and I don't want to go to a big manufacturer."