Artists draw their inspiration from a variety of places. Some travel to exotic locations in search of inspiring images. Others choose to stay much closer to home, seeking inspiration in the trees and wildlife of our Colorado town. Brandy Llewellyn, an Evergreen resident and artist, straddles two worlds in her search for artistic inspiration. Brandy and her husband spend winters in Colorado and summers in Sanibel Island, Fla. Having spent many years in U.S. coastal areas as a child, Llewellyn turned her fascination with the sea into a full-fledged love of coastal and maritime art.
Llewellyn’s first foray into coastal-inspired art began when she traveled to Nantucket, Mass., to study basket-making with a local artist. Nantucket “light-ship” baskets originated around 1830 on Nantucket Island’s famous South Shoal light ship. Before the invention of permanent lighthouses, Massachusetts’ coastal areas had light ships moored off the points of Nantucket. Men manned the lanterns on these light ships for three-day stints. To pass the time, the men started weaving baskets, and the Nantucket basket was born.
Weaving a Nantucket basket is an exacting process. The baskets are created on a wooden mold to ensure even placement of the tapered wooden staves. Light-ship sailors often used pieces of wood from broken ship masts to create their molds. The horizontal weavers were often rattan cane and other reeds brought back on ships from Indonesia and other faraway locales. By the beginning of the 20th century, Nantucket baskets were being avidly collected by boating enthusiasts.
Llewellyn created her first 10-inch-round basket in 2000 and was hooked. After studying in Nantucket, she convinced a Sarasota, Fla., artist to teach her the art of woven purse making, too. This mentor later taught Llewellyn the art of tapestry weaving. Tapestry weaving incorporates a variety of waxed linen threads woven into the pieces to give the impression of landscapes and seascapes. Llewellyn’s tapestry baskets often incorporate Southwestern-inspired designs, and she may adorn the handles or the basket’s wooden bottom with turquoise or agate to emphasize the basket’s theme.
Around the same time that Llewellyn began pursuing her basket-weaving interest, she became infatuated with another specialized maritime art — the creation of ailor’s valentines. Sailor’s valentines originated on the island of Barbados in the late 17th or early 18th century. A man named BH Belgrave traveled to Barbados from England and opened a shop with curiosities from the sea, alligator jaws and other souvenirs, including the sailor’s valentine.
The lore was that sailors gathered shells during their travels and created these valentines for their sweethearts during their long hours at sea. According to Llewellyn’s research, this romantic notion is nice but unrealistic. It was, in fact, Belgrave himself who was producing the valentines from shells that made their way to Barbados from the far corners of the world.
Llewellyn took a class in 2007 to learn the intricate art of creating a sailor’s valentine. The process begins with an octagonal-shaped wooden frame. She begins with a center design — often her own hand-painted artwork. Around the artwork, Llewellyn creates in intricate design of shells, both large and minute, and dried flowers. Some of the work is so painstakingly tiny it requires the use of a microscope to arrange the minuscule shells in patterns or to spell out words. Each piece can take up to four months to create.
Llewellyn draws inspiration from the sea as well as things closer to home in Evergreen.
“Right now I’m doing the second valentine in a series of hummingbird-inspired pieces,” says Llewellyn.
Llewellyn’s work has been shown in galleries in Evergreen, Arizona, Florida and Nantucket. Her baskets were for sale at the previous Timberline Gallery location on Main Street in Evergreen. She teaches Nantucket basket-making and the intricate art of sailor’s valentines from her studios in Evergreen and Florida. Since 2008, Llewellyn has received 34 blue ribbons and more than 50 other awards in competitions for both art forms. She holds the honor for creating the smallest sailor’s valentine ever made. This tiny 3-inch piece, along with a collection of Llewellyn’s other works, is on display during October at the Evergreen Public Library.
“I am thrilled to share these art forms and their history with the people of Evergreen,” says Llewellyn. “My work is the type of art that you don’t frequently see in the mountains. It is much more common in the Atlantic coastal areas. This is a wonderful way to bring a piece of those places to Colorado.”
The show runs through Oct. 31 at the Evergreen library. For more information or to schedule a showing of Brandy Llewellyn’s work, visit her website at www.basketstudio.com.
Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.