By Gina Malone
Danette Sperry’s art practice is sort of like the adage about building it and then having them—in this case, the inspirations—come. Because she has always felt a spiritual connection to nature and because her husband, John Sperry, is a folk artist also, she created a lush, brightly colored garden around their home studio in Maysville, Georgia. They joke that it’s a short commute to work and the only traffic is darting birds. “The beautiful garden I have created around our home and the birds and other creatures that visit the garden are often the focal points of my paintings,” Sperry says. “As a bird watcher and lover, I have a backyard of birdfeeders, birdhouses and flower gardens that inspire my pieces.”
Her surroundings bolster her creativity in other ways as well. Their home is a 1915 farmhouse imbued with character by their collection of primitive antiques, mid-century, modern and industrial décor, music, abstracts, pottery and, of course, folk art. For her, old things, with their generations of use, have stories to tell.
“I have been creating some form of art from the time of childhood,” Sperry says. “You weren’t to complain of being bored. You found ways to occupy your time! So I bonded with the animals and nature surrounding me and found my joy for creativity in the process.”
She is self-taught, spending the last 25 years making primitive furniture, such as farm tables, from reclaimed wood; creating folk art sculptures with reclaimed wood and vintage found objects; and painting. In 2015, she began to incorporate textures and relief work into her folk art paintings and onto the frames as well. “This developed with my playing around with ideas,” she says, “trying not to be limited in subject by the old, found objects of my wood sculptures and wanting more freedom to create whatever I wanted and was inspired to create at that time, as well as wanting to add textures to my paintings.”
She describes her works as three-dimensional, raised-relief, mixed media folk art paintings. To achieve the effect, she uses a combination of several applied media such as gels and pastes. Tools that aid the special sculpting technique she developed include palette knives, paintbrushes and fine pottery tools. “Each piece is framed and incorporates incredible attention to detail, bringing out the personality of my subjects with lots of raised images and textures,” Sperry says. She likens her backgrounds to old plaster walls, with the aged character they often exhibit. The finished works look much better in person, she adds, where the textures can be appreciated.
“The moment I saw Danette’s work, I wanted to hang it on our walls,” says Julia L. Mills, gallery director at American Folk Art & Framing. “It’s really not often that you come across an artist that has pioneered their own technique and style in such an elevated way.”
Sperry likes these words from Andy Warhol: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” She doesn’t participate in many festivals or shows, she says, because of the time she invests in her work. Some paintings take weeks; others, months. “My pieces are very time-consuming,” Sperry says. “Each one has its own special character, texture and images, and talks to me in some way.” She works every day in her studio, her head filled with ideas for future paintings, even as she completes the one she is working on.
“I don’t think becoming an artist was a decision for me,” Sperry says. “I think art chose me, and since it has made me and many others happy, I have followed my path of art.”
Find Danette Sperry on Instagram and Facebook @DanetteSperryFolkArt. She is represented locally by American Folk Art & Framing, where her work may be seen in the current exhibition In Full Bloom: Botanical Visions, through Friday, August 19.