Home » Blog

In an Orange Room with Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley Still Life with Mandarins
Margaret Olley, Still life with mandarins, c.1975
oil on board, 76 x 122 cm, Private collection

Margaret Olley caught my attention with her orange tones which occurred again and again in her still life paintings. Orange walls, orange objects, oranges.  To my delight I discovered she had an orange dining room, and often painted there, as well as a yellow living room and a green kitchen.

Steven Alderton, Early Morning at Margaret Olley's Home
Mandarin oranges are one of the few fruits I remember fondly from growing up in Edmonton, AB.  We would buy a crate at Christmas time, and the thin leathery skins were easy to peel with just a bit of pressure from your fingers.  I made a dollhouse from one of the wooden crates.

Margaret Olley: Australian Artist with Rooms of Her Own

Portrait of Margaret Olley in her Paddington studio by John McRae, 2011
Portrait of Margaret Olley in her Paddington studio by John McRae, 2011

Margaret Olley(1923-2011) is another artist  I discovered because I was searching for Margarets.  In Australia, she is well known. I had not heard of her, and it reminds me of when I left Canada, and all the artists, writers and musicians who were invisible in the United States. 

Margaret Olley / Susan with flowers 1962 / Oil on canvas / Gift of Finney Isles and Co. Ltd. 1964 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © QAG
Margaret Olley / Susan with flowers 1962 / Oil on canvas / Gift of Finney Isles and Co. Ltd. 1964 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © QAG

As one article title summed her up, Margaret Olley, last of the Bohemians, she lived in an old hat factory, with colorful walls, and a sculptural array of objects on every surface.  Her house was her “lifelong installation,” and a source of creativity and subjects for her jewel toned still life paintings.  In fact, she donated 1 million dollars to create The Margaret Olley Art Centre, where her rooms are recreated piece by piece.  Margaret Olley’s life was a mixture of being an art student, designing theatrical costumes, and an unerring sense of what Sydney properties she could buy and transform(but no beige paint) and sell at a profit.  She was frugal, didn’t own a car, didn’t marry or have children, and donated 130 artworks to the Art Gallery of NSW including Degas, Picasso and Cezanne. 

Margaret Olley's Portrait wins second Archibald

Her story made me think of Albert Barnes, well known in the Philadelphia area for his Impressionist and Modernist art collection, arranged in a specific order in a mansion he had built to house the work, and from which he never wanted it parted. After his death, through much legal wrangling, the collection was moved to a brand new building  the Ben Franklin Parkway, although still arranged in Barnes order.

Olley remained herself through and through, independent and eccentric.  Still life and interiors were often dismissed by art critics, but Olley persisted in what she wanted to paint. She had no children and evades the United States narrative of “feisty grandmother.” She mentored many Australian artists, and left a legacy of philanthropy.

Margaret Monday

A Wedding Gift in Dark and Lovely Colors

Eggplant and Navy Log Cabin Quilt Trivet by Margaret Almon
Eggplant and Navy Log Cabin Quilt Trivet by Margaret Almon, glass on wood, 8×8 inches, $76. SOLD.


This is the second of a trio of Asymmetric Log Cabin Quilt Block Trivets. The first two were wedding gifts from a sister to siblings, and the last was turnabout Gifting the Gifter from one of the recipients. Shades of eggplant purple and navy blue were some of the most challenging to find.  These colors tend to either look black or have too much pastel tint.  Some colors are elusive.  Here’s another I made with some of the same tones.

Commission your wedding gift.

Open Studio and Open Heart: May 7th and May 8th, 2016

Open Studio 2016
Open Studio: Open Heart at Nutmeg Designs.

Stratoz and I invite you to come to our Nutmeg Designs Open Studio: Open Heart on May 7th and 8th, 2016.  Prepare to be delighted, find mosaics and stained glass gifts, and if you bring 5 food items for donation to Manna on Main Street, the opportunity to enter a drawing for a hope stained glass design in your favored colors.

Look for the orange chairs on our polychrome porch!


Orange Chairs on the Porch of Nutmeg Designs
Orange Chairs on the Porch of Nutmeg Designs

Switch Plate in Art Deco Orange and Copper

Art Deco Switch Plate in Orange and Copper by Margaret Almon
Art Deco Switch Plate in Orange and Copper by Margaret Almon. Duplex outlet and single toggle, $55.


A switch plate to be set into a newly painted orange kitchen backsplash was a commission made for my orange-loving heart and suited to the geometrics of Art Deco.  Switch plates and their kin, outlet covers, and the various combinations they come in make for numerous configurations. Each type has its own character.  This one had a single toggle, or single-gang switch, combined with a double outlet for plugs.  Of course it was different than the others I’ve made!

Switchplate as Mosaic Tapestry with Millefiori(single toggle)

Art Deco Inspired Switchplate(double toggle)

Add another combination to the repertoire and send me an email if you are searching for your own light switch or outlet cover.

Margaret Mellis(1914-2009): Hunting for Scraps of Color

MARGARET MELLIS: PAINTINGS AND RELIEFS. Published by: London: Austin / Desmond Fine Art

Margaret Mellis(1914-2009) is a kindred spirit of scraps and color.  Her work begins with painting, and moves into sculpture and driftwood collage, the latter which she began in her 60’s.  She describes her concern:

‘I wanted the colours to find the kind of strength which would simultaneously let them work at full strength and integrate with themselves and the shapes of the structure.’  (National Galleries Scotland)

Mellis eventually was acknowledged as at the beginnings of British Modernism and she had a Circle of artist friends at Cornwall. I remember taking a class as an undergraduate at Hampshire College called, “Mary Shelley and Her Circle” and being taken with the idea of the constellation of friends all being part of the story.

The driftwood constructions reminded me of the Laura Petrovich-Cheney exhibit I saw at the Michener in November 2015, of sculptures in wood from Superstorm Sandy.    Ian Collins describes Mellis’ materials as “combining beachcombed finds of vividly coloured bits of boats and beach-huts, kippering boards and medieval timbers gouged by deathwatch beetles into honeycomb.”

The Transformed Total: Margaret Mellis’s Constructions

The Oceanic (1994) by Margaret Mellis
The Oceanic (1994) by Margaret Mellis via Leo Reynolds on Flickr Material: Driftwood construction

Harbour by Margaret Mellis
Harbour by Margaret Mellis via Leo Reynolds on Flickr

Harbour by Margaret Mellis
Harbour by Margaret Mellis, detail, via Leo Reynolds on Flickr


An excerpt from Margaret Mellis: A Life in Colour

Margaret Monday

Margaret Morse Nice: Telling the Life Histories of Birds

Song Sparrow by Margaret Morse Nice
Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow by Margaret Morse Nice

Margaret Morse Nice(1883-1974) caught my eye because of her bird passion.  My only experience as a girl in birdwatching was one week at summer camp where a counselor took us walking to look for Red-Winged Blackbirds.  That someone would be looking for birds in regular life was a surprise to me.  Margaret Morse Nice received a copy of Mabel Osgood Wright’s Birdcraft field guide as a present for her 13th birthday, and she started writing down her observations of birds around her.

I discovered that Nice grew up in Amherst, MA, where I lived when I went to Hampshire College.  Nice was born just 3 years before  Emily Dickinson died. She went to Mt. Holyoke College, which gave her a reprieve from her parent’s emphasis on getting married and housekeeping.  She graduated and returned to the stultifying role of “daughter-at-home,” rather than the world of learning and discovery.  The thread of her desire to learn persists through enrolling at Clark University graduate school in 1907, and researching Bobwhites, marrying a fellow graduate student, moving with him for his academic appointments in Norman OK, Columbus, OH and Chicago, IL, raising 5 daughters, and studying her girls’ language and behavior at the same time she observed the most common of birds in her own backyard like the Song Sparrow.

The librarian in me is fascinated by the title of her autobiography: Research Is a Passion With Me: The Autobiography of a Bird Lover.    She studied birds in their environment rather than collecting them, and took their life histories.  In my own researching this post, I came across an article, with double Margarets!  The authors describe the absence of women’s experience in comparative psychology, and write about these two Margarets who were both accomplished, one unmarried and teaching at Vassar, and Nice, who married, had children, and published papers, books and reviews, without formal academic appointment.  The article describes Nice’s frustration with the implication that her children and husband had brains, and she had none ~ “He taught, they studied. I did housework.”  To be passionate, observant, engaged in the natural world and meet her subjects on their own terms was ultimately influential in the world of ornithology, is a life history that moves me.

Placing women in the history of comparative psychology: Margaret Floy Washburn and Margaret Morse Nice. by Furumoto, L., & Scarborough, E. (1987). In E. Tobach (Ed.), Historical perspectives and the international status of comparative psychology (pp. 103-117). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

In Memoriam: Margaret Morse Nice by Milton B. Trautman

Margaret Morse Nice Made History at her Columbus Patch, Interpont.

Stratoz was a birdwatcher when I met him, and now has a veritable bird sanctuary in his studio, as he creates Ravens, Nuthatchs, and Great Blue Herons in glass.

Stratozpheres Etsy Shop


Margaret Monday

Margaret Calvert: Typography Making the World

Margaret Calvert in Wallpaper*
Margaret Calvert: Designer of Typography

If you have traveled in Britain, you have been surrounded by the work of designer and typographer Margaret Calvert(1936-). While studying illustration at Chelsea School of Art, she had to the opportunity to be the assistant to Jock Kinneir in designing signs for the new motorway, and this turned into designing for all of Britain’s roadways and they became Kinneir, Calvert and Associates, and took on the railways and many other projects.  Take a few minutes to watch the video President’s Lecture: Margaret Calvert, where she describes her feeling for the letters, the white space as important as the text itself, and her sense of play in drawing and drafting.  

Her self portrait is just perfect.  She found a Men at Work sign from her design in the street, and took it home and turned it into herself: Woman at Work.  She describes how the signs are about the people who use them: how will this look to someone driving 70 mph?  Can it be read at that speed? Calvert and Kinneir met with controversy at first because they used capitals with lowercase letters instead of the traditional all capitals.  

Typography is near to my heart because of the house numbers I create along with my husband at Nutmeg Designs.  Flowing around number forms gives me an intimate sense of each digit.  I didn’t expect to find this so rewarding.  We want our house numbers to be beautiful and visible.  I remember when my husband saw a hapless pizza delivery guy on the sidewalk looking for a house.  He pointed to our neighbor’s house, with the number we had created, and said “I can read that number,” and wished that all were that easy to make out.  


Margaret Calvert Self Portrait
Margaret Calvert Self Portrait: Woman at Work


'This Is Design' at the Design Museum: Typography from Margaret Calvert
‘This Is Design’ at the Design Museum: Typography from Margaret Calvert


Margaret Calvert: Icon of the Year 2013

Way to Go: The Woman who Invented Britains Road Signs

Margaret Monday