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Fine artist and scenic painter Erica Harney often found herself looking at houses. With historic homes and architecture gems ranging from Queen Annes and Dutch Colonials to Cape Cods and Tudors, her neighborhood of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, offered plenty of inspiration. A walk through the neighborhood can bring out the storyteller in most of us. Colorful front doors, glimmers of light, and even landscaping become details in a larger story. But she rarely had the time to capture what she saw—until, of course, March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic kept her from completing work outside her home studio.
At first, Harney called it her “Quarantine Artist Residency,” throwing herself into studio time while processing global changes. But then, two weeks away from work turned into more, and Harney realized she was looking at a new artistic reality.
Anyone who has watched HBO’s Mare of Easttown has seen Harney’s work. Prior to the pandemic, Harney’s primary day job was as a scenic artist, in television as well as for regional companies including Opera Philadelphia, OperaDelaware, and the Fulton Theatre. She also taught and pursued gallery shows, often working in multiple states in the same day, and painted murals. Little time was spent in her basement studio.
“And now my work and my focus and my energy have been very much centered in my community,” said Harney, a resident of Lansdowne since 2016 and also a member of the Lansdowne Arts Board.
After completing a handful of Lansdowne paintings for herself that first spring, Harney shared them on Facebook and created an interactive walking tour map of her Houses of Lansdowne series. People soon began contacting her with requests and commission inquiries. In that first year of studio work, she painted more than 100 houses.
Creative problem solving
As an artist working in oil and watercolor, Harney is intrigued by processes and creative problem solving, often asking herself, “How can I take something that I already have and turn it into something new?”
Her studio is filled with bits of inspiration. Scraps of peeled paint collected from the inside of mixing buckets become paint skin collages. A larger painting may be cut down to become the canvas for a new one. Used paint stir sticks layered with colors from mixing different gallons of paint are another source of inspiration.
For Harney, pieces and processes are rarely forgotten, always returned to or reused. She even sees similarities between painting scenic backdrops measured in feet and architecture watercolors measured in inches, reflecting on her process of working in layers.
Perhaps creative problem solving brought her to her current way of working, which continues to be centered around her studio and commission work, although it includes some scenic work from time to time.
Said Harney: “I feel like I've been branching out, but I've been putting in deeper roots.”
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