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Exploring the ArtsJames DuPree| Byers' Choice| Balloon Art

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James DuPree| Byers' Choice| Balloon Art

JAMES DUPREE

Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Inner-cities are the perfect example of what Picasso is talking about – a place where we see sparks of creativity that awakens our artistic spirits. Inner-city artists, like James Dupree, bring beauty, passion and pride to their communities. James is an artist, educator and activist who experienced the transformative power of art as a young boy. Suzanne learns from James how, even after finding international success, he has humbly returned to his roots to help cultivate future talents. 

James Dupree knew he was going to be an artist since the second grade. He was always drawn to art because it was something he could do all of the time and in the comfort of his own private areas. James grew up in the Mantua section of Philadelphia, near his current art studio. As a kid, James visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art often during the summer. The Museum of Art always intrigued him, and his favorite section was the artwork from the medieval period. James now has several pieces of his own art at the museum. It all started in 1979 when he won first place in an art show in Philadelphia against 2,800 other artists. James became accustomed to his desire to be involved in very important collections and museums; he was constantly motivated to do his best work. 

Jazz music is a major source of inspiration for James because it was a genre that was seen by Europeans as “cutting-edge,” and he wanted his art work to be seen in the same light. James tells Suzanne that he started creating his paintings the same way Miles Davis created his music, and he would try to mimic Miles’ albums through paint. James’s two series, “Stolen Dreams” and “Forbidden Fruit,” lasted 9 years and were created to attack racism, which James felt affected him in the world of art. At the time of this series, James was appalled at the exploitation of black athletes. The series went from being politically and racially motivated to socially and spiritually driven. In this series, James took the basic shape of a circle and evolved it into an oval, creating a symbolic theme of “evolving elements.” The pieces in this series have been seen by millions of people. 

A lot of James’ work is mixed media: paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints and more. He makes his art based on his personal feelings, talent and art education. James moved from being a student to a teacher by offering art classes in his very own studio, which he completely transformed. James’s studio was originally deemed “condemnable,” but he saw great potential in the high ceilings, which are rare to find these days. His studio offers classes, private tutorials, and a place for visiting artists. At one point, the City of Philadelphia tried to seize James’s property under “eminent domain,” a seldom used statute that allows government to seize private property, supposedly for the good of the community.  In this case, the city wanted to take the land for future commercial development. James fought the city and won this fight! James’s studio is his dream and life’s work, and he told the city that, “The only way they would’ve gotten the building from me is if I died.” One day James will certainly leave a great legacy behind and will be remembered as an artist, a teacher and an activist. Please visit DupreeStudiosInc.com to learn more about James Dupree and take a look at his amazing work.

 

BYERS’ CHOICE

For many people, Christmas isn’t marked just by the calendar - it’s also marked by the appearance of those well-known caroler dolls that adorn their households. Joyce Byers, the creator of the caroler dolls, talks to Suzanne about the origins and future of her business.

Byers’ Choice began as a simple hobby. Joyce used everyday items to craft the original dolls, including wire hangers, newspaper, fabric scraps, and even some dog hair. Today, they use old fur coats or synthetic hair for doll’s hair, but the other pieces remain largely the same despite the success of Byers’ Choice. Joyce’s children, Bob and Jeff, continue to work for Byers’ Choice, even after working there for over twenty years. Byers’ Choice dolls are sold around the world. More than 20% of the annual profits for the dolls go to charity; Joyce and her family are strongly committed to giving back.

The Byers’ Choice factory is a tourist destination today, with several rooms dedicated to different doll themes and windows above the factory floor so people can watch the dolls being made. First, the wire is shaped, and then they are wrapped in tissue paper to form the body. Clay is used to make the faces, and artists paint the faces. Each artist uses a slightly different style. After the figures are dressed, hair is attached with fabric glue. Suzanne goes through the process of dressing a doll and giving it a fabulous winter outfit. The employees at Byers’ Choice describe their workplace as being one big family, and with Joyce at the head of the company, it’s not hard to see why. 

BALLOON MODELING

Jason Secoda creates balloon art like nothing you’ve ever seen. Using only balloons, air and his imagination, this top twister has sculpted everything from life-size ballerinas to gumball machines.

Jason says that he always had an interest in drawing but never had any formal training. His experience with balloon art started when a friend of his, who worked at a restaurant, asked Jason if he would help him with his workload. Jason agreed and began working at the restaurant where he would go from table to table creating small-scale balloon creations for delighted patrons. Once he realized how much he enjoyed the work, he decided to cultivate his skills and before long his creations had grown immensely in complexity and originality.

Jason often displays his skills at parties, corporate events and store openings. He also participates in competitions; this is where some of his largest and most time-consuming pieces are created. Some of these submissions have taken him over thirty hours to complete! To achieve such large and detailed creations, Jason uses a variety of different size, color and shape balloons, much the same way that a painter uses a variety of different style brushes.

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