Label this column, “The continuing series on how artists can survive any environment regardless of outside circumstances.”
On that note, meet mixed-media artist and Heights resident Dana Caldera. She combines found collage material, painting and drawing into intricately layered compositions to create her work.
Caldera will have her art booth set up at First Saturday Arts Market, 530 W. 19th St., from 6-10 p.m. Saturday. She first joined the other artists there last December. I love a good story in artwork and Caldera’s work caught my attention because each piece seemed to have a story to tell.
“I’m interested in how we record our stories, our connection with others, and the shared ephemera of the human experience,” Caldera wrote on her website. “I work often from found photographs and materials, drawing inspiration from the physical memories of people who are strangers to me.”
Caldera has found ways around the loss of shows through success with social media and commissioned work. This summer Caldera was commissioned by designers for a couple of art pieces incorporating vintage Heights images.
Art Valet: Tell me about the project and your hunt for the photos you are using.
“They requested that I use vintage collage material that was local to the Historic Houston Heights,” Caldera said. “I started this project in June and I went to some estate sales (safely and in a mask), where I search to find old books, journals, letters, recipes and family snapshots. I’m usually looking for beautifully aged, yellow paper and I love anything with cursive handwriting on it. I also started looking for historical Houston Heights photographs and newspapers. I discovered that the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, part of the Houston Public Library’s Special Collections, has a collection of photography archives.”
Caldera was granted permission to use five photos from the archive and found advertisements for the original Heights development in The Galveston Daily News. This would be the late 19th century.
“I enlarged and had these PDF images printed on some aged paper that I gathered from the estate sales so that it evoked the feeling of an old newspaper,” Caldera said.
AV: Is the work similar to what you already create?
Caldera: “The first commission is very similar to my typical paintings, but much bigger. I normally work small because primary collage material, the original photographs and notes, are small. I try to use the original picture or letter, not scans, because it is more evocative. However, in this case, to blow up the size, I chose to reprint the digital historic photos much larger than normal.
“The second commission will be a little different,” Caldera continued. “They’ve asked for something more organic and neutral, where the collage material will be attached to the canvas in a sculptural way. I’m very excited to share this new style of work.”
AV: How has COVID-19 affected your art/lifestyle?
Caldera: “Fortunately, I work in a studio attached to my garage so I have had access to my artwork this whole time. Some of my shows and markets have been canceled and I’ve missed networking and supporting my artist friends. I teach college classes and they’ve all been moved online so I was able to retain that income/work. All in all, I consider myself lucky.
“On a positive note, COVID has actually brought more online attention to my artwork. One of the designers that commissioned these projects actually found me on Instagram. The other found my website via Google. I couldn’t believe it, but now I get to tell my husband I’m working any time he catches me on Instagram – which is admittedly often!“
AV: Ever find anything interesting at the estate sales?
Caldera: “My favorite estate sale was one where the homeowner worked for the railroad. He had a wonderful classic train room filled with miniature trains, tracks, trusses. It was impeccably built and detailed. In his house I found old maps of train tracks, old books and his old science journals.”
View Caldera’s artwork on her website, danacaldera.com, and in person on Saturday night at the First Saturday Arts Market. The market is in its 16th year in the Heights and encourages all to wear a mask and white linen attire.
Cohen is an artist and founder of the First Saturday Arts Market and the Market at Sawyer Yards. Find him at ArtValet.com for additional highlights and artist’s stories.