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Interview with Nancy Handlan, November 27, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Nancy Handlan, November 27, 2007
November 27, 2007
Nancy Handlan moved with her husband to Wilmington in 1990, and she has exhibited her work at several local galleries, most recently Works on Castle. She is the recipient of numerous local and national awards. In this interview, Handlan discusses her background, her aesthetic, and her artistic methods and inspiration.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Handlan, Nancy Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll Date of Interview:  11/27/2007 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Jones: November the 27th, 2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Ashley Shivar with the Randall Library Oral History project. And we're visiting with Nancy Handlan in her home this morning. Nancy is a well-known and highly-regarded local artist. She has works that are shown all over the country, takes part in juried exhibits, is that right?

Handlan: That's correct.

Jones: Juried Shows exhibits. And her style is mainly she works in watercolor- water media- is that true?

Handlan: Water media.

Jones: All right. And has studied for a long, long time with various teachers, which she's going to talk about right now. Good morning, Nancy.

Handlan: Good morning.

Jones: Thanks for having us. And I'm just gonna ask you to tell us how you began with your interest in art. Start as early as you want. Where are you from? And start working forward.

Handlan: I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in art, even as a small child. I had a great aunt who was an artist, and she painted in water colors and in china painting, and as a child, I used to eat off dishes that she'd painted that were absolutely gorgeous. And I loved 'em. And then, when she'd come to visit- she lived out of town- she had a little, tiny paint set, watercolors, and she'd take me aside and say, "Let me show you how to paint." Little roses- and she'd paint these little, tiny flowers. She didn't ask me to do it, but she'd just show me how. And she took an interest in me, and showed me what she loved. And I guess that's as much as anything a beginning point. But when I was in public schools, I loved both music and art. I had studied piano for ten years, but in school they always asked me to do the chalk drawings at Christmastime on the blackboards, because I liked 'em.

Jones: How old were you? Ten, maybe?

Handlan: Oh, younger than that.

Jones: Younger than that.

Handlan: No, I started piano when I was four, and I always was drawing.

Jones: And where was this?

Handlan: Kansas City, Missouri.

Jones: Kansas City, Missouri. You speak just like a true Missourian.

Handlan: That's correct. That's right.

Jones: Missour-a.

Handlan: We're the only ones that say Missoura.

Jones: Okay. Yeah, you're a true one- (laughs)

Handlan: Yeah. No, I always enjoyed them. It was not something that was taught to me. It was just a part of me. And I didn't realize I was an artist, but that's what I was. I learned that much later in life. So that was my starting point. You know, an inherited tendency, and love of it, a study in schools- when I got into high school, I had a decision to make between studying art or music, because we had to take so many of our public- I mean our, what they called solid courses- math and English, and all that- and then we'd have a choice of two non-solids. And that was music and art and phys ed, and some of the others, and because I was taking piano, I thought, well, I'll take art. And they had an art teacher who taught art all four years in high school. I studied with her all four years. She gave me my basic background in art for the rest of my life. Even though I had a degree in art in college- but she gave me my basic background.

Jones: Well, you were fortunate to find a high school art teacher-

Handlan: Absolutely, absolutely.

Jones: So, through, did you also take piano at this time, or just-

Handlan: Until I was about fourteen.

Jones: So where did you go beyond high school? You decided at that point you were going to further your education in art, or was that just-

Handlan: Yes. I went to the University of Missouri, and I studied interior design. But after a year and a half, I left to be married to my love.

Jones: Oh.

Handlan: Was married and had three children-

Jones: You must have been very young.

Handlan: I was nineteen.

Jones: That's young.

Handlan: But that wasn't unusual in the Fifties.

Jones: No, you're right.

Handlan: Yeah. And then he died when he was thirty-five, and I had three small children, and I thought, I've gotta do something, and I went back to college. And then I studied just straight art, not interior design or any of that.

Jones: Now, were you still living in Missouri?

Handlan: No, by that time, we were in West Virginia. He had been transferred to West Virginia, Parkersburg. And so I went back to school and my children were in school, and one of 'em in a preschool- started studying then.

Jones: And then what happened?

Handlan: Well-

Jones: You had three children, you're a widow.

Handlan: That's right. I was thirty-three. I was thirty-three.

Jones: Three children. You now have an art degree.

Handlan: No, not yet.

Jones: Not yet?

Handlan: No, I was just muddlin' along, taking a few classes, couple classes at a time, and then I met my next husband, and three years after I was widowed, we were married. And he was a widower. He had five children, I had three, and we finished raising five children together. We did not have children of our own, but he said, you really need to finish your degree. I said, I know that, so I-

Jones: When you met him, was he an attorney?

Handlan: He was. He was a lawyer and then about a year later, was an elected judge in West Virginia. And I finished my degree as a major in art at Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, which is just across the river from where we lived. And also was certified to teach, and started teaching in public schools- taught art.

Jones: Okay, now, while you were teaching, were you also painting for yourself?

Handlan: Not much. By the time you do your lesson plans, get organized, teach your class, work with junior high children, that's twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year-olds, very ambitious kids. And I loved 'em- I have lots of energy, fortunately. Then I came home to five children at home. I did not have time to paint. Nor did I want to! (laughs) But I created while I was teaching, 'cause everything that I taught, I worked through the project myself. So I was creating and was filling that need.

Jones: Well, I was just trying to say, I can't imagine that you just gave it up for a period of years, exhausted as you might be.

Handlan: No.

Jones: So, did you paint for pleasure, for yourself or-

Handlan: It wasn't so much painting as creating.

Jones: Creating.

Handlan: 'Cause in junior high, I was teaching all kinds of things, and painting was just one small part of it. Drawing and macramé and we had a potter's wheel, ceramics, print-making- you know, I did the whole gamut. And I did all of those projects with 'em. So I'm an artist, I'm a creator. I've settled into painting as my focus, but I create. Does that make sense?

Jones: Yes, it does. Sure. Of course.

Handlan: And I guess that started at birth. Little did I know.

Jones: Mm-hmm. Any of your students go on and become creative, as you were?

Handlan: Yes. Well, I don't know about as I- I didn't keep up with 'em, but yes, I did hear of some.

Jones: They didn't keep up with you, then.

Handlan: No.

Jones: That's too bad, because you said, I wanna go about a teacher that you had-

Handlan: Right.

Jones: That you give so much credit to.

Handlan: Right.

Jones: Surely you must have been a force in some of-

Handlan: Well, my husband retired due to health problems, and at that time we came to Wilmington for a couple of winters, and I'd only taught about six years in the public school, and so that wasn't a real long time, but children at that age aren't bonding with their teachers as much. See, I was in high school that I really bonded with one teacher I had for four years. These children would have me for one, two or three parts of years. And junior high kids are all over the place. You know, they're not sure what they are.

Jones: Right. That's true.

Handlan: But I did have some come in- after that, I went into- we were still living in West Virginia, and I did start painting on my own after I stopped teaching and my husband was doing his judge thing, and, you know- we were busy and I decided it's time to be through teaching. I did go into the painting then and started doing art/craft shows.

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Handlan: And that was fun.

Jones: That part of the country where you were living at that time-

Handlan: West Virginia.

Jones: And, well, there's West Virginia and West Virginia! And it seems to me that's an area that is close to a lot of spots where craft shows are held.

Handlan: It is, it is, and West Virginia is West Virginia.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: There are cities and towns, but people don't say the cities they're from, they usually say they're from West Virginia or a County of West Virginia. The cities are not that significant, and there's lots of mountains and roads and beautiful scenery, and the art shows, the craft shows, started popping up in West Virginia, and some really big ones. And it was great fun to do them- you know, I'd be there a whole week, and we'd be staying in, you know, a whole- I'd be surrounded with my art and people come by and talk to you, and-

Jones: Is this where you first started showing your work? In West Virginia, or had you done it in-

Handlan: Oh, yeah, I suppose so, I suppose so. Never thought about it.

Jones: Well, so did you have a circuit that you would travel, or-

Handlan: No, I was not one of those that did twenty art/craft shows a year, not at all. I'd do three or four. They're very physical. They're hard work.

Jones: I can imagine.

Handlan: And I did 'em alone.

Jones: Did you!

Handlan: My husband did not help me, huh-uh. I'd usually get one of my older children to help, and I'd bribe them by saying, I'll give you the painting of your choice when we get through, if it isn't sold. (laughs)

Jones: (hearty laughter)

Handlan: And so their homes have paintings in 'em, where they worked for me in my craft shows.

Jones: (laughs) This was painted, huh? Do you recall the first- you probably do- the first thing that you sold for real money?

Handlan: No.

Jones: You don't remember?

Handlan: I also did commission paintings- people, will you paint a picture of my cat? Will you paint a picture of my house? Will you paint a picture of this or that or the other- I do not like commissioned work.

Jones: Do you do it now?

Handlan: Very little.

Jones: I've heard- most of the artists I've talked to have said that they either will not, or preferred not, to do that, for the simple reason that what they may see may not be the same thing-

Handlan: Exactly-

Jones: That the person who's commissioned them sees, and there's kind of a conflict, or whatever.

Handlan: I think probably my most successful commission painting was one they did just a year ago, when the Rector of our church, St. John's Episcopal, was retiring, and they asked me to paint a painting of the church. And it's a very pretty church- I don't know if you're familiar with it.

Jones: Yes.

Handlan: But I've painted numerous times for other people who were leaving, and I thought, I have never painted any of the interior, and this was right after Christmas, so the inside, the altar and everything, were banked with poinsettias- absolutely gorgeous- I took pictures, still pictures, both inside and outside- I have a stack of pictures. Then I made a painting- about yay big- that I call "Montage" of, you know, different paintings, chunks, all throughout the church, inside and out, and then filled in with chunks of red poinsettias. You know, there's everything from the altar, the baptismal font, to banners, to, you know, the outside steeple, the Cloisters, and I really worked hard on it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, because it's kind of my heart and soul, too. Church is very important to me. So I finished that and I'll just give 'em to them, and the people that framed it asked if they could scan it to do reproductions, and I said, "I don't do reproductions." They said, "Well, we'd like to scan it just in case." And I said, "You have my permission." You know, there's a very legal thing about doing paintings or reproductions, and prints, as they call 'em- they're reproductions. So I said, "You have my permission." And then, they said, "You know, it would make a great moneymaker for church if they'd like to sell reproductions of your painting." I said, "But you need the permission of the owner of the painting now." You have my permission, but you need the owner's, so the Reverend Bob Morrison gave them permission, and they have sold quite a number of 'em, and the people who reproduced it did it for free, so the church is getting all of the money, and that has gone back into all kinds of endeavors.

Jones: So that was a service, then.

Handlan: That is a service, yeah. That I'm perfectly happy to do, you know. And people are thrilled to have 'em, you know.

Jones: Oh, I think so, yeah. Have you been asked to do for, say, let's say for fundraising of some sort-

Handlan: (laughs)

Jones: Other things, too- I know-

Handlan: (laughs) Oh, gosh- artists are bugged all the time- "We are having our moneymaker. Do you mind donating a painting?" What have you-

Jones: Well, are you doing a particularly wanted specifically for-

Handlan: No, no- I have done like a poster for the Azalea Festival, or they have the amounts that the Star News did for all the different artists- no, I've not been asked to do those. I haven't put myself out there in a position to really be asked. I'd rather not. I don't know why! Some people are shy about certain things. I want my artwork to speak for itself, but I'm not trying to look for accolades. I don't know if that makes sense or not.

Jones: So, actually, your enjoyment comes from the finished product, while you're working on it, or the end product, where it goes. Since you don't have reproductions, giclees, whatever, and you're not doing notecards, posters, cups (chortles) dress shirts! (laughs)

Handlan: No! My pleasure comes from the actual creativity of the piece, and in almost all instances now, my paintings have real meaning to me- they have a real depth of meaning. They're painted- just like that piece I showed you, of the pieces of the car. It meant something to me because it was someone who meant something to me. The marshmallows- my husband and I loved traveling all over the country in the RV- I did the driving and the hookups and everything, and-

Jones: You did.

Handlan: Uh-huh. He was- his health wasn't great, but it was a way for us to be able to go. And I thought, nobody's ever- I've never seen a painting of marshmallows, so I think I'll do that. I'm challenged. So I toasted 'em all different degrees of, you know, real light or dark, and crispy, and I carried them with me in the RV, and then while he was getting ready in the morning, I would sit outside and paint.

Jones: So you didn't work from photos, for example, as some people have-

Handlan: I have. Usually, I don't. Usually, it's from- I set up actual still-lifes. I mean, this was set up with- the first painting I did of feathers was when we were staying down at Wrightsville Beach in the winter, and I got tired of painting seashells. Everybody else paints seashells. And I picked up feathers. I'm always looking for new- new idea, new approach. Picked up feathers, and I thought, well, what'll I do with 'em? And I took another white piece of heavy paper- cardboard- and hung it on strings, and made the design with the strings and the feathers. This was not my first try, but that's how I did the first one. And that one led to a whole series of paintings, and many of 'em were in national shows, and-

Jones: I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that, with just feathers. How did you pick feathers? I mean, you're right- everybody does seashells or the sailing ships in the distance, or the bridges, or the- not the bridges, but the docks and things like that, you know.

Handlan: Oh, I've done all of those, too. I have sat on the beach and painted the ocean as the waves came in, and got sand in my paints (laughs)

Jones: (laughs)

Handlan: All of that, but no, I just tired of doing the- it was mundane to me after a while. And I'm always looking for something uniquely mine-

Jones: Something different.

Handlan: And so the feathers- I think feathers are beautiful. When we feed birds and I pick up- that's where I got the Blue Jay feathers that are in there, you know. The feathers-

Jones: Well, what's interesting to me is that they're on a stark white background, so they stand out, your strings, and so often I think people- at least, I might think of feathers as being very definitely a Southwest type thing, or, you know, typically, Arizona, New Mexico, California- and which is where I grew up, so, you know-

Handlan: Oh, really?

Jones: Yeah. And it would be on something, maybe a desert scene or something- but this is so different that it's fascinating, and it must- the arrangement, I don't know if I'm gonna get into that with you- is there any reason for that particular arrangement? Does it say anything? Or is it just because you feel, artistically, it's pleasing?

Handlan: This does not say, have any content to me. This is pure design.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: And the way the strings go and the division of space is what- and the shadows- all of that makes up the design. It's pure design.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: And that's what this one speaks of. This is also larger than most, as you see other things- it's larger than most. It's a 30 x 40 watercolor board. But when I set 'em up, I set 'em on another board the same size, with a spotlight, and that's how I know exactly where the shadows go. It's not "guess"- it is painting and I still do mostly still-lifes.

Jones: It's very precise.

Handlan: Yeah. And I don't paint out of my head. I need to see what I'm gonna-

Jones: Need to have direction? You need to see what you're doing.

Handlan: Yeah. Yeah.

Jones: So you're never the kind that starts with a thought, an idea, and then, six inches, I don't know where it's going, but let's just see and keep going.

Handlan: I have done those.

Jones: You have.

Handlan: But I've also found that that's just not my style. I get more involved in these that mean something to me as I go along. And now- this one I painted in the early 1990's- the ones I paint now, a lot of 'em have paper cut-out images, and I fold paper origami cranes, I fold little paper dolls. My granddaughter has folded paper dolls for me and cut 'em out. I've used those in paintings, and I have a kimono, which my aunt bought in China in the 1930's- absolutely gorgeous, and I have used that as a background, and on part of my paintings- for several paintings now- very intricate.

Jones: I was just gonna say, that- knowing what I do- the designs on those silk kimonos, which you can't do anymore. They used to have children do those- needlework. And there was a stitch called the "Forbidden Stitch."

Handlan: Oh, really?

Jones: Because the children would go blind by the time they were thirteen, fourteen- it was too many stitches. So, for use as a background- what would you have?

Handlan: Well, the paintings were in the other room, a couple of 'em, with the background of the- and I do them flat. I use shallow space most often. I don't have a lot of depth. But I love the design, and the embroidery. But I kind of stylize my work- it's not that realistic. And so that's the background, and then I have strings, again, hanging- origami and birds and different things- flowers.

Jones: What haven't you done that you might do? As far as-

Handlan: In the way of painting?

Jones: Yeah. Is there anything you haven't done?

Handlan: Oh, sure!

Jones: Well, I guess you would want to do-

Handlan: One I thought I would like to do-

Jones: Uh-huh.

Handlan: Something that nobody else has ever done.

Jones: Okay, can you tell us?

Handlan: No! I don't know what it is!

Jones: Oh, you don't? (laughs)

Handlan: But nobody else has done these, to my knowledge.

Jones: I don't think so.

Handlan: People have painted feathers. But I am known for things hanging on strings, and feathers. That's one of the things that people who know my work and they may not know me, they may not know who I am, what I look like, but they know that's Nancy Handlan. They also know me by the kimono paintings, and I've done enough of 'em now, and they're very intricate. The most recent one is the one that's in California right now, in Los Angeles, at the National Watercolor Society show. And that was my- hmmm!- that was my coup de grace- that was what I wanted most of all, was a very top, national organization, watercolor organization.

Jones: And that's one of 'em.

Handlan: And that's it. Yeah. And I got into it this year, and I got the active signature membership, which- I'm now allowed to put NWS after my name.

Jones: Now, I'm curious. Where is this located in Los Angeles? Is this fairly new in Los Angeles?

Handlan: No. They have 'em every other year, one in Brea, one in Fullerton, back and forth- they're near- and they're in the Los Angeles area.

Jones: In the County, uh-huh.

Handlan: Mm-hmm. And the other biggest show is American Watercolor Society that's in New York City. And I've yet to ever get one in that. But that day may come. I don't know. But I do, I am in nine different national organizations- as active memberships.

Jones: You're in nine? For watercolors.

Handlan: Uh-huh.

Jones: Now, when you tell me that you're "in" a certain association, did they purchase these?

Handlan: No, no. First of all, the painting has to be juried by slides into an exhibition. I am sent a prospectus. In this case, 'cause this one's right here, this was Watercolor USA out in Springfield, Missouri, and that's a very big show. And they have it in the same place every year. They send out a prospectus. You send back a slide. You pay money, you know, $25.00, whatever- $15.00- you send the slide and your information. They may get- in the national shows, they will get anywhere from 800 to 1,500 slides of artwork. And then they select 80 to 100 per show.

Jones: Now, there's a Board-

Handlan: They have, usually, it's one. Usually, it's one member- sometimes, it's three, but most often, it's one. This was a curator, and he selected about 100 pieces out of close to 1,000. And so you're looking at 10% acceptance, of getting into the show. That's the first step. And each show has different rules and regulations as to how you become an active member. In this case, if you get a piece into the show, if it is an award winner, you are invited to be an active member of the Watercolor USA. This was an award winner. I am a member. I can put WHS after my name- for Watercolor Honor Society.

Jones: Okay, so you're a member of- I'm gonna put the initials here- WHS. This is the-

Handlan: Watercolor Honor Society.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: In Springfield, Missouri. And Watercolor USA is the show, the exhibition.

Jones: Okay, now that's-

Handlan: And then, I have seven others in other places that I- they all have a little different- you have to get your slide into the show, you know, accepted into the show, then your work is sent out there- shipped out, and I ship 'em from here. You know, I have the shipping company come pick 'em up at the door, and they bring 'em back. That's shipped out, then it's displayed. Many times, I go to the opening of the exhibition. Getting awards in a national show is very difficult!

Jones: It seems that way.

Handlan: I mean, your competition- these are all of the watercolor-

Jones: All over the country.

Handlan: So- a lot of times, over the world.

Jones: Over the world.

Handlan: International. So there's one, then skipping to this year, with the National Watercolor Society, I sent a slide. They had 1,200 entries. They selected 100- the painting was sent out there and then I was invited to send three other paintings, originals, that were matted, not framed, and then they had a committee who looked at those and decided- was my work consistent? Was it good enough for their organization? And then I was invited to be an active member. (chuckles) And I did go out to the show.

Jones: I would hope so.

Handlan: Yes. In October, I went out to California. And I have to tell you- now, this is so typical of- I think, typical of artists. I called my friend before I went and I said, I wanna go to eat dinner out at the Oceanic. I wanna see the Atlantic waves roll in, 'cause I said, I wanna do that the night before I fly out, 'cause I said, tomorrow, I'm gonna sit and watch the waves roll in at the Pacific. I mean, it sounds so kooky- but that is so experiential to me. So, I say, I'm from coast-to-coast, and I have done all that within 24 hours. And I did- I had lunch.

Jones: And so-

Handlan: Overlooking- and, you know, it's Santa Monica Pier, overlooking the Pacific-

Jones: Oh, Santa Monica Pier?

Handlan: Uh-huh. And it was wonderful. You know, and I took pictures to prove that I had been there. (chuckles)

Jones: There's a restaurant down at Marina del Rey.

Handlan: Okay.

Jones: That juts out- Marina del Rey was sort of manmade-

Handlan: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Years and years and years ago- and when they were cleaning up Santa Monica, which had kind of fallen into disrepair at one time- anyway, this particular restaurant, windows all over, and they catered to artists of all kinds, people in the arts, I should say- even authors, writers, movie people- not the little bitsy whatever you see these days- and none of them were hurting for lunch, and it would be fascinating because anybody would- they'd write on their tablecloths-

Handlan: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm-

Jones: And sketch on the back of the menu, you know.

Handlan: Oh! How many times I've done that.

Jones: And you could sit there. I talked to a man one time, he said that he came for breakfast, which started at 11:00- (chuckles) and he'd been there all day long because he was trying to capture one mood that he had through the day, the sun moved, it wasn't sunrise, it was sunset- and, as you know, it doesn't rain in California, except January.

Handlan: (laughs)

Jones: But it can get dark.

Handlan: Mm-hmm.

Jones: And I thought, he must have a very sore bottom- (laughs) Nothing else to do!

Handlan: But you know, you don't think about that. When you're involved in the creative process, you can- it's workin' on the right side of the brain. You are not, you're not thinkin' about time, you're not thinkin' about anything logical, and that's- Betty Edwards came out with a book- Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain- in about the 1980's- and it has become a textbook all over now, for-

Jones: Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain- you hear that, Ashley?

Shivar: I would believe that.

Handlan: Betty Edwards. They use it at UNCW. They've had it in their bookstore. I used it when I taught. It's used everywhere from children to adults.

Jones: Huh.

Handlan: And she did her Ph.D. on why can some people draw and others can't. She didn't understand. And so she figured out it has to do with your brain, that the right side of the brain is the creative side. The left side is your logical side. And we all have both.

Jones: Makes sense.

Handlan: But some are much more logical, some are more creative, but everyone can be trained to be creative. You can be trained- you can move into that right side of the brain, and that's what her textbook's all about. And you can take your students and go through some of these exercises, next thing you know, the time is up, you know, class is over. "Kids, clean up. It's time to go." "Oh, I was just gettin' to the point where it was good!" You know.

Jones: That must have been fun for you as a teacher.

Handlan: Well, sure. And you see 'em do wonderful things. So this man, who was sitting on the pier, waiting for the right moment, he wasn't thinkin' about the time, he was thinking, he was thinking here about when that sun gets in the exact right place, and as a photographer, you understand light. You know, and that's all right brained.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: And I'm also logical. I'm very logical. I'm very business-oriented.

Jones: Well, you'd have to be, because nobody without logic is going to do something like that. There's a reason for that.

Handlan: Could be. I don't know. But I'm business-oriented. I'm mathematical. Music is mathematical.

Jones: Well, that's true. It is.

Handlan: It's very mathematical.

Jones: It's interesting that your interests were music and art- both mediums really huge right now.

Handlan: 'Cause I'm creative. I don't know.

Jones: But you're happy when you do this.

Handlan: Oh, yes! I can be the same way when I play the piano. When I start practicing- and it's just as hard to sit down and start the piano as it is to sit down at a blank piece of paper. Same feeling like, oh, gee, I have the laundry to do, I have the store to go to, I have all these things that everybody lives with, but when I finally sit down and start, once I get going, I can start playing the piano and go non-stop for hour, hour and a half. And really get into it- that's the right side of the brain working again.

Jones: Are you telling, are you saying that sometimes you will sit down at a blank board, canvas, whatever, and not know what you're going to do?

Handlan: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Is it better to walk away and then come back to it?

Handlan: Hmm-mm.

Jones: No.

Handlan: Hmm-mm.

Jones: So your inspiration-

Handlan: You push through that. You push through that "I don't know what to do." And usually the way I do it is- it's not so much what kind of work am I gonna put on this paper- I get out- in this case, I got out the whole bag full of feathers, start playin' with the feathers, and the string- and started making an arrangement. Now, working with the kimono and the paper dolls and all, I might fold paper and make different arrangements, and then I get the light, and I see how that works, and I begin- so I'm creating- building the still-life is a part of the creativity to me. It takes almost as long to build the still-life as it does to then actually paint it. So that's kind of my way of doing it.

Jones: That works for you.

Handlan: It works for me. It is not everybody's way at all. In fact, this last class that I just had down at Springmaid in Myrtle Beach, there were 25 of us in the class, all of us Master Painters, and Glenn Bradshaw was our Master Teacher. He said, "You know," he said, "I walk around here and I see everything everybody is doing, but I realize you don't see what each other is doing until you see the end result 'cause you're busy doing your own thing." He said, "I want you to sit around in a circle in the room, and tell me, how do you start your painting?" Out of those 25 people, we were all different. Every one of us had a different approach of starting, so how do we start? With a plain piece of paper. It's as different as we are.

Jones: Do you? You mentioned this several times, but I wanna get it straight- Springmaid, two words or one?

Handlan: One.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: It's Newberry Springs Company that makes Springmaid lemons- Leroy Springs lemons-

Jones: Yeah- that's what I thought-

Handlan: Yes! Well, they have their whole highrise and multiple buildings and whole complex at the very south end of Myrtle Beach, and it was built for their company people to begin with, but now it is used by all kinds of groups and organizations.

Jones: And it's called Springmaid-

Handlan: Water Media Workshops- and they teach that twice a year there, spring and fall.

Jones: Water Media Workshop, okay.

Handlan: They have 8 teachers per week, with 25 artists per class, so you can see how many that builds up, and you can take your spouse and you stay in an oceanfront, and you're painting day and evening, and you know, it's just a wonderful place to work.

Jones: Is there a particular time of day that you prefer, or you feel just moved to do- whenever you feel like it?

Handlan: Kind of mid-day. I am a morning person, but I have to kind of work through my house and do whatever I do in the morning, if I have to do laundry, you know, pick up from where I've had company- whatever- I sort of get myself started getting organized-

Jones: You're getting all of that stuff out of the way-

Handlan: Yeah.

Jones: So you can be free-

Handlan: Then I'm free to create, and then the heart of the day is mine. I do not paint in the evening. I'm not an evening person. I'm not a night person. I'm ready to go to sleep by 10:00, you know, and that's early for some people. But my creative time is- after I get my business out of the end, then I have my time. Unless it's something that I've got to do, and I have a timeframe, just like that church commission and all. I can paint whenever I need to, you know.

Jones: Well, since you don't have your works copied, and you sell them, do you keep slides of the work you've done?

Handlan: Yes. I take slides of all my pieces and yes, I have a couple of notebooks that- with the slide sleeves-

Jones: And where they went, who bought them- do you know any-

Handlan: I do have- yes, I do keep a whole record of who buys my work and where they go, but you kind of lose track of that. This has gone on for many years. (laughs) My first watercolor class was when I went back to college after my first husband died, and I took watercolor, and that was in 1970, so that's 37 years ago that I've painted- started with watercolor and continued.

Jones: Yeah. That's interesting. I've known one other artist who kept slides- never made, except on two occasions- copies of his work. He's no longer with us- and that's Sam Bissette.

Handlan: Oh! Wonderful- I knew him, yeah.

Jones: I did, too- he became a good friend of my husband's and mine, but I begged him over and over again for one particular- and he told me years ago, he said, that's my grandchildren's college education, and he did, to my knowledge, had copies of only three of his works. One was of the Yacht Club, and some of 'em went to the Lattimore House for them to raise money, but he refused to do it, you know, actually. And now I've heard where his son and daughter are releasing a few to be copied, with limited editions. I'm just wondering about your family-that they-

Handlan: I need to take a break.

(tape break)

Jones: Okay. We took a little break here for just a moment and am back again with Nancy Handlan. We were talking about your works- not having copies, but you do have slides, and I was about to ask you if your kids or any other family members we haven't talked about, but your other family members, might have wished that you had copies of some, at least, because it might have been their favorites, or they'd want something, or- but you just- what started you on this road of originals only and not making copies, even for friends or family? Or did you just feel-

Handlan: No. I have a very distinct reason for that.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: First of all, my children all- my family members all have paintings of mine, and periodically, I will paint something specifically for them, or if they see something that they particularly like, I will give it to them. I sell my work, but there's a lot of work that doesn't sell. And fortunately, I'm not in it for the selling of it, but if there's someone who really likes my work, or wants it, nothing feels better than to have that person own it. As far as doing a reproduction, all right, say, I gave you a painting- say, you fell in love with this feather painting, and you said, oh, that is just the most wonderful thing you ever saw, and I'm gonna say, Carroll, I really would like for you to have it, because you can appreciate it.

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Handlan: Okay. Do you want that image to be in 100, 500 other homes that fades, that changes? You probably wouldn't want it. And I feel like it is my personal-

Jones: It's your imprint.

Handlan: It is my thing, it is my creation, and I also know the background of how- it used to be lithographs. The offset lithography that they did- where you'd have 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 prints made. Each one was the same. Those cost the artist approximately $5.00 apiece, and they turn around and sell 'em for $75.00, $150.00, $250.00- that's bastardizing, I think. That is- it's not me. It is great for those who wanna make their living as an artist, and I don't take that away from 'em at all, and there are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay it, but the idea that they are getting something magnificent is a marketing ploy. When they're getting original, and nobody else has it- that's wonderful. That's my reason.

Jones: Yeah. Well, I can understand that. I just wanted you to tell us all- (laughs)

Handlan: Okay.

Jones: I think you're right there. On the other hand, I also appreciate the fact that, for example, you mentioned the Azalea Festival. Each year, they have a poster and they do lots of things-

Handlan: Oh, I love that! And that's a poster, that is a poster- that is not- it is not a signed and numbered- it's something that they're paying and saying, you have one of 250 out of 600 maybe, right, you know, and they're all the same!

Jones: Right.

Handlan: But posters are posters. And I think those folks- if somebody asks me to do that, I'd say sure.

Jones: Okay.

Handlan: Yeah. That's fine.

Jones: Because some very, very good people have done them, and some of them are a little more frivolous than others- you could enjoy the- you know, any work from Jennifer Cavanaugh, who does the bright-

Handlan: Oh, she does wonderful things.

Jones: Bright colors, and I enjoyed hearing how she came to this, you know- it's her survival-

Handlan: Right! I remember reading that.

Jones: And then Jodi Rippy did it just because- for fun, you know, and she's good, too, so anyway- but you-

Handlan: And I have- I don't remember everything I always have done, but I just did a poster for the Castle Street Halloween/Thanksgiving- oh, what'd they call it? The Harvest Festival- I did the poster for that, and they said, do you mind painting just a little something? Said, no, that'd be fun. And I did castles and, you know, ghosts and goblins and it was just for fun, and very colorful, 'bout so big, and they printed it and they put it in places all over town to promote it, and then they had a drawing for the original painting that somebody won. Now, that's fun.

Jones: So you donated an original.

Handlan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Jones: Well, that's good. That's good.

Handlan: I'm not that sticky about it! (laughs)

Jones: (laughs)

Handlan: Stuffy!

Jones: Well, that's pretty clear. I wonder sometimes what some of this protocol Masters and the early Impressionists would think today seeing copies of their work on everything- calendars to coffee mugs, you know. And done badly.

Handlan: Right! Right.

Jones: And done badly.

Handlan: That's like Princess Di. You can't back out now, your picture's already on the T-towels- do you remember that?

Jones: Yes. Honestly.

Handlan: (chuckles)

Jones: Okay, so let's get back to some of the- do you do Plein Air at all?

Handlan: Oh, yes, I have. I don't much anymore. It's not comfortable. I'm not-(laughter) I'm an old lady now! Oh, yes, I have sat outside a lot. I've sat in the middle of rivers on a rock and dipped my brush in the water- the experience is wonderful. And we call it "on location painting"- that is long before we got so fussy with Plein Air- it's the same thing.

Jones: Right.

Handlan: You're painting outside.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: You're using the materials outside.

Jones: You're all painting basically the same view.

Handlan: You're painting- yeah, a group of you might go out and we'll go in an area and "I'll paint here"- they'll paint there, they'll paint there, and, oh, yeah, oh, it's great fun.

Jones: Do you think it's sort of an exercise thing where a group of you may know one another? You have kids. Give or take or-You could just have fun.

Handlan: We'll just do it for fun. Sometimes we'll critique, but it used to be a basic rule that we did not discuss the painting with the other person unless they asked for it.

Jones: Oh, okay.

Handlan: Because it kind of- you may be doing what you think is a good job and your artist friend can come along and say, why'd you put that there?

Jones: Oh! (laughs)

Handlan: You know, or, you know, if you'd move that tree over there, it might make a better design. And that's- you're not out there for teaching or learning. You're out there for the experience and the fun of it.

Jones: Let me ask you this. I ask everybody this. What brought you to Wilmington, number one. I know you said, you were with you husband when he wasn't well.

Handlan: Mm-hmm.

Jones: You would come down here in the summer. Was that it? Or just for vacations?

Handlan: My oldest daughter came here for a spring break from Marietta College in about 1975. She fell in love with it, said, "I hope you don't mind, but I got a job this summer and I got a place to live, and I wanna live at Wrightsville Beach."

Jones: That's before I-40 too.

Handlan: This was about- oh, yeah, it was about 1975. And then she called and Augen said, "Do you mind if I transfer to UNCW?" And I said, somehow or another, I'm not surprised.

Jones: That's why it was "UNC by the sea"-

Handlan: Yes, yes! And so she discovered this area. And then we would come to see her, and ultimately, she left here, but the younger daughter also loved it here, and she came here for- and did four years of college at UNCW, and graduated. So when my husband retired, it was an easy thing for us to say, we love this area, we're just coming down. And then we spent two winters at the ocean- you know, rented a beach house for two winters and then decided, we really wanna live here. And it was not a difficult decision for us, but it was difficult for our families because we lived in my husband's family home. It was over 100 years old, that his grandfather had built in West Virginia, in the historic area- absolutely gorgeous, magnificent home. You know, huge place- three stories. We were ready to give that up and come here.

Jones: I'll bet.

Handlan: Our families were not happy about us giving up their hotel. (chuckles) But it was time for us to move on-

Jones: Did it stay in the family after you left?

Handlan: No, it didn't.

Jones: He sold it.

Handlan: He offered it to sister- family members- and nobody wanted to buy it. And so no, it was sold outside the family.

Jones: When you moved here, you talk about the mid-70's now- what type of- did you, when you, the first year, two years- whatever, for a year- did you investigate at all the art community, or were you just sort of unwinding from-

Handlan: We actually came down here in 1988. Our daughter came in the mid-'70's.

Jones: Oh, right.

Handlan: But we came down in the winter of '88, and yes, I immediately looked at- went to the Wilmington Art Association meetings, got involved in the Azalea Festival show, even though I didn't live here, and I was, I got involved in church. Yes, we became a part of the community before we moved here. And I think that was a smart idea because we- and my husband was a Rotarian. He enjoyed going to Rotary meetings and meeting people. We fit ourselves into the community before we-

Jones: You tried it on before you-

Handlan: We did! We did! And that worked.

Jones: Sure, it does.

Handlan: Then we moved here in 1990. So this is 10- 17 years later.

Jones: What have you seen in this town in the last 17 years, in the changes you've seen in the art community here, in Wilmington, or seen in Wilmington and their acceptance of it, all over the arts. But naturally-

Handlan: Growth.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: Tremendous growth. Exciting.

Jones: You do find it exciting.

Handlan: Oh, heavens, yes. As far as the Wilmington Art Association, of which I've been a member all these years, I have seen it change, not to be as vibrant as it once was-

Jones: I was going to ask you about that-

Handlan: As an organization, but overall, the artists and the- oh, the musicians and the actors and the- all of the different creative things that are going on in Wilmington, have exploded, in my opinion. There is not a day you can't get up and look in the paper, and say, what would you like to do today? And there'd be at least a half a dozen different things that you might wanna do. That's terrific!

Jones: Do you see these people as being truly talented, or some of them just trying it out or wannabes, they may drop it after- they're not gonna be successful, or-

Handlan: Doesn't matter!

Jones: It doesn't matter to you.

Handlan: They're creating. They're not- I mean, it's- I have seen a huge change in Wilmington for the fact that the native Wilmingtonians have really gone into the background. There aren't that many left.

Jones: That's true.

Handlan: Compared to the numbers of people that have come in- but there for a while, it seemed like most of the new people were coming from Long Island- (chuckles) but it is not so now. They are coming from all directions, and it has become a real melting pot.

Jones: I assume that all of Long Island moved down here.

Handlan: Yeah. But it isn't that way now. I don't see- I see 'em from all over the place. It's a real melting pot. It used to be: this isn't the place for young people. I don't feel that way now. I mean, I've got a 21-year-old granddaughter who wants to come down, stay with me long enough to see if she can find any kind of work. She has finished her college degree, but she loves this area. The people love this area for what it is, for the climate, for the beauty of it, and for the eclectic-

Jones: Mix?

Handlan: Mix, yeah! And the creativity- oh, my- it's wonderful.

Jones: I think- Do you think this is going to affect even moreso the downtown area? As far as historic preservation, or will it have an adverse effect by perhaps becoming too artsy? And I'm talking about not just paint, but in music and of course, some of those things that the studios are doing with film.

Handlan: No, I don't see any of that as a detriment. The biggest detriment is the same thing that's always been there. You're gonna have to watch what happens with the street people and the shifting of who's comin' along and just hangin' out. It can get to be kind of ugly. As far as different people trying creative ventures, they may not be the best artists, but they're trying, and we don't know- if they're not really good at it, they're not gonna succeed.

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Handlan: So, it doesn't matter, but they're trying. And there's always- like the Fourth Fridays? That's great fun. Have you gone to that?

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: It's fun to go around and walk around in the different places, and see what's going on, and it's becoming kind of a thing to do on that Fourth Friday night.

Jones: I'm amazed at the number of established people in the arts.

Handlan: Yeah.

Jones: Who will spend a day at one of the festivals downtown, like anybody else, or have WHQR exhibit some of their work- you know-

Handlan: Right.

Jones: And just in some odd, not odd places, but different places, when they really don't have to, and I asked one man not long ago, why do you do this? He said, because I love the people and I love the color and I like the feeling.

Handlan: Mm-hmm.

Jones: And yet, somebody else would say, I would never do that, it's beneath me.

Handlan: (laughs) Well! I would.

Jones: You would.

Handlan: Oh, sure.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: I just haven't bothered. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It takes an effort and it takes money, to put together an exhibition.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: And we had our Wilmington Gallery at Chandler's Wharf for about seven years, and I was one of the co-chairs of starting that gallery- it was a great experience, and we kept having water problems. The roof would leak in the summer and then last, a year ago August, I had, I was a featured artist, and I had nine large paintings on one whole wall, and then a bunch of others in bins, and had about 150 people come to the opening, and it was a great opening, great fun, and it was on a Fourth Friday and all that. A week later, one of the hurricanes came through- we were all called to get your work outta there right away, there's water all over the floor, and move it, and that's when we made the decision. We could not deal with being in the Chandler's Wharf space any longer. We just put up with problems too long. And it cost me a good amount of money to do that, and a lot of effort. So to do any of that- it's not that something's beneath me, it's just a lot of work and a lot of money to put yourself out there. Does that make sense to you?

Jones: Yeah, sure it does. Do you have your work exhibited in any particular galleries here in town?

Handlan: In the Wilmington Gallery on Castle Street, yep. We just moved. But it's like a whole new gallery.

Jones: Several people I know are talking about- you had to because of the flooding and so forth, and trying to hang things on brick- I heard this story from somebody, I can't remember who- saying they never wanted to go back there again, they hated brick! You know- (laughs) So-

Handlan: Well, we figured out a way, both places, both of the buildings were brick walls, and I think what we're doing in Castle hanging looks better. We've gotten the metal rods that attach to a wood frame, and they drop down and then the paintings hang on it. The brick walls are very attractive. It's a much smaller gallery- it's like a whole new gallery, it's- I think- good. I think it's a good gallery.

Jones: Yeah.

Handlan: And they're doing some exciting things with it. They've had the Minnie Evans collection that ran about a month ago, and this Sunday they have a whole collection of Claude Howell originals.

Jones: I saw that and I'm wondering where that came from.

Handlan: Weavers. Mary Weaver- Mary and Ted Weaver?

Jones: Could be.

Handlan: I'm not sure Ted is right, but they had all these pen-and-ink Christmas cards. 'Bout that size- all originals- and then they also had some clothing, they had some other pieces of his, everything from painting on paper bags, and it was- nothing was for sale of his, but it was a celebration of that man's artwork, and who he was as an artist. And I'm thinking, wow! This is wonderful! This little gallery is- we have some people in there that are really making some things happen.

Jones: I think- and do you agree with this? That that entire Castle Street group, you know, has made tremendous efforts to, I guess, open it up to kind of an artwalk, really, whether it's antiques or what-

Handlan: Yes. They have been terrific-

Jones: They got that fellow there now that does clocks, and fixes anything-

Handlan: It's- they're working very hard.

Jones: And copper hands are going to be over the-

Handlan: Oh, I don't know if that's gonna happen or not-

Jones: You know, I'd kind of hate-

Handlan: The restaurant there is wonderful. And you walk in, everybody knows each other. The owner knows what you want to eat. You sit there and you have maybe eight tables at the most. But everybody knows him. It's a very, very cohesive group of people, and I hope it works. I do hope it works.

Jones: Nancy, are you going to continue taking part in that? We've only got a couple of minutes left and I wanna see what's in your future. Do you have a-

Handlan: Taking part in what? The gallery?

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Handlan: Oh, sure.

Jones: On Castle?

Handlan: Oh sure. I'm very much a part of it.

Jones: Good. Well, this has been very, very enjoyable. Is there anything that I asked you earlier- that you say that you don't really plan- sometimes a thing will hit you, but if there was any particular thing that you'd want to try, wanted to do.

Handlan: I don't know.

Jones: You don't know. Tomorrow you might know.

Handlan: That's right.

Jones: That's it. Well, that's the mark of a true artist, then. This has been very, very enjoyable. I'm sorry you've got this cough.

Handlan: I'm sorry, too.

Jones: I feel for you. But anyway, we would love to come back sometime and keep in touch. Also, if there's any exhibits coming up, please let us know.

Handlan: Thank you. Thank you for coming.

Jones: Thank you.

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