Whether its an old whiskey bottle, a wine glass or a circular saw blade, none of these items necessarily suggest a painter’s canvas. However, for Laura Dunphy, who lives just north of Isle, this milieu has been the basis of her painterly hobby for roughly 12 years. Dunphy regularly features her work at the Isle Farmer’s Market and the Mille Lacs Market, and she was willing to explain how she got started repurposing these items for her paint.
Learning to paint
Dunphy believes her painting started around 12 years ago when she was working at Lakeland, Inc. in Isle. A friend and co-worker had approached about the prospect of starting to paint. Because of this conversation, Dunphy picked up a guide to one-stroke painting, by Donna Dewberry. “I got to page three,” Dunphy said, “you started out painting leaves, and it was like, bam! I knew what I was doing. I absolutely loved it.”
Prior to picking up the Dewberry book, Dunpy hadn’t had interest in painting, and her work since has been self-taught. “I’m always learning,” she added. She has also watched guides on YouTube, including Bob Ross. The process could be slow going. Dunphy added that she was a perfectionist who doesn’t want to make wasteful mistakes.
Dunphy also spoke to the therapeutic quality painting had for her. “When I’m painting,” she said, “I’m in another world. It’s hard to describe how you can just escape your world. I no longer hear the TV while I work. It’s so relaxing, there’s no stress when I paint.”
Bottles and saws
Dunphy started out painting flower pots, but she has since expanded to a wide variety of objects she’ll paint. This includes decorative birdhouses, mason jars, wine glasses, rocks, christmas ornaments, and more. She has painted wine glasses she found at garage sales and thrift stores. Being particularly conscious of not being wasteful, Dunphy’s painting has repurposed old bottles of all shapes as light fixtures, candle holders and art pieces. “To me, it’s like throwing away something beautiful,” she said. All the bottles she works with are donated. “I have amazing drinking friends,” she laughed, “from Isle.” She found that people are generous and considerate when it comes to providing bottles for her art.
Using a diamond cutter and a drill press, Dunphy cuts all of her own bottles and drills all the holes for light fixture wiring. While some people prefer oil, Dunphy does all of her drilling underwater. The process can take around 20 seconds, a long time to carefully press the drill through glass without breaking it. Dunphy proudly noted she’s never broken a bottle with the drill press, though she has had a few cracks during the cutting process. This work was also sanded to avoid any sharp edges.
As all her pieces are baked, Dunphy said most of her glasses should be top-rack dishwasher-safe. However, she does recommend hand washing such items, as the art would likely fade with use and time. “They’re as permanent as I can make them,” she said. Similar attention is taken to proof outdoor items against the elements, as decorations are attached with heat- and water-resistant glue.
“I have a lot of amazing people around me,” Dunphy said. She is open to taking requests, and such work has influenced the material she’ll work with and the subjects she’ll paint. She has several friends who have provided her sawblades and asked her to paint landscapes on them. “I was a little scared,” she explained, ”because I had been basically just doing flowers.” Nonetheless, she gave it a try. It’s through these odd jobs and the encouragement she’s received doing them that she’s expanded her repertoire.
The Farmers Market
In addition to painting, Dunphy is an avid gardener, regularly participating at the Isle Farmers Market for 18 years. She starts her seeds in February. “When I start doing my seeds,” she said, “they pretty much occupy me full-time. I really baby my seeds.” She noted that she grows just enough to have produce to offer at the market. Alongside her produce, she brings banana bread and zucchini relish, items of which she consistently sells her full stock. “I’m kind of known for them,” she added.
In part, the market has contributed to her painting hobby. After a back injury prevented her from getting the usual output from her garden, she began bringing her painted flower pots to the market as well. Though the injury has affected her ability to work in the garden, she has stuck with it and credits her husband for his help.
During the winter months, she brings her goods to the monthly Mille Lacs Market hosted at the Isle Recreation and Education Center. A
selection of her painted items is available through Johnson’s Portside’s storefront which is located north of Isle on Hwy. 47. “[Portside] has really helped me out,” she said, noting that their arrangement allows her to sell her wares year round.
Dunphy was also inspired by the camaraderie of her local community. Attending the Isle Farmers Market, Dunphy said she constantly encounters interesting people and conversations. By working in a small town rather than a city, she feels her art is able to remain personal, rather than becoming overly rote, mechanical or commercial. “I’m really lucky to know so many creative people,” Dunphy added. “I’m blessed that way.”
Dunphy is open to take requests or special orders. Mostly, it has been word of mouth that has led to those orders coming in, and Dunphy has seen orders come in from as far away as New Jersey and Florida. Those who are interested in buying a special order item from Dunphy can reach out to her at (320) 592-3707.