Archive for Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Hipple is ‘decidedly different’

May 16, 2001

Melinda Hipple, Baldwin City artist and photographer, will be honored at a "Farewell to Baldwin" retrospective art show on Friday, May 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Aardvark Photographix. She has lived in Baldwin for seven years, and has worked at Aardvark for more than five years. Hipple credits company owner Dave Michael for pushing her forward.

"Dave gave me film for Christmas to encourage me," Hipple said. "If it wasn't for Dave my artwork wouldn't be marketed."

Hipple, her husband, Robert, and their 14-year-old son will be moving to Nebraska, where Robert will work for the Nebraska Natural Resource District in Imperial. Robert Hipple was head of the environmental program at Baker University.

The Hipples came to Baldwin because it was equal distance between Topeka and Kansas City, where each had jobs at the time. They originally looked for a place in Lawrence, but people told them that Baldwin had good schools, and the minute they drove into town they both felt it was right.

"There's something about Baldwin City I've only come to realize in recent months," she said. "We've lived in several different states, but Baldwin is the most normal community we've lived in and it has the most genuine people. I feel closer to people here than in my own home town. I'm sorry to leave here. The campus itself visually adds charm and brings something the town otherwise wouldn't have. There's a security here that's not present in a bigger town."

This is it

When the Hipples were ready to buy a home, they bought a house that wasn't yet on the market.

"I walked in the front door and just knew this was the place to be," Hipple said.

Thus it is difficult for Hipple to leave her home, not only because she likes it so much but because of the work she's put into it. As an artist, she's left some unique "fingerprints."

She needed a solution to the cracked lath-and-plaster walls in her kitchen. So she hand-painted a vine that wanders over several walls, featuring grapes and wildlife, including a coiled snake painted on the top of a door frame. She has a basic stencil for most of the leaves plus a leaf-shaped sponge for another, then she free-hands the rest of the picture.

"I grew up with art; several family members were artists," Hipple said. "My great-grandmother was the first woman from Cass County, Missouri, to get a college degree in art. That's where it all started."

Hipple's dining room may be a bit too eclectic for most people: the walls are black and she finished the ceiling with aluminum paint..

"Dark colors usually make a room look smaller," she said. "But black is like night, and it opens a space up rather than making it smaller."

She also created the dining table, 2x4s covered with a tailored cloth that completely hides the crude construction. It's topped with a round glass surface. Wonderful wooden chairs carved to replicate snake skin complement the room. All are testament to her previous experience in interior decoration.

A place for art

Keeping the artistic flair in the family, she learned photography from her husband, who majored in photography in college before he switched to science.

Hipple taught art in Baldwin for four years through the recreation department. Her photography, pencil drawings and watercolor skills have expanded over the years through the nurturing environment in Baldwin.

"The interaction of the people, the support and encouragement that's present for artists, the number of artists in Baldwin is great," she said. "The knowledge of the people here who encourage you is worth a lot. There are so many people with similar interests."

Hipple started working for Aardvark by doing matting and framing at first, then acting as assistant sales person. Michael introduced her to the Lawrence Photo Alliance, after which she started getting serious about art. She served as an officer in the organization for five years.

"It's a great group," she said. "I've had several shows with other artists, and three one-woman shows. I also design Web sites, although my brainiac son gives me technical advice."

Going for it

For her 39th birthday, Hipple jumped out of an airplane.

"It was the thrill of a lifetime and I'd do it again," she said. "I was glad for the opportunity."

Hipple describes herself as decidedly different.

"I tried to get a belly-dance program going in town, but there wasn't enough interest. People don't understand belly-dancing," she said. "They have the wrong impression. It's a folk dance of the Middle East, a place where men and women live in segregated groups. Although the dance is about childbirth and fertility, it's not about enticement. It's about connection to spirit. It's a personal and private thing. I wear more clothes than most people expect when I dance."

The photos of her dancing bear this out, showing her covered from head to foot with clothing and veils, which swirl and swoop as she twirls.

As if art and photography and belly-dancing weren't enough, Hipple also plays the piano.

"I had 12 years of classical training in my hometown of Harrisonville, Missouri," she said. "Mother groomed me to be a classical pianist, but I fooled her."

Hipple admits that she didn't have the discipline for music, she didn't have the practice and precision, which is why photography and art are more attractive.

"With art I have more freedom," she said. "I do try to learn the proper tools and techniques, but errors in art aren't as obvious as when you're playing Rachmaninoff."

About four years ago she had an epiphany that changed how she looked at what she was trying to accomplish through photography.

"You hear it all the time," she said, "do what you know best. So I applied that to photography."

She'd been working on personal growth issues, soul-searching, and decided to photograph aspects of her own life and personality. At first she looked for a young girl to be a model for herself as a young child. But after her father died, she went through some old family slides and discovered childhood photos of herself.

"I saw my model in those slides," she said. "Those were the images I needed to delve into the aspects of what I wanted to say through photography."

So she projected the slides on a background screen and then stood in front of the screen, placing her adult form in the same frame as her childhood self. As she "interacted" with that old photo, an assistant took a new photo, blending the two selves.

"It changed what I did after that," she said.

Moving on

She has also rediscovered watercolors, having to relearn style and technique after several years away from this art form. The difference in before and after paintings is obvious. The old watercolors are more precise, more detailed. The newer paintings are more diffuse, more sensual.

"My artistry in watercolors is not near the same level as I am with photography," she said, "because I've not done it for so long."

She and her sister, also an artist, have worked together on two watercolors. Each painting is a self-portrait of the women, each painter taking turns being the subject in the background, each choosing different symbols and props in the pictures.

"I hate to paint backgrounds, and my sister loves to paint them. So we collaborated," Hipple said, "each painting the part of the painting we liked to do."

She wants to convert some of her photographs into larger-than-life pencil drawings, another of her ways to express herself artistically.

But that will have to wait until after she's moved to Nebraska.

Until then, her work will be on display at Aardvark. Stop by and say good-bye to Hipple and her art.

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