By Jennifer Dempsey
For Salida artist Tammy Grubisha, solving complicated engineering problems for custom orders was the easy part. Coming up with a name for her company was the hard part.
“It was difficult naming my business because of all the things I do,” said the 44-year-old furniture maker/sculptor/welder/muralist. “I gave up trying to label what I do long ago. There are people who wouldn’t call me an artist, and some who wouldn’t call me a welder. All I know is I love what I do, it’s my gift to this world, and I make myself and other people happy with my creations.”
Finally deciding on the trade name Mz. Allaneus, (pronounced ‘miscellaneous’) Grubisha creates furniture, railings, lighting, tile work, signage, hardware and sculpture using metal, clay, wood, glass and found objects. Describing herself as a “full-time functional fine artist,” her style ranges from eccentric to elegant, and her work includes everything from Halloween ‘Grubkins’ (gargoyle inspired pumpkin faces) to high-end chandeliers and furniture.
“My career allows me to indulge my engineering sensitivities while completely satisfying my creative side,” Grubisha said. “I love the challenge and problem-solving that fuels the perfect design for a specific client, space, and aesthetic. Most artists see these points as limitations, but I see the parameters of custom designs as points of inspiration. My engineering brain goes to work and has all kinds of fun.”
“She is extraordinary how she can think these things through,” said client and fellow artist PJ Bergin. “Tammy is able to put herself in a person’s place and visualize what their needs are and how (an item) will be used in someone’s home. She has a way of thinking the whole project through in a way that I have not come across in other craftspeople. “
For Bergin and husband Merrell, Grubisha has created room dividers, a dining table, three original light fixture brackets, stands for artwork, and a custom kitchen pot rack.
“(The pot rack) is the most inventive thing she’s done for us,” Bergin said. “The design is simple though it’s extremely well-engineered as is Tammy’s way. It’s very incredible.”
Grubisha grew up in Ohio and New York, excelling in high school math and science, but always keeping a sketch book handy.
“I never remember not being creative,” she said. “My parents were always supplying me with art materials but were very dismayed when I announced I wanted to go to art school. I was so strong in science and math they really had me pegged for an engineer. They threw out a challenge that in order to go to art school I would have to receive a big scholarship.”
So in 1985, when Grubisha received the top scholarship from Columbus College of Art and Design,”they kept their end of the bargain,” she said.
After graduating with a BFA, Grubisha experimented with a wide array of art jobs including metal work, three dimensional illustration, ceramic mold design, logos, murals, interior design, garden features and gift ware. Her diverse artistic offshoots “sometimes seemed like a long drive around the block, but I see now that it wasn’t wasted time,” she said. “I see how my experience in murals allowed me to incorporate faux finishes into my art. My experience with the ceramic mold company definitely helps me with my tile work.”
One of her favorite pieces, Watering Hole, is a stock trough transformed into a drinks cupboard designed with an old coppered patina finish, custom tile top, found-object spigot handle door-pull, beetle kill wood interior and supported by airy welded feet.
“It’s funky,” she said. “I love the engineering needed to combine all the materials and being able to work with so many mediums in harmony. The more types of materials I can combine, the more excited I become about a piece.”
Grubisha admits when she first started working with metal she didn’t think she’d enjoy it.
“I thought it had to be hard and cold and square and heavy, but I found out it didn’t have to be,” she said. “Because of my schooling in clay, wood and stone sculpture, I approach the metal from a carving standpoint rather than the traditional hammered blacksmith technique.”
“She brings a feminine touch to what she does which is probably why it’s so desirable,” said Steve Holmes of Holmes Construction who hired Grubisha who created a metal railing emulating fluid leather straps.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “She’s incredibly creative and incredibly precise.”
Grubisha said she is intrigued by “the intimate details of personal spaces” and “inspired by patterns found in nature.” The top of her Rosette Tile Table, for instance, is created with individually designed tiles based on the pattern of butterfly wings.
“I always thought it would be interesting to have someone write music to the patterns in that table,” she said. “There’s all kinds of patterns and motion in it. I feel I’m successful in a piece if you can’t stop looking at it and your eyes are continually traveling on the piece. It’s much nicer to have a beautiful piece of furniture rather than a generic fiberboard piece from a super store. Having that beauty in your surroundings affects you. It makes a difference.”
When it comes to artistic influences, Grubisha calls herself an “anti artist. I don’t study other artists. I don’t get art magazines. I don’t belong to many art groups, only Salida Artworks. I just do it.”
She does, however, acknowledge Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi for their use of “multi-mediums and all-encompassing design of environments and buildings.”
Grubisha will be participating in the Salida Studio Tour on Sept. 9 and 10. Her studio is located at 7485 County Rd 150, Salida, CO 81201. For more information, call (719) 539-2991.
Jennifer Dempsey is a freelance writer and director of the Salida Circus.