This month’s Garrett County Arts Council spotlight is shining on a gifted artist who creates one-of-a-kind pieces made through a process that is both fascinating and unique. In the GCAC light this month is Annie Simcoe of ABPH Art (AnnaBellPetuniaHead).
Annie is a mixed media fiber artist. She makes papers from plants, dyes them with fabric dyes, and then uses them to create her art. She uses a fiber called abaca combined with plants that she grows herself or those she forages or collects from local farms.
“I use corn husks the most, but when I can I also use iris leaves, onion skins, and even ramp leaves,” she said. “Then I ‘draw’ on the plant papers, not with a pencil but with needle and thread using free motion quilting techniques.” The result is a layered, colorful, textured work of art.
Annie has been a full-time artist since 2009. She travels to arts festivals across the Mid-Atlantic region to sell her work. Before transitioning to full-time art, she was a research geologist at West Virginia University.
“I believe that every single one of us is born an artist, and we all end up expressing that creativity in unique ways,” Annie said. “As a child, I was more interested in making clothes for my dolls than playing with them. In the late 1990s I was a potter and began making paper in the early 2000s. I did my first craft fair in 2003.”
The artist is inspired by the natural world around her, her garden, folk art, life experiences, and her background in geology and earth science.
“Each piece of art I create is a bit like a piece of my life, my personal story,” she said. “One of my more recent series, titled ‘Appalachian Fiber,’ is a study of life along the Allegheny Front. The Allegheny Front is the major escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains. It forms the boundary between the Appalachian Plateau to the west and the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians to the east. It extends from south central Pennsylvania to western Maryland and West Virginia. In most places, the Allegheny front is along the Eastern Continental Divide. The mountains are rugged and awe-inspiring. The climate is harsh. It is not uncommon to see snow at any time between October and May. But it is the years with no summer that are the hardest. In order to survive and thrive here, settlers had to have grit, fortitude, and backbone.
“I fell in love with the mountains of the Allegheny Front as a little girl,” Annie said. “Frequent trips to the Laurel Highlands and Deep Creek Lake started the infatuation. The more time I spend here, the deeper I fall in love. The rugged landscape, the ephemeral plants that signal spring, the grit and fortitude of the people who call this place home – all speak deeply to me. Appalachian Fiber is a tribute to this special place.”
The weather and flora of the Maryland-area mountaintop continues to fuel the artist’s work. Her understanding of the history of plant life and its connection to the local population plays a role in her process.
“Spring in the Alleghenies is a fickle mistress. Late winter weather can last well into May,” she said. “The first signs of new life in early spring are celebrated. Many of these ephemeral spring plants were important food sources before there was refrigeration and transportation. Part of the Allegheny Front collection is a series of botanical illustrations of some of the important spring ephemerals. These are made from ramp paper, corn husk paper, and free-motion stitching.”
One of the pieces from Allegheny Front is a depiction of ginseng. The GCAC has already selected this work to be the cover art of the 2022 literary journal, aptly titled Ginseng. The journal is in production now, with an early summer release planned.
Simcoe has obtained a number of special achievements through her life’s work and feels fortunate that she has been able to build a successful career selling her art. She participates regularly in prestigious art festivals and has won “best of” awards in some of them. She has been a recipient of the Maryland State Arts Council’s Independent Artist Awards, and one of her creations was selected to be included in a permanent collection at the National Institute of Health. Although personal achievements involving her customers and her community have perhaps been more moving to the artist.
“My favorite moments are when a father and daughter pick out the perfect present for mom, or when I am commissioned to make a piece commemorating a very special moment. But if I have to pick one achievement that I am most proud of, I have to say it was the fundraiser I held for the coat drive for the Highland Thrift Shop in January 2021. As we all know 2020 was exceptionally hard and I wanted to do something to pay forward the love and generosity I had received. When I posted my fundraiser, I hoped that it would at least generate the $650 that I would normally sell the piece of art for. It ended up raising over $6,000 for coats and food for those in need. I was astonished, humbled, and grateful,” she said.
Annie is an artist member of the GCAC, and her work is on display at The Gallery Shop in Oakland. She participates regularly in the GCAC’s annual Artist Studio Tour each summer as well. As for advice to those artists hoping to go full-time with their work, she strongly suggests that they find and take business, marketing, and accounting courses to learn the true process of running their own company.
“In order for art to be your livelihood, you must also be an entrepreneur, which means wearing many hats,” she said. Annie’s business website can be found at abphart.com, and ABPH Art is on Facebook as well.
The GCAC meets its mission in supporting and celebrating local artists like Annie Simcoe, who is a successful and accomplished professional. You can help support the GCAC by becoming a member for a nominal annual fee, which in return provides you with information about arts happenings in the county, grant opportunities, exhibits and workshops at The Gallery Shop and $MART ART Shared Workspace and Classroom, and SEYMOUR, An Art Experience, at www.seymourart.org. Visit garrettarts.org or call 301-334-6580 for more information.
Written By Mary Sincell McEwen