Margie Darrow: A State of Beauty

9:29am | Margie Darrow has been active as a professional fine artist for more than a decade.  In addition to blending sculptural and painterly elements in her more recent work, she’s also a skilled illustrator, and mural artist. 

It was surprising to me when I first saw her paintings on wood.  She’d cut plywood into fanciful, abstract shapes that seemed to dance with the semi-abstract paintings on the surface.  For all their weight and heft, they seemed almost lighter than air.  Her skill with a jigsaw was impressive and, looking back, it makes perfect sense that she’d eventually make a jigsaw puzzle.  I would have never guessed, though, that the puzzle would eventually become 15 feet in length, have 50 pieces, and involve artists from across the entire country.

Sander: What is ‘Oh Beautiful?’

Margie: Oh Beautiful is a project to create a large scale wood map of the United States. It is a collaborative project, where an artist from each of the fifty states is provided a wood state-shaped template and asked to render their state. The artists have a criteria that goes into their piece of art. So all the works of art become one work of art when assembled, and create a unique national portrait through our map.

Sander: What are some of the criteria?

Margie: They’ll need to include the location and physical landscape of their state, their personal connection and/or history with their state, and inspiration and factual content from the the book by Mark Stein, “How the states got their shapes.” We’re also requiring that they avoid political content, and preserve an all-ages viewing audience.

Sander: Can you explain a bit about how you got started on this concept, and how Mark Stein got involved?

Margie: I was driving, which is where I get a lot of ideas. I was thinking about pursuing a new collaborative project. I came up with the idea of making the map, and having an artist from every state make their state. I had figured out the basic foundations, since I work in wood. I could create the canvases, and it would be interesting to see what everyone came up with. Shortly after I arrived home, I turned on the TV and there was a program on about “how the States got their shapes” and I thought, ‘That’s so WEIRD!’ I was just thinking about all this. I researched the show and found it was from a book by Mark Stein. After I had refined my own idea a littler further and got his book, I wrote Mr. Stein because I wanted to get permission and/or support to use content from his book for my project which, by then, I titled Oh Beautiful.

To my delight, he wrote me back immediately, loved the idea, and gave his full endorsement to the project in letter form. I have been following up with him as the project progresses.

Sander: As you developed the concept, you must have, at some point, realized the enormity of it. Did you seek help?

Margie: Yes, I realize it is a pretty ambitious project. [smiles] I asked “The Steves,” as I now affectionately call them, Steve Deeble and Steve Frye to help me with putting the project together. They are both very skilled, and I thought that having a virtual Oh Beautiful tier of the project was important.

Steve Deeble is videographer and writer, and has a great sense of the Big Picture of the project, and helps to break it down into smaller pieces so it becomes “do able”. Steve Frye is a wonderful writer, arts advocate, and arts lover. He is writing the Oh Beautiful blog, and gives commentary, and highlight things of interest through the internet. They both have tremendous technical skill that bring the virtual Oh Beautiful to life.

Sander: What about financial support? Have you found grants for the concept?

Margie: I am working on the project unilaterally. I have written several small grants and I have raised some money through the sponsorship opportunities that are available through the project. I have also received some private donations as well. the 2nd City Council Art Gallery, a 501c3, is the fiscal receiver for Oh Beautiful, so financial support may be tax-deductible.

Sander: How much do you need to raise in order to move forward?

Margie: The entire project budget is $50,000, but the project will move along at the pace that it goes. Funds may trickle in like they have, and it keeps the project moving forward. I think, as the project moves forward little by little, it will gain momentum.

It is a good-will project along with it being an art project.

Sander: How are you finding artists in other states?

Margie: I am finding professional artist recommendations through my own contacts in other states. I also have a database of Arts Councils in each of the states that I can outreach to. Also, I have a artist submission form on the web-site for interested artists.
I hope to have a very diverse mix of art and perspectives.

Sander: Have you selected any artists yet?

Margie: So far we are Bi-Coastal. [laughs] That is to say we have from one from California, and one from Maine. We have Margie Darrow from Long Beach California, and Paul Davies from Naples Maine. It is important to me to have Long Beach on the map and, frankly, I am excited and interested in creating California.

Sander: How big will the finished piece be?

Margie: When assembled it will be about 15 feet in width. In figuring this out it came down to how small Rhode island is. It had to be able to have a hanging structure on the back. I made all the “paper templates”. I think certain aspects of the project will grow organically. Art is a job that includes a lot problem solving. There is always something new to figure out on the horizon. And although Oh Beautiful will entail a lot of choices. It will be interesting and educational process to watch.

Sander: What do you hope to do with the completed piece?

Margie: Well the final piece(s) will be assembled and exhibited. After that, it would be wonderful if the map would travel, and be exhibited in every state. But I try to stay with the tasks at hand.

More information about the project can be found at

Also, Margie just found out that she was selected by State Senator Alan Lowenthal for inclusion in the Senate’s Ninth Annual California Contemporary Art Collection exhibit. The exhibition will be in California’s State Capital, and will run from March 2011 through September 2012.

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