You know when you get a crush on someone on the internet, and it is all abstract and detached until you find out that OMG! she lives in your backyard and then you can't help but inbox her? Luckily, because your backyard is Milwaukee where everyone is decent and well-mannered, your crush actually inboxes back and agrees to talk with you.
(That really is how it works in Wisconsin. Really, the only drawback is on the highway, where people don't wish to hurt the feelings of other drivers by passing them.)
My crush is on Cassandra Smith. I saw her work a while ago and her majestic taxidermy took my breath away. This white-tail deer, adorned in vibrantly painted geometric patterns, is elevated from mounted trophy to proudly decorated beast who lost the ultimate battle.
Have you ever seen anything like this? Taxidermy abounds in Wisconsin. Here, the opening days of deer hunting season correlate with the highest level of absence in the workplace, and our middle school science teacher gives extra credit to any student who brings in fresh deer hearts for dissection. Smith's art traces its roots to Wisconsin, but in a surreal, beautiful, and entirely unexpected way.
Smith also paints naturally shed antlers, using bands of color so deeply pigmented, they almost encase the antler. Like the best kind of design, the color and lines seem simple but they are not. Smith, a student of sculpture in college, says, "Every time I pick up an antler, I make a design decision."
Her painted hatchets are visually arresting as well. Her work is unique, wild, modern, and makes me realize the obvious, that hatchets have always been beautiful. I just needed some help seeing that.
Cassandra credits Etsy with helping her get featured in major publications, which resulted in a lot of attention in the design world. Her antlers have been sold at Anthropologie, at my absolute favorite shop in NYC, Michele Varian, and at ubercool Terrain, as well as other shops. You can purchase for yourself from her Etsy shop.
Sadly, with the added publicity came the risk faced by all creative artists. Smith saw her designs duplicated by wholesale manufacturer Cody Foster. She took action. Anthropologie, who had purchased antlers from Smith and copycat antler ornaments from Cody Foster, dropped its orders with Cody Foster. Rather a noble act by a large company. Cody Foster in turn sued Anthropologie's parent company, Urban Outfitters, for breach of contract. It has been an interesting case to watch. You can read more about it here.
I see a parallel between Smith's work and her copyright fight. For her medium, she selects objects that evoke strength. Her paint does not simply make them pretty -- it illuminates an essence in that object that was always there. Similarly, this struggle she faced with the pirating of her work brought out a toughness unexpected from a young artist on her own.
So now, what if you speak with your crush and she surpasses all of your very high expectations and you don't know what to do with all your admiration? You buy her art. That's what you do.