Art‘s Desire

Art‘s Desire

Heather Gendron, director of Yale’s Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, proves low-key isn’t the same as low-energy. She’s also the dynamo behind Heather Hope Atelier, an art and design business run out of a small studio in her Westville home.

The dual careers emerged asymmetrically. In 1994, Gendron received a BFA from Purchase College in New York but didn’t “have a fully formed notion of how to be a practicing artist,” she says. At that time, the emphasis was on galleries and painting. “I was working in a medium that was really frowned upon in terms of it being the final work, which was drawing.”

Leaving school without a clear direction, Gendron eventually “found librarianship. I always loved going to libraries. I loved doing research,” she says. “I invested a lot in my career and would make art sort of in dribs and drabs.” In 2019, Gendron was having trouble sleeping and suddenly resolved, in the middle of one night, “to get more skills around watercolor painting.” She found a website called CreativeBug—available for free through the New Haven Free Public Library—offering easy, “low-stakes” classes and daily challenges. She also joined Instagram, connecting with other artists who “were being encouraging about what I was posting,” she says. Along the way, “I figured out how to have a practice, what it takes to have a practice making art. And from there it really blossomed.”

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Thinking of herself as both an artist and a designer, Gendron makes hangable paintings and prints, wearable scarves and both hangable and wearable tapestries/blankets, usually translated from an initial drawing. “I think as an artist you’re not necessarily foregrounding the idea of it being a product you’re selling,” she says. On the other hand, “As a designer, you try to make something that is a useable item.” She carefully sources mills for quality, color and eco-friendliness. A soft, whisper-weight organic cotton scarf with an abstract botanical design was digitally printed in Denmark while two of her most popular wool scarves—the “Blossom” and the “Love is Love”—were knitted in Long Island. “I like that translation of moving an image and kind of morphing it into different medium to see what happens. It’s like a playful thing for me to do.”

One of her tapestries is displayed at the Yale Health Center, and some of her acrylic paintings currently enliven the walls of Fussy Coffee, which she chose “because the space looks like a museum” with white walls and ample natural light. For the paintings—some of which are available as prints, including one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s imagined all-women court—she took small drawings from her sketchbooks and made them “super big, and that excited me,” she says. “I have to say as a woman artist, I felt like it was important somehow. To take up space.”

Gendron recently bought a 1980s knitting machine, which she’s learning to use. Eventually, she hopes to be able “create unique items and have more control of the knitting process,” including expanding her color and yarn options. She also recently began working in pastels—beginning with 104 vase and flower drawings in honor of her grandmother—and is starting to do murals. “I have a mural in Westville on the road behind Dunkin’ Donuts that they’ve turned into a pocket park.” She’s also been musing about creating murals for private homes as well as public spaces. “There are a lot of walls in New Haven. I walk around all the time and think, ‘That would be a great spot for a mural.”

Whether or not murals ever materialize in those spots, it’s safe to say Gendron will keep seeing art and design in places where it could be, and putting as much of it there as she can.

Written by Heather Jessen.

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