When she's not handling marketing and website management for the Kimmel Center, artist-designer Evelyn Taylor spends hours in her basement studio crafting one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, decorative tiles and mosaics.
Taylor says that Collingswood gave her her first breaks as a gallery artist, and its welcoming atmosphere supports the home-based business she shares with her boyfriend, potter Chris Bonner.
Collingwood Patch: When did you fall in love with ceramics?
Evelyn Taylor: I remember watching a PBS show as a kid and they were talking about disabilities and people doing stuff despite their disabilities. This guy was throwing pots with his feet because he didn't have any arms. I was really blown away by that! I mean, just the throwing of the pot was amazing, let alone that he was doing it with his feet! That never left me.
I went away to college, and sophomore year, I switched my major from writing to photography. I needed an elective and I thought, “Boy if I could get into wheel throwing, that would just be so cool, I've always wanted to try it.”
I was able to add it at the last minute, which was crazy. I walked into the studio late. I was completely fascinated with my teacher and the space instantly. I learned how to throw a pot on a kick wheel instead of an electric wheel. It was such instant gratification.
And I really took to it. I became a thrower right away. I was throwing pots for the other guys in the class who couldn't do it and didn't want to fail the class. So I kind of moved in and that was it. I became incredibly prolific. I created a voice for myself right away. It was like I found home; it was like coming home. Til this day, thinking about that studio space, I just want to recreate that space everywhere I go.
A few years after I graduated, I got the job at the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown, which is a living history tile museum. I learned production work there. I learned how to make a lot of pieces well, fast. I learned about stamping and making impressions, like, having your clay be canvas and creating impressions in that canvas. Sort of telling a story that way.
So, there I learned about production, about being efficient with your time and space, and every movement and every motion became, like choreographed almost, because I was doing it full time. I mean, I was there five days a week, full-time for four years. It really started to become muscle memory.
But it wasn't really until I moved to Collingswood and was able to spread out a little bit more that I really started to take it seriously. I built my Etsy site in 2006, and that was really when I started to say, “I want this to be an additional income source. I have goals here.”
Patch: A large picture of Frida Kahlo figures prominently in your studio. What about her inspires you?
Taylor: I find her self-portraits so sexy and alluring, so I'm always just inspired just by looking at them.
What I've always admired about her the most is how she made art that came out of her soul. She never made art that somebody wanted her to make because it would be commercial or sellable or that would be polite or be consumable. She was only concerned with getting out of her what was inside of her because it needed to come out.
That is something that I wish I could live like all the time. I don't really have the luxury to make art that just pleases me all the time, but that's how she really lived her life. That inspires me about her the most.
Patch: Where did your passion for jewelry start?
Taylor: My mother's jewelry drawer. It was my favorite place in the house. I would go into that drawer whenever I could. I would get it all out and lay it all out on the bed.
And now I have some of those pieces. I've actually made some molds of the silver that she brought back from Turkey when she was in college, and I pressed clay into those molds and reproduced some of that silver look in clay. So I'm literally making, now, jewelry that comes from, very literally, my mother's pieces.
That's a way for me to honor her. It's a way for me to keep one foot in my roots because it reminds me all the time of the house I grew up in and that drawer and the little egg cartons that she used to store her pieces in to keep them in order. That's exactly why I do this now.
Patch: Has Collingswood helped you grow as an artist, helped you to grow your business?
Taylor: Yes, definitely. When Fusion Gallery was in Collingswood, which didn't last very long, they opened right when I first moved here and started showing and selling my work right away. So that was awesome! I think they were only there for about a year, but that really gave me the confidence to approach other galleries.
And then when Zuzu opened, that was strictly a jewelry gallery. That just blew my mind—I mean, four blocks from where I live, there was a gallery devoted strictly to jewelry! And now the owner, Alison Hunt, is a great friend of mine. We work together all the time; she's really well-trained and so knowledgeable. She's taught me so much about jewelry-making.
[Alison Hunt has since moved her Zuzu Jewelry Studio to Center City Philadelphia.]
Also, the Arts Festival I've done and the farmers market craft days. The farmers market's amazing! I only did it once last season, but I did WAY better than I expected to, it was awesome! And now people come up to me and they're like, “Oh! I remember you from the farmers market last year!”
Patch: You work in Philadelphia. Why have you made your home and your studio in Collingswood? What keeps you here?
Taylor: Collingswood just...it just embraces you. It's so diverse. One of the things I love about Collingswood is that you don't have to be married with kids to feel like you're participating in the community. That's huge! It really is!
I can't tell you how much I felt sort of ostracized in other towns that I've lived in by being a single woman with no kids. There was so little to do. As a woman in my late 30s, early 40s, there was nothing going on in the community that was of interest to me. It was always family-oriented or for divorcees or senior citizens. It was like, “Hello! What about me?”
Here, everybody's allowed to do everything. Everybody's encouraged to do everything. It's all inclusive. So that really made me feel like this was a place where I could go to an event up on Haddon Avenue by myself and meet three people that I've met before and chat with them and get to know them better. That's exactly what has happened! I instantly felt completely at ease here presenting myself as somebody who was single, making art, and wanting to get to know people. I always felt completely welcomed.
Patch: Tell me about “Art Within Reach.” What is the mission of that initiative?
Taylor: Eric Wolff-Sewell and I started it just because we wanted to create an outlet for us to sell our own stuff. As we talked about it, though, it quickly became something where we wanted to ask other artists to participate and have it get as big as we could get it to be.
Our main mission is to create an outlet where local artists can get together, show their work, make it available for sale at reasonable prices for the community, because we want the community to be as excited about it as we are. It's not just about making money, it's about, “Let's share what we're doing with the people that we're doing it amongst.” We want that to become a part of the fabric of what Collingswood is, and the region.
And then, all of the money goes back to the artist. It's not like a gallery where you pay 40 bucks to have a table and then we also take 35 percent off the top. The artists takes home every bit of money that they make. We're not trying to get rich from this, we just want to be able to keep doing what we do and have that keep churning and feeding off itself.
Patch: Can you talk a little about the Open Studio event that you're hosting Oct. 21?
Taylor: This is really the first time that I've invited a really wide net of friends, family...the public, essentially, to come and hang out and see what I do. I'll have all my latest designs, my latest jewelry, my tiles and mosaics. Chris will have his latest pottery. Plus you'll be able to really see the process. You can see where it all happens and I'll be able to explain how it works.
It's important to me that people understand that, that they don't just see the final product. I want them to get to know where it comes from; how it's made, why it's made, and who makes it.
I will literally have pieces available at every price point. You will be able to buy loose beads from me for under $5. A hand-painted magnet for $5. But then mosaics may go into the triple digits; a piece or two of jewelry might go that high. But most of my jewelry ranges from $25 to $70. I think it's right down the middle of what most people consider pretty affordable, wearable stuff.
So really you can come and have a glass of wine and a Diet Coke and walk away with a $5 magnet and feel like you had an experience of seeing what it's all about.
Patch: Describe the quintessential Evelyn Taylor Designs customer.
Taylor: Well, really I'm designing for myself! It's totally selfish! But, because I work in the arts, I work with a lot of women who are very creative, and who dress creatively and have creative ways of expressing themselves. And they buy my jewelry, thank God; it's wonderful. It's great to sit at a meeting at the Kimmel Center and around the table are three or four women who are wearing my pieces.
That has helped to expand my vision of who I'm making stuff for. I want sophisticated, artsy, strong women to wear my work. I want everyone to wear my work! Men wear my work too! I make cufflinks and men have been known to wear my necklaces. But, I would say that I'm making pieces for women who think outside of the box, who want to wear something that is totally one of a kind and bold, and made with hands out of the earth.
There will be plenty of opportunities to see Evelyn Taylor's work this fall. Her Studio Open House will be Oct. 21 at her home at 10 W. Coulter Ave. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. She will have a table at the Collingswood Farmers Market Nov. 3 and 17.
Taylor will also have a show in Philadelphia Art Alliance Pop-Up Shop at 251 S. 18th St. Nov. 6-10, and she is participating in the Small Works Project, which runs from Oct. 12-31 at Gallery at 792 Haddon Ave.
Art Within Reach is hosting its Annual Holiday Sale Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 at Eric Wolff-Sewell's Collingswood home on 300 Highland Ave.