Two Bainbridge generations with a clear (re)purpose: The Stroms show handmade treasures at 2009 Summer Studio Tour
August 7, 2009 · 3:41 PM
Those Stroms. They love to scrounge for scraps.
"It’s funny how Dad and I totally do the same thing," Shannin Strom-Henry said. “Just in a different medium.”
Shannin’s preferred vehicle for creativity is vintage textiles; Dick Strom’s is, well, the vehicle, or any object that consisted of metal in its first incarnation.
Visitors to this weekend’s 2009 Bainbridge Summer Studio Tour can catch them both, as Red Buckle Shoes and BapaTom’s Metalworks share space with other artists and craftspeople at Cecil Ross Studio. It’s one of seven venues on this year’s circuit.
The Strom family has deep island roots; Dick’s father purchased a 20-acre piece of property on West Port Madison Road in the 1940s, built a pink farmhouse, and raised his family there.
Dick’s proclivity for metal started when he was 8 or 9, he said, when a neighbor asked for his help on a project.
With his wife, Bobbie, Dick parlayed his skills into the creation of the long-standing island business, Modern Collision Rebuild. He and his brothers each purchased five acres of land from their parents, and Dick and Bobbie constructed a new house in which to raise their own family.
Between business and a growing brood, he didn’t have time to work on anything besides cars and the house.
But with semi-retirement, not to mention several garages brimming with sheet metal and old parts, came an impulse to re-purpose metal into a form that was more lighthearted. BapaTom’s Metalworks emerged from there.
Dick’s first piece was a gate built for Bobbie. At the top is a rose with leaves made of shovel heads; pitchfork tines are arranged throughout to form the body of the gate, and there’s an old wheel on top serving as a trellis.
Later pieces included goldfish, salmon and seahorses, all of which have horseshoes for scales. There are also crabs; centipedes with old shoe lasts for feet and mole traps for mouths; and flowers on re-bar stakes, with centers made from anything that looks like a a center, including folded sheet metal and old sprinkler heads.
He also builds fire pits from segments of old tanks that began life underwater as platforms for mothballed subs.
“I always figure I’m giving this old metal another 50 years,” he said.
Garden gates remain Dick’s favorite; that first rose gate provides entry to the plot that has sat at the front of the property for 55 years. He suspects the volunteer rhubarb that grows there is a distant relative of the crop that was originally planted.
Shannin shares her father’s appreciation for the property’s history, and remembers an idyllic childhood on the farm – including the steer that she and her brothers had to avoid as they cut through the field every day on the way to the bus stop.
When she got older, though, she craved city energy and flew the proverbial coop. She obtained a master’s degree in costume design, working for the LA Opera for four years as an assistant designer and then moving back to the area to work with Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Shannin sewed for herself, and at some point along the way someone noticed a purse that she’d made from vintage fabric. A commission ensued, and Shannin began constructing her line of one-of-a-kind bags in various shapes and sizes, from handbags to large totes, all of which blended sturdy, new fabric with delicate vintage scraps in inventive ways.
Shannin met her husband, Jason Henry, on a trip back to Bainbridge from Los Angeles. They’d been in the same class at Bainbridge High School but not known each other; turned out he lived in L.A., too.
And despite thinking that “never in a million years” would they move back, here they are. They bought the pink farmhouse and are living in a purple studio they built adjacent to it as they refurbish the homestead.
“Next to Mom and Dad,” Dick said. “That’s really sad.”
Dick and Shannin can joke about it because neither sees it that way. The preciousness of family has become especially apparent to the Stroms since the birth of Shannin and Jason’s 1-year-old daughter, Zoe, who was born with a condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia. She’s a happy baby who’s developing beautifully but has ongoing medical needs. Shannin views her daughter’s proximity to family as a gift.
Besides, Shannin said she did everything she needed to do career-wise in her 20s. Now that she has Zoe, she’s settled into a workable routine of making bags, being a mom and doing costume design for Bainbridge Performing Arts.
Inspired by Zoe’s tiny feet, and the intrinsic cuteness of baby clothes, Shannin has also created a new line of felt baby booties – hence, Red Buckle Shoes. These, too, incorporate old pieces and old stories, but for a new generation.
History is what Dick likes about his work, too. Although it’s not always obvious from looking at his garden art, he prefers to incorporate elements that all have a story, like his first fish. Its backbone is made from an old Model-T crank shaft he dug up 30 years ago. There’s also the centipede’s eyebrows, made from old chain links salvaged from the Wyckoff property here on the island.
When something has a story, he said, he can better envision its future.
“Whoa, I know where this is going,” he’ll say about an object.
“And,” he said, looking at Shannin, “I think you feel that way, too.”
Catch BapaToms Metalworks, Red Buckle Shoes and dozens of other arts and crafts vendors at the Bainbridge Summer Studio Tour, Aug. 7-9 at venues around the island. See the Studio Tour website for a full lineup.