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Bainbridge artist Sally Prangley finds art in everyday objects; exhibit at BPA this month
Sally Prangley is an artist with each of her feet planted in two different worlds.
She’s an established fine artist, having exhibited work in galleries throughout Puget Sound and across the nation for the past two decades. More recently she’s also made props for Bainbridge Performing Arts — where an exhibit of her whimsically crafted “Enchanted Mirrors” currently hangs in tandem with the BPA show “Once Upon A Mattress.” She’s also a basket weaver and a jewelry maker.
But her educational background, on the other foot, is in psychology and corporate marketing.
She grew up on Mercer Island in the 1970s. After falling in love with art history in high school and not knowing what to do after majoring in psychology at Northwestern University, Prangley decided to “defer reality” by enrolling in grad school at George Washington University, where she earned an MBA in marketing.
That degree led her to a corporate career in New York City, working for companies like Pepperidge Farms and Gillette shaving gel in the early 1980s.
But as she climbed the corporate ladder, she said she felt the artistic essence within her falling away.
Even though she still painted in the evenings, and was even represented in a gallery in Boston at the time, “I found it was really difficult to do the full-time corporate job and still feel fresh and paint when I got home,” she said.
“I actually became really afraid that I was gonna lose it — that artistic essence,” she added.
So in 1986, she abandoned the corporate job (and consequently about 50 percent of the household income at the time) to pursue a career as a full-time artist.
And it was one of the best decisions she ever made, she said.
Not only did it re-engage her creative outlet, it also allowed her the opportunity to work from home and having a direct hand in raising her two kids — something which probably wouldn’t have been plausible if she’d stayed at the corporate job.
So Prangley took her art to task, creating a body of work for a portfolio that she could then take to galleries. Her medium of choice: old furniture and other found objects, and paint.
“I had to return to artwork in some way,” she said. “My apartment at the time was pretty empty, so I filled it up with some old furniture and started painting it really wildly.”
Wild colors, wild patterns and wild ideas applied to old sofas and armchairs and tables and the like. It’s something she’d done since she was a kid. That furniture work would eventually evolve into artistically envisioned mirrors and clocks — onto everything from birdhouses to candlesticks and bookends — “I would just use it like my canvas,” she said.
The functionality of her canvas, she added, is something that has always been important to her.
“I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve always felt there can be functional things that can be beautiful and interesting,” she said. “I like twisting the dial so that things are not quite as they quote-unquote ‘should be.’”
Which seems fitting as Prangley — a whimsical artist with a background in corporate marketing — is not quite as she, quote-unquote should, or would be expected, to be. She suffers from both sides of her brain working, as she puts it.
Garnering influence from artists like the American sculptor Alexander Calder, French painter Henri Matisse and the Memphis Movement of the mid-80s, Prangley compiled a portfolio of her painted furniture, matched that with her marketing expertise, and set out to find a place for her work in the city. In an era before the Internet, she took to the streets of New York, visiting gallery after gallery until one day a Madison Avenue gallery in Manhattan took her in off the street, after unconventionally falling in love at first sight with her quirky collection.
Between that gallery and the Boston gallery, things snowballed, Prangley said, until her work was being represented in galleries “from Philadelphia to San Francisco.” Having established herself as a fine artist by the time her kids were toddler-aged, it was then time to decide where she and her husband wanted their kids to grow up.
And Prangley said she could think of no better place than a peaceful island in Puget Sound.
Which is where she’s been for the past 15 years, raising a family, building props for the local theater, helping start a gallery and trying to survive as a self-employed, self-marketing artist on Bainbridge.
SALLY PRANGLEY’S ‘ENCHANTED MIRRORS’ will hang through December in the lobby of Bainbridge Performing Arts, 200 Madison Ave. N on Bainbridge. You can find more of her work at the A is for Artists Gallery at 123 Bjune St. on Bainbridge, as well as at the Bellevue and Sumner Arts Museums.