For textile collage artist Elaine O’Neil, life is a collection of experiences that inspires her the way that breathing new life into found fabrics does.
Elaine's self-proclaimed "idyllic childhood," her love for her ancestors, and her desires to serve the simple joys in life are key elements of her art which focuses equally on personal narrative and local culture. Growing up on the family farm in rural Maine, Elaine and her older brother and younger sister spent their time among gardens, the greenhouse, chickens, and with a constant sound of the sewing machine. Elaine’s fondest memories were learning to sew with her mother, a home economics teacher, and her beloved grandmother, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper in Maine. Today, this nostalgia is indeed its own lighthouse, keeping Elaine steadfast in her medium and constantly guiding her toward the heart of the stories she wants to tell.
Elaine attended college at the University of Wyoming and then later at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. The new sceneries offered Elaine an exciting contrast to the seascapes of Maine, while the studies diversified her knowledge of fabric-making and sparked her interests in fabric design and pattern-making. Elaine enrolled in a summer internship program at Moss Tent of Camden, Maine which was down the street from O’Neil’s, a restaurant where her sister worked which was then owned by Elaine's future husband Glenn. Elaine and Glenn met and fell in love and later married. Over the next 5 years, while raising their young sons, Elaine worked as a freelance designer building gardens and furniture. She and her husband eventually moved to Chapel Hill and opened the restaurant, The Grill at Glen Lennox. Elaine painted the walls and slip-covered the chairs, leaving her mark on the restaurant’s interior design. As the restaurant became a favorite local hub, Elaine was simultaneously flourishing in her work as a freelance designer and loving every minute of it.
Invited by her friend, a gallery owner in Maine, to create and exhibit five collaged fabric scenes of Maine, Elaine embarked on a first-time gallery experience that would inspire her future as an artist. When all five works sold on the show’s opening night, Elaine thought “wow, I like this better than anything I’ve ever done” and, quickly inspired, she created scenes of Chapel Hill and exhibited them at the restaurant. The connection was clear. Illustrating special places resonated as emotional gold for Elaine who thought, “I do things in Maine and people connect with their place and now people in Chapel Hill connect to this work of this place, too.” And so began the heartfelt fabric collages of the places that people love, and hence her Luv This Place® trademark was established. The local press recognized the popularity of Elaine's artwork which was diversifying in new ways from art on a local realtor’s mailed postcards to illustrations for the popular Goodnight Carolina children’s book. She soon discovered her art could also raise funds for causes she cared about, one of which is healthcare. Her annual Luv This Place® North Carolina Calendar which features images of her original artwork, generates funds from a portion of the sales to benefit the North Carolina Cancer Hospital. In 2019, the calendar celebrated its 10th year.
Elaine lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband Glenn and their dog Chico. They have three adult sons. She works in a studio on her property adjacent to her home.
I create textile collage art of places and scenes that either have a personal meaning to me or a collective, special value to a community. Much of my work originates from subjects related to my ancestors and fond memories of my childhood in Maine, in addition to symbolic places and landmarks of my home state of North Carolina. The scenes I create are inspired to convey a sense of an idyllic and joyful life.
I begin each collage design with a simple sketch before layering the fabric which is either purchased or re-purposed or found. My fabric palette includes a variety of thickness, color, fibers, and sheen, offering a visual and tactile experience to accompany the emotional sensations and qualities that relate to the subject matter. I often stitch text to accompany the collage and use techniques such as hand dying, dye printing and hand painting to alter the fabrics adding dimensionality and richness of color. My subjects are very stylized, with whimsical characteristics found in the line quality, bright colors, and quirky angles meant to suggest movement and joy. I apply dense compositions, multi-point perspectives, and an interpretive scale of size, all of which point to the unique traits of our memories which are often skewed upon reflection, while also suggesting that the inanimate objects have a positive energy and are full of life. The moon, which has become an important signature in my work, is the last detail I add to almost all of my pieces. For me, it represents a connection to ancestors and to future family as we have all looked up to see that same moon and will continue to do so ; it’s our shared view from the places where we live and love.
- Elaine O'Neil