Art for the sake of beauty.

Once again, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar treated Austinites to a wide range of artistic collectibles at the Palmer Centre this past week.

Some jewelry that derives it essence from Canada was one of the many treats on offer. Speaking about rare glass he uses for some of his creations, Gene Allen explained that “In Sydney, Nova Scotia they used to dump everything over the cliff 150 years ago, including orange and red bottles you don’t see anymore. Then it got landfilled into the cliff, broke off into the ocean and then 30-40 years later it gets smoothed out. Red also included tail lights or signal lights and it was more rare because it had gold in it; orange and yellow were more like art pieces because you don’t see glass that colour. There is an international sea glass association and a friend of ours who is about 75 has been collecting for many years. She lives in Sydney and goes onto this beach to get the glass. It’s used in our jewelry as it’s found, we just drill it but we don’t change the shape.”

He said this all began when “we ran away from being actor-singers in New York in 2000, and just started collecting glass on the beach and decided to make jewelry. We just taught ourselves how to do what we do and now we doing 15-20 shows around the country every year.” A necklace consisting of the rare glass is priced around $400, with many less expensive options available. Allen and his partner Rex Nockengust are based in San Diego; this is their 9th year at Armadillo.

Starr Taylor teaches pre-K through 6th grade at Wieden in SE Austin, where he has been for 17 years. He won an Austin Community Partners Award in 2022. “I’ve been working with my students to do screenprinting, so somebody in Austin recognized me and gave me the award.”

I asked him about the creative impulse for his art. “I try to bring more beauty and joy into the world – there’s just not enough. I get a lot of joy out of making these so if I can let a painting into someone’s life I hope to bring them as much joy as it brings me. I paint animals because I can’t think of anything more peaceful in this world, more harmonious, than animals at peace.” His artistic inspiration is Matisse: art for the sake of beauty.

As for the time it takes to create an artwork, he tells people it takes 25 years. “I graduated from Southwest Texas State with a studio art degree and it’s taken me that long to hone this craft and to have the eye that you need in order to make one of these.” His medium is unusual: tissue paper on the areas that have colour bleed-through, and bubble wrap and cardboard for the stuff that has dots and lines. “I am a mixed media artist. Paper is what I like to work with, but I do stuff on canvas as well.

Taylor is shown here posing in front of a large artwork depicting jellyfish. “I really like the way tissue paper reacts to each other when you get it wet. By happenstance, I was able to get some really nice bleed-through kind of lines. Just putting the colour out there on this one is what really set it off. When I put the tissue paper down first it had this really interesting texture all through the piece, but I decided I only wanted the jellyfish to have the texture so I cut a piece of watercolour paper to block out all of the extra texture.” It is priced at $3,000; his smaller animal canvas paintings are $750, and others on tissue paper which often depict colourful birds are set at $400.

Finally, since this is Austin, I make mention of an extraordinary frame made of steel. It is by Heather Harris, and is just one of many steel-framed works to grace the home. Heather told me of her inspiration to create these works. “I got into photography when I moved to Austin and one summer I went to a dance club in Mexico. It was very industrial; the dance floor was raised with big cables around. And I said ‘I love metal!’ So I finished my degree in chemistry and was teaching middle school science and I took my welding class and put it all together. I started doing shows in 2006 and gave up teaching at that point.” The Austin artwork (shown below) is priced at $5220.  

For more on the glass jewelry, see this website:

To contact Taylor:

For Heather, visit her website:

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.