The Winter Garden artist can take a handful of neckties and, with some creative snipping and gluing, turn them into pieces of art.
As executor of her friends' estate, Debra Vineyard was tasked with taking care of their home and everything in it after their deaths a few years apart about seven years ago.
“They were both corporate suit people, and when they passed away I had to go in and sell the house and all their belongings, and when I saw all their beautiful neckties, I lost it,” Vineyard said. “That really affected me.
“When it came time to sell their ties, I couldn't sell them,” she said. “I put them in a bag and took them home, and I stored them in my art closet.”
Fast-forward to the day Vineyard was cleaning out her art closet. She came across the ties and decided to create an art piece in memory of her friends.
She had a picture in her head and set out to depict it with the colorful ties, some scissors, a bottle of wood glue and a canvas.
The result was a rainbow bridge of sorts for her two friends, Jay and Dennis, and their ascent into heaven, she said.
“That was my way of overcoming the death of my friends,” Vineyard, of Winter Garden, said. “They always had pushed me to be creative. They had always wanted me to use my creativity ... They always pushed me, and I find it peculiar that their ties led me to almost a vocation for me.”
FULL OF EMOTION
Vineyard has made necktie art pieces for herself and as commissioned projects.
When someone requests a piece, she said, it is typically as a memorial to a loved one who has died. For a more personal touch, whenever possible, she uses one or more ties belonging to the deceased person or close relative.
“It's very emotional for me as an artist and for them as the recipient,” Vineyard said. “But they've always been happy with the piece.”
She experienced a beautiful moment when she presented a piece to a man who wanted one dedicated to his deceased brother.
“There were a lot of tears in this picture,” she said. “This grown man bawled when he saw it. I had never had someone cry over my art before.”
Another time, a woman whose grandson was just born wanted a picture of the baby as a 4-year-old with Jesus by the sea. Vineyard used one of the grandfather’s ties to create Jesus’s cloak.
“This little boy will have this for the rest of his life, and his grandfather gets to live on forever,” she said.
Her personal pieces usually created from a special memory, such as “Mike’s Moose” or “Louie in Laconia.”
“Mike’s Moose” honors her grandfather, who liked to swim before the sun came up in the New Hampshire mountains. After one morning swim, he emerged from the lake to see a moose blocking his path. Vineyard can still remember him running toward the house, sure the moose was coming after him.
“I never saw the moose, I never saw the moose with him, but my grandmother and I laughed about it for years,” she said.
“Louie in Laconia” was created in memory of Vineyard’s friend, Louie, who died in a motorcycle accident when Vineyard was 19. When she was a teen, Massachusetts had a helmet law but New Hampshire did not. So a group of their friends regularly would hop on their bikes and head to Laconia, stopping just at the state line to pull off their helmets and ride freely.
“I do so many that seem to be sad for people, there seem to be emotions in them, so when I do my own, I tend to have fun with them,” the artist said, smiling at the thought of accurately giving Louie a beer belly.
She recently took liberties when she depicted her dog in a whimsical piece that included a blue nose and red and fuchsia highlights.
Vineyard keeps her ties — probably close to 2,000 of them — sorted by color and displayed on tie racks in one of her closets.
“I go into my closet and pull the colors I need and then go work with them,” she said.
Sometimes a piece will call for just a small scrap of a specific color, so Vineyard cuts what she needs and hangs it back up to be used in another project.
She starts with an idea and creates a rough draft in her mind of how it will be laid out. On occasion, she sees a picture she likes and begins mentally tweaking it. Other times, someone suggests a piece or a concept, and she runs with it.
“Like ‘Christopher’s Cardinal’: I knew Christopher loved the mountains and the forest when it was snowing out,” Vineyard said. “There's a sound. It's a little whispy sound of the snow hitting the leaves. You can't mimic the sound, and he loved the sound. He loved cardinals. I knew I wanted it to be a winter scene — bare trees and, of course, with the cardinal.
“That picture was kind of cool, too, because I couldn't get the right shadows,” she said. “I had a cup of tea on my little art table. I stuck the brush in the tea and started painting the shadows.”
Vineyard likes to experiment like that to keep from being bored.
She’s recently finished a piece for a friend who loves butterflies. She found a deceased one in her garden, and she actually included it in the artwork.
In “Serenity Granted,” a mermaid is lying on a beach, and Vineyard included sand and a few shells from Hawaii given to her by a friend.
She once admired a woman's necklace made of old trinkets and baubles, and the woman gave it to her. Vineyard took apart the necklace and has incorporated many of the individual pieces into her art.
The number of neckties she uses in her projects varies. The cardinal picture, which was mostly whites and browns, used about 15. A recent piece she did of a Polynesian woman included closer to 50.
“I used five or six ties just for the water in the mermaid picture,” she said.
She has learned to use the glue liberally or conservatively, depending on the shading she is looking for.
“I used to spend so much time looking for a tiny sliver of a tie, and then I learned I could use the glue as a highlight,” she said.
Vineyard received a phone call this summer from the SoBo art gallery in Winter Garden. A woman whose husband and father died had donated a box with about 1,000 ties in it after a friend saw Vineyard’s necktie art on display. She has already used several of them.
“I'm so glad I started doing this; I've always wanted to be an artist,” said 54-year-old Vineyard. “I think the best part of this is it's fun to me. It's almost like a form of meditation to me.”
And each piece is one of a kind.
“A friend of mine told me I should make several pieces of some of the ones I’ve made and sell them,” she said. “I can't bring myself to copy something I've already done. It seems like cheating in a way. And it would never come out the same way twice because you wouldn't have the same ties. … These can't be mass produced.”
Vineyard’s art has been shown at SoBo through the Winter Garden Art Association and at an Art in Public Places exhibit at Winter Garden City Hall.
Thirteen of her original necktie artwork pieces are on display at the Winter Garden Branch Library, 805 E. Plant St. through November.