Weaving lives and work together

Door County home reflects artistic couple’s patterns

Posted: June 3, 2007, JSOnline

After a lot of hard work, Sandra and Wence Martinez find the living is easy these days in a house painted bright green on the outside and adorned with precious icons inside.

The couple also relishes a two-story studio and gallery on the grounds, where Wence weaves one-of-a-kind handspun wool tapestries with intricate patterns and tasteful colors. Here, Sandra also conceives primitive-looking designs for the tapestries and fashions her own line of original vinyl handbags and printed scarves and shawls.

“We spend so much of our creative energy on our artwork that when we come into our home, it’s our den, our nest, and we don’t agonize,” Sandra said. “We just want to be inspired, to look around and feel good about the things that we see.”

Indeed, there’s a lot to view in this two-story, 1,600-square-foot log home in Jacksonport in Door County. The original portion of the building dates to the 1870s. Exposed tamarack log walls in the living and dining rooms provide a neutral background for the homeowners’ collection of art and mementos, which symbolize their values and beliefs.

For example, for sentimental reasons, they hold on to a framed poster promoting an exhibition by Wence’s weaving mentor from Mexico. Nearby hangs a photograph by Doug Beasley of St. Paul, Minn., that shows a shaman ceremony at Machu Picchu in Peru.

“We are connected to those kinds of things and that kind of artwork,” Sandra said.

The homeowners’ connections are also evidenced in an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue, Mexican crosses, drawings by their son, Claudio, and other Door County artists’ creations.

They honor their relationship by displaying the first tapestry they did together. Wence, a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, Mexico, uses only handspun wool, which he buys during trips to Mexico and then dyes outside the studio.

Wence, also a photographer of Oaxaca village life, made the move to Door County after he met Sandra, who hails from Milwaukee and creates drawings resembling ancient writing and symbols for display on vast pieces.

The couple found the home in dire condition in 2000. In addition to removing paneling and plaster suffocating the logs, they replaced the plumbing and electrical systems and installed a new roof and windows.

They changed the staircase design (leading to upper-level bedrooms), expanded the kitchen into a former outdoor porch, exposed hardwood floors throughout and renovated the first-floor bathroom as well.

The gallery, originally a garage, now has a corrugated steel exterior, radiant floor heating and upper- and lower-level studio space.

“We did a lot of work,” Sandra said. “We are glad to be on this side of it now.”

Wence called the choice of the bright green paint for the home’s wood exterior a family decision in 2004. The couple and their two sons (who now live and work in Milwaukee) liked how the green played out on kitchen walls.

“So we just went for it. After we finished this huge thing we thought, ‘Wow! But let’s leave it like that. The house is easy to find now,’ ” Wence said.

Donna Marie Pocius, a freelance writer, found her way to the green house, where she met with the artists and heard their story:

Q.How did you find each other and Door County?

Sandra: I had been moving around and living in a number of places in Minnesota and in Chicago. I came here one season to live with a friend. And during that summer she said, “You should have one of your drawings woven into a tapestry. I have been to this incredible village in Oaxaca, where there are phenomenal weavers.” I went with her on her next buying trip to find the weaver, who was Wence.

Wence: 1988 was the first time I came to Door County, and the place looked so calm and beautiful even though it was summer. I always traveled from my village. I lived in Mexico City; that is where I went to weaving school and had been to California a couple times. But I never found a place I thought would be home until I came to Door County.

Q.What attracted you to this home?

Wence: This one had everything – this house, the outbuilding, which was a two-story, 3 1/2 -car garage (now their studio). There are 5 1/2 acres and other outbuildings, which are not in great shape. We have a beautiful creek.

Q. What condition was the home in?

Wence: It was kind of scary. There was so much to do.

Sandra: Everything in the house was paneled. Even the ceiling had paneling. One of the renters had exposed logs in the dining room wall so we knew how pretty the logs were going to be when we did the rest of it.

Wence: All the logs had to be re-chinked. It was so old when we ripped it apart, the old chinking came crumbling down.

Sandra: We did all new windows, all new roofing, new lighting, plumbing, electric. We did all that in the studio, too. The septic was good.

Q. The log walls introduce a neutral palette inside, but there is more going on here, isn’t there?

Sandra: Being artists, we have a very colorful life. So sometimes the neutralness of rooms is due to the fact we have so much stuff anyway. Also, we are not afraid of painting things a wild color because we work with color all the time.

In the kitchen we wanted a color bright and happy because of the open shelves; we have a lot of collectibles in blue, red and yellow. So we wanted to have something cheery – the green – to set them off. The bathroom is a lilac kind of gray blue. We liked the color so much we did our bedroom in it, and now we are going to do a new master bedroom in that color.

We like the real deep red walls, against the log walls in the living room.

Q. What’s the focal point?

Sandra: I think the logs are the most spectacular thing in the house. There is a handmade quality to them that fits into our lives and what we do.

Q. Tell me about your collections.

Sandra: We have pretty eclectic taste – things we find interesting and fun could be anywhere. Those are promotional metal trays (hanging on the dining room wall). We like the graphics on them – outdoor barbecue scenes. We also used the trays; we have thrown huge parties for years.

We have a piece by local artist Pamela Murphy (Sister Bay). The blue bottle is by Abe Cohn (Fish Creek), and the nude is by Donna Brown (Baileys Harbor). The crosses are from Mexico, and hanging next to them is a neckpiece from China – I purchased it at Lindens of Ellison Bay.

Q. How do you describe your decorating style?

Wence: We are open to whatever. We have never been focused in one way.

Sandra: It is kind of like the house is one big altar. In Mexican culture and many Latin American cultures, you are allowed to put out all these memorabilia that remind you of pilgrimages that you made or ancestors. It’s what it means to you.

Q. How do you use your art in your home?

Wence: The very first piece we wove together is hanging in the dining room. I wove it in 1987. It is wool – natural handspun wool, nothing dyed, all natural from black sheep and white.

Sandra: The rug that’s on the floor in the living room was made by Wence’s father for us as a special gift. He gave it to us last winter. It’s so beautiful.

Q. What’s it like living where you work?

Sandra: It is a short walk for us from the house to the studio. We are working all the time. It’s our hobby, our love and also our job. After dinner if you have to go to work for three to four more hours, it’s right there. We really like living next to the studio.

Q. What are hallmarks of your handwoven tapestries?

Wence: The use of traditional material is one of the things I will never change. I like to keep the tradition of using handspun wool and buying it direct from the same people, from the same village. I want them to benefit from the work.

Sandra: When I look at Wence’s work, what stands out are the rich colors, like a painter. Wence dyed all these colors in the first place, and his pattern-driven work is quite unusual.

Q. How can people use handwoven tapestries or rugs in their homes?

Sandra: They are a much appreciated accent piece in the room, replacing the old tired look of Oriental rugs.

Wence: People often decorate around the work. I’ve done quite a few commissions like that. People say, “I want to do this before I buy the furniture.”

Q. Tell me about Sandra’s patterns used on many of the rugs.

Sandra: All my work is based on drawings that are very intuitive, kind of ethnographic. They look like ancient figures, ancient symbols. So whether it’s a tapestry design or a print on a scarf or cut-out appliqué on a bag, it all has those kinds of figures.

Donna Marie Pocius, an Egg Harbor-based freelance writer, writes about decorating, travel, the arts and business. Contact her at donnamarie@dcwis.com.