Local artist Veronica Compton sold a watercolor portrait of two girls posing in orange dresses for $300 to a friend in 1999. She was 33. It was the first time she sold something that significant.
Word-of-mouth sales led to other commissioned pieces, which led to a show with portraits of celebrities like Monroe, Sinatra, Eastwood, Audrey Hepburn, Brando, Bogart, Bacall and Lucille Ball, shown at the year 2000 Buffalo Parade of Homes. They were on the walls of a residential wine cellar.
Other accomplished local artists like Russell Halstead and his wife Chris, and photographer David Stockton, are all at work on major projects around Lockport, hoping for the COVID-19 cure to allow public showings of art again.
How does a talented, smart and independent artist survive in a down economy, in a rural area, so far away from the monied New York City art scene?
By getting creative about display and selling.
Compton has 11 paintings displayed at Buffalo’s Linde Engineering Americas, where she started a lunchtime art class for up to 20 employees at a time.
Compton originally worked in watercolor, mixed-media and acrylic. She just started a “rust art project” that requires pieces of rusted metal from a salvage yard, old vehicles and buildings. “I clean them, unbend and stare at them, make them into art, coating them in resin to protect and prevent from further deterioration," she said. For example:
— "Cityscape" is on an old industrial light fixture that used florescent light bulbs.
— "Fortress" is a saw blade with a burnt patch of scorched wood with resin that gives the work a glow.
Compton's rustic creations, wall art, tables and paintings are presented in a manner that leaves them open to interpretation and imagination. The viewer sees faces appear that they did not see before, as well as shapes, animals, cloud formations from the rust, combined media.
To gain a live showing in the midst of the pandemic, Compton said she got creative with her neighborhood, displaying paintings on easels in driveways. She created an event.
“It was more of a way for families to get together, drive through our neighborhood and see the displays," she said. "It was a driveway show. I entrusted my paintings to each house, involving the whole neighborhood. The kids played music with their instruments. ...
“The driveway event gave people something to do. They were stuck at home. This was safe — get culture, art and be safe doing it all afternoon. They loved it.”
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After 40 years as an artist, gallery owner and art mentor Russell Halstead is pushing himself to create "functional" and decorative clay pieces.
"Functional art needs to be used, so I have worked at getting my art out where large numbers of people can see and consider (it),” he said.
COVID-19 changed Halstead's ambitious plans for 2020.
He had relocated his studio, Lockport Art Company, from Market Street to 240 Michigan St. and decided to get familiar with Facebook and other social media, as well as create a website for his business. For stability, he and Chris advertised and created studio classes, teaching several students, and expanded the studio to more than 3,500 square feet.
“We had room for my studio and enough to include a showroom enabling artists to join me in displaying and showing their artwork. But Covid interrupted these plans,” he said.
Halstead decided to fight the Covid mess with a stronger commitment to his work.
“An artist must be able to adjust and change in order to survive the difficult times," he said. "As businesses were shut down and determined to be non-essential, I branched out to learn about what consumers desire that would make my work essential.”
And then he began working on designing and creating ceramic urns.
“Learning how to be essential during any economy is important to an artist,” Halstead noted.
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David Stockton is well-known for playing local music shows. But he’s really multi-talented: playing a number of instruments, painting, doing great photography and a seemingly lifelong project, gathering photos of Lockport from the old days to the present.
Stockton realized he was an artist when he was about 18 and created a painting of a ballerina, making $40 when it was purchased by his uncle. His muses take him to so many different places that he cannot choose a favorite form of artistic expression.
Like Compton and Halstead, Stockton plans art shows and donates photography, musical performances, and more to support local causes and Niagara history.
Then there’s the big Lockport project that Stockton has been working on since 1973. It’s a labor of love he’s been more involved with lately because of the pandemic.
“I got an idea not many people do: Document one community’s change over the years, all aspects, positive, nostalgic, historical and some of the downsides, blight, homelessness. You must show an honest, well-rounded set of changes we have seen.”
When he’s in the present, Stockton entertains seniors. In 2019 alone, the musician played 329 shows at local nursing homes. His solo work, duos, flute, six-string guitar, and percussion prove why he’s been so popular over the years.
Stockton's fascinating historical Lockport project has artifacts from demolition sites, as well as some writing on the change from downtown America to a Walmart culture, like Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown.”
In fact, Urban Renewal also helped Stockton to become an artist concerned with change.
“What triggered it was when Lockport’s downtown was being torn down. I felt, I got to get a camera for this.”
Brandon M. Stickney, a former US&J reporter, is currently touring to promote his new memoir, The Five People You'll Meet in Prison (Bancroft Press, 2020). For some unexplained reason, folks always ask him where he lives. Puzzled as to why this fact matters, Stickney says what his great-grandmother told him to answer: "Wherever I want."