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Wax and wane no more

Heidi Franscioni's mixed media Nest series explores security, sacredness, love, and fertility

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- MIND HER BEESWAX:  The Nest and Sacred Spaces, Heidi Franscioni’s mixed media/encaustic wax art show, hangs through Dec. 19 at Paso Robles’ Studios on the Park. This month only, join Franscioni’s e-mail list for a $100 coupon: heidi@heidifranscioni.com. -
  • MIND HER BEESWAX: The Nest and Sacred Spaces, Heidi Franscioni’s mixed media/encaustic wax art show, hangs through Dec. 19 at Paso Robles’ Studios on the Park. This month only, join Franscioni’s e-mail list for a $100 coupon: heidi@heidifranscioni.com.

Artist Heidi Franscioni placed a gray blob the size of a child’s head—the melted-down drippings of her encaustic wax creations—on her studio table.

“There’s a photograph and a nest in here,” she explained.

At her reception the following day, she planned to display the waxen blob next to a heat lamp, allowing the wax to drip away and the treasures inside to reveal themselves, she explained. The ever-changing installation would be placed in the window of her Studios on the Park workspace, where her art show The Nest and Sacred Spaces hangs until Dec. 19.

Will it work?

She shrugged, as if to say, “We’ll see.” In any case, it will be memorable. Franscioni’s artwork has historically had an experimental flair. A photographer, she’s tried composting photos in the ground, and she held an art show where the only lighting came from candles placed behind transparencies.

“At one time,” she said, “my textile orientation led me to cut up my negatives, weave them with scraps of fiber, and then reprint the woven negatives in the darkroom.”

The three ingredients of her latest experiment—the wax, nest, and photo—also comprise her current body of work, a series she refers to as “love vessels.” Franscioni’s process varies. The photography might be underneath, above, or transferred onto the wax. The repeated pattern of the nest is often etched into the wax, a few deep cuts, which, from a certain distance, resemble a loose pile of pine needles.

The Nest series stemmed from an obsession with nests and vessels, she said. Some of her nests house birds, while others shelter people, curled into a fetal position. Still others are markedly empty, as if deserted.

Franscioni compared the creative process to raising a child, allowing the medium to express itself while shaping and directing it with a parent’s gentle but firm hand.

“The idea of the nest and the vessel started with my observation that loving a child was like filling a vessel with love,” Franscioni said.

Using her mixed media/encaustic wax technique, she began creating pitchers, then urns. Somehow, she made a leap to nests.

“I can’t tell you why,” she said, except that “it was an obvious container for something sacred.”

Franscioni’s “love vessels,” speak of security, love, sacredness, and fertility.

With The Nest and Sacred Spaces, a deeply personal project that began last February, the artist is in her element. In wax, she said, she found the qualities she’d been searching for in 100 different media. Photography was “too clean, too sterile” for her taste—she wanted something more malleable: “I wanted more texture, more patina, a more organic feel.”

When she came across encaustic wax five years ago, at a Cambria gallery, she knew she had found her medium.

A mixed-media artist “since before I knew what it was,” Franscioni has favored found objects over packaged “art kits” since childhood.

When asked how long a single piece takes, she responded, “Well, the smartass answer is ‘a lifetime.’” One of her pieces, for example, contains a photo she took decades ago—does that mean she began the piece then? “When does the creative process start?” she asked rhetorically.

But most people don’t want the smartass answer, she quickly added. “They want to know, ‘How long were your hands touching that piece?’” A single artwork will be the product of a few weeks, she explained, although she might be working on several at any given time.

“When I do my best work,” she continued, “I feel as though I am more of a channel for it, that it comes from a much bigger source and flows through me.”

Part dreamy artist, part savvy business woman, Franscioni offers to collaborate with buyers on a title, so her art can be personalized for gift-giving.

“I wanted to reach the Christmas market,” she explained, “but I didn’t want a Christmas show.”

Her special offer, which extends to the end of December, also allows viewers to participate in interpreting her work.

She got the idea one late afternoon when some Pennsylvania honeymooners, browsing in her Paso studio, wanted to buy a piece she had been working on. After overcoming her initial pride—the piece was unfinished—she agreed, but told them they’d have to help her think of a title first. The husband suggested it looked like an underwater garden, and the piece was christened “Honeymooning in the Underwater Landscape.”

Though differing interpretations are welcome, there’s an undeniable melancholy to the multidimensional pictures Franscioni creates. Some nests long to be filled, while others protect creatures that could be hibernating, escaping the harsh reality of winter. Her approach is, appropriately, birdlike—building a shelter, piece by piece, out of the detritus of a damaged world.

New Times’ Arts Editor Anna Weltner waxes lyrical about pretty things. Comment at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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