Nov 19, 2013
01:11 PM
Style & Shopping

Connecticut Artist Wins Global Rug Design Competition in Sweden

A recent story in The Financial Times about an exhibit of works by James Abbott McNeill Whistler contained the following snippet in reference to the case in which Whistler sued art critic John Ruskin for libel—for saying Whistler could not paint: “A nocturne, [Whistler] told the judge, ‘is an arrangement of line, form and colour first. As to what it represents, that depends on who looks at it. To some persons it may represent all that I intended; to others it may represent nothing.’”

Deborah Velasquez, the Barkhamsted artist who recently began renting a studio at the Farmington Valley Arts Center (FVAC) in Avon on a shared basis with her friend, mentor and fellow artist Pia Sjölin, is not a latter-day Whistler, or even obviously influenced by the 19th-century artist who painted London in the fog, and the dark, in a way that turned out to be as brilliant as Ruskin thought it was useless—while also paving the path toward pure, unfettered abstraction. (Above, Velasquez in her FVAC studio; photo by Laurie Gaboardi.)

But Whistler’s quote still comes to mind when thinking of Velasquez’s broad range of artistic pursuits. What she does first is arrange line, form and color, and what results can be one thing to one viewer and quite another thing to another.

That makes the artist versatile, and difficult to pigeonhole.

She used to make gorgeous designer hats and even had a trunk show at Henri Bendel. She crafts ornaments for holiday trees, and she has designed a cool and creative T-shirt for children that features the alphabet—upside down so they can read it.

So Velasquez is a sort of artisan designer/crafter, right? Fractionally correct, perhaps.

She also paints, and makes block prints, of images that are typically very stylized and often abstract, and those ripple into other applied-design existences, which makes her a fine artist at heart whose entrepreneurial spirit knows no boundaries when it comes to mediums or crossover appeal.

Her images show up on cards, she’s in talks with fabric companies, and hoping to nail down a contract for a design that would show up on a mobile phone case—and she talks about the type of artistry in the digital age that could lead to her images being used in print-on-demand fashion to make one-of-a-kind shower curtains and pillows. (Above a map of a section of Barkhamsted by Velasquez.)

“I think of myself as a brand because I design so many things and I make so many things,” Velasquez said in a chat recently in her FVAC studio, where Sjölin—who has created collections in both art glass and tableware—was preparing and packing for an exhibit of her Venetian plaster paintings in her homeland, Sweden.

In a bit of art world karma, Sjölin’s show, entitled “My Love to Color,” runs from Nov. 30 to Jan. 12 at the Gallery David Hall in Malmö, Sweden—the very town at the heart of the narrative about Velasquez’s latest triumph, the one that should propel her forward in the arts discipline she now favors, designing for home décor.

Velasquez was recently chosen as the winner of the global carpet design competition sponsored by CarpetVista of Malmö. (Above, her first-place-winning design.)

According to a release, a record breaking number of designs were submitted to this year’s annual CarpetVista Design Competition—580 designs from 60 countries were selected by a jury and displayed in the competition’s design gallery. Visitors to the gallery were able to vote for their favorite designs, and then 37 winners were selected, the release said.

“This year’s winners are a mixture of both well-established designers as well as unestablished upcoming talents, ranging from all ages and corners of the globe. We are extremely proud to be able to present 37 fantastic designers as our winners,” Alexandra Thaulow, the lead coordinator of the competition, said in the release.


“To find only a few select winners from such a large pool of talent has not been easy, but with the help of over 39,000 visitors to the gallery who casted their votes, several designs have emerged as winners. To have our customers’ help in choosing what design they would like to see on a carpet has been very helpful. This way we can see where the demand lies and can predict what carpets will be our next big sellers,” Ludvig Friberger, Managing Director at CarpetVista AB, said.

The goal of the design competition is to create new and innovative carpet design and have the winning designs produced into carpets and sold on CarpetVista’s online boutique, the release explained.

“People like to pick you up when you’ve had a little bit of experience,” Velasquez said, crediting her growing success to an ethos that has her putting herself out there in as many mediums, and forums, as she can juggle—which means everything from blogging to participating in themed online groups (for the love of prints and patterns, for example).

“I don’t have time to stand on the side,” said Velasquez, and she didn’t when the opportunity to enter the CarpetVista contest came along. Instead of sitting down and trying to design a carpet, she went through her existing images and entered a total of 14 designs.

“I picked designs that would make good rugs,” she said, and she chose well. Thirteen of her entries were chosen to move on past the first round, and in the end, she also won third place in the competition. She plans to get a rug made from the winning design—which came from a block print—for the FVAC studio.

In announcing her first-place win, CarpetVista also had this to say about Velasquez, who comes from Brooklyn, N.Y., and lives in the Pleasant Valley section of Barkhamsted with her husband and two sons: “She is an artist-designer and blogger who creates paintings, prints, ceramics, cards, textiles and mobiles. She has a love of home decor and dreams of designing rugs. Her inspiration comes from walks on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, the streets of Paris and New York, the simple beauty of nature found her back garden, and the primitive innocence of her sons’ scribbles. She loves the mix of design, words, art and craft. Deborah’s work is modern, sophisticated, graphic and bold with a unique color sense and it reflects her love for the simplicity of line. She works in both digital and traditional methods. Her traditional work shows her love of gouache, watercolor and printmaking.”

Beyond all of that, Velasquez nourishes another creative and marketable artistic pursuit she calls Word Paths, which harness the power of words to form succinct thoughts around issues of primary importance, such as love, tea and coffee. You might have seen some of them as prints in a Home Goods store—as the result of Velasquez's arrangement to license her work through The World Art Group.

To learn more about Velasquez, see her blog, her Facebook page, see her on Pinterest, and on Etsy. Also see an interview with Velasquez.

For more on Sjölin, see her website. (Left, Sjölin in the FVAC studio; photo by Laurie Gaboardi.)

Meanwhile, make plans to connect directly with the artists through holiday events and opportunities to purchase art and gifts at the FVAC.

Here’s what the center has posted on the festivities:

Visit twenty artists in their inspiring and inviting studios, shop for beautifully crafted gifts in three galleries and enjoy a Tea room, with live entertainment, as the Farmington Valley Arts Center hosts its 37th annual Candlelight,opening on Friday, November 22, 2013.


Friday, November 22 5 pm to 9 pm
– Candlelight Opening

Saturday, November 23 & 30 10 am – 4 pm
– Holiday shopping – Tea room open w/ entertainment 12 pm – 2pm

Friday, December 6, 6 pm to 9 pm
– Shopping in a Winter Wonderland

Chocol’Art – sample chocolaty treats in studios!

Saturday, December 7, 14 & 21 10 am – 4 pm 
– Holiday shopping – Tea room open w/ entertainment 12 pm – 2 pm


Connecticut Artist Wins Global Rug Design Competition in Sweden

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