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Columbus Makes Art Presents Scenic Artist and Painter Edie Wadkins

Elizabeth Saltzgiver Elizabeth Saltzgiver Columbus Makes Art Presents Scenic Artist and Painter Edie WadkinsEdie Wadkins discusses being a theatrical set designer, scenic artist and fine artist.
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Edie Wadkins is a theatrical set designer, scenic artist and fine artist. In her own words, she “paints things that look like things!” Since she was 12 she has rarely spent a day without negotiating some kind of art media. She has designed and/or painted scenery for over 200 theatrical productions, and her work has been seen in almost every Columbus professional theater and many educational institutions around town. Most recently, she has been painting for the upcoming Otterbein Theatre & Dance production of The School for Scandal.

Otterbein’s Managing Director, Elizabeth Saltzgiver, recently connected with Edie to learn a little more about the artist behind the brush.

Elizabeth: Can you tell me about your journey as an artist?
Edie: I have always had an interest in drawing and painting, and high school theater was a great place to express this. Working on something so large is fun! From there, I went to Otterbein where I pursued a degree in theatre design and technology. I have continued to learn more about art and painting from local theater artists, and fine artists, too. I “workshopped” with local portraitist, Sandy Reddig and I took two years of classes at Cooley Studios in Worthington.

what does a stage designer do
Edie Wadkins painting a stage floor.

Elizabeth: When visiting a museum, where are we most likely to find you?
Edie: When I am in a museum, I am most excited by realist and impressionist art. I could stand in front of the Hudson River paintings for hours or some great Dutch still lifes. I have recently discovered the work of animal artist Rosa Bonheur. I am also a huge fan of painter John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet and one of my first loves was Norman Rockwell. I love when great technical skill is painted on canvas for the purpose of telling a story. I admire sincerity. I guess it’s probably not a mystery that visual storytelling appeals to me.

still painting of ducks
Edie Wadkins Blue-Winged Teal.

Elizabeth: What is your process as a scenic artist?
Edie: My job as a scenic artist is one of a technician and less of a creative artist. It is my job to do my best representation of the needs of the production and the set designer, although it is impossible to erase one’s “hand” or personality completely from the work. The set designer communicates as much as possible through a rendering — a small, hopefully to-scale, representation of exactly what they would like to have painted and/or sculpted on the scenery. In reality, though, I can work with any kind of reference — photos, magazine pages, paint swatches, napkin sketches — I’ve done it all!

Elizabeth: When not painting for theater, what do you paint for fun?
Edie: When I am not in the theater, I am working in oil paint on plein air landscapes, and studio paintings of still lifes in oil. I have also submitted entries for the federal and state of Ohio duck stamp competitions over the last six years. All of the source material for the paintings must be my own as well as the images themselves. All told, I may have over two hundred hours of work in one painting from gathering sources, drawing and painting. It is a great program and the proceeds go directly toward conservation, usually of wetlands, which benefit ducks, many non-duck critters, as well as people.

process for stage design
Photos of Edie’s process for School for Scandal.

Elizabeth: Our production of The School for Scandal was designed in the “wing and drop style.” What does that mean and how is it different from what an audience member might expect on today’s stage?
Edie: “Wing and drop” is a term for scenery that was common in different periods and regions within the history of western theater. “Wings” refer to the “legs” or the curtains on the sides of the stage that are flat painted to look three dimensional. “Drops” refer to backdrops that are also painted to look like a three-dimensional scene. So overall a “wing and drop” show has a series of flat painted scenery, very much a traditional theatrical look, not the more three-dimensional scenery we have become accustomed to in the modern era.

I won’t say today’s scenery is more realistic because the painters working in mainly “wing and drop” shows were absolute masters. And I can’t say today’s scenery is better because these paintings that fill the stage, when folded, are easily portable and will fit in the back seat of a car. I don’t think we as theatrical professionals have found more efficient solutions than backdrops, which is why I, and other scenic artists, are still asked to paint them many centuries later using the same methods; the materials have changed, but the method has not.

Join Otterbein Theatre & Dance for The School for Scandal and see Edie’s work firsthand Feb. 13-16 and 20-22 in the Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall, 30 S. Grove St., Westerville, OH 43081. Call or go online for tickets: 614-823-1109 or www.otterbein.edu/drama.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.

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