Annie and Jimmy Houston
by Stephen Adams
Annie and Jimmy Houston are more than a couple; they’re a team. However, the first creative collaboration of this Lopez Island couple was almost their last.
“We were working on a video for Annie—she was a mentor teacher at the time—and before we were through we swore ‘never again’.” Both Houstons laugh in unison.
Those familiar with their unique sculptures or jewelry from the Farmer’s Market or from visiting the Houstons’ outdoor studio on Cross Road might be surprised at this, so seamlessly does Jimmy’s metal work flow together with Annie’s glass designs.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, their partnership as collaborative artists eventually led to the their business and the studio known as Heart Days (www.heartdays.com). This name derives from the summers they were building their Lopez house together, when Annie Houston would announce that she was tired of the grind of construction and needed a “heart day.”
“That’s what I call a day for my soul and spirit to be free,” Annie says.
Annie Houston discovered her talent for working with glass when she took a glass fusing class on San Juan Island. Already a quilter, she found glass similar to working with fabric, and she still prefers quilting because it is both challenging and more immediate than glass.
“With quilting, you don’t have to wait to see what your work is like; with glass, you have to put it in the kiln overnight, and hope for the best.”
Jimmy Houston, a Vietnam combat veteran, found that he not only loved working with metal but has a special facility for it when he took a blacksmith workshop.
“That workshop taught me the joy of hot metal that’s not being shot at me.”
Because Jimmy Houston is shade blind, he’s drawn to sculpture due to its dimensionality. Annie’s strong sense of colors and textures, which she attributes to her quilting background, contributes the glass pieces that become the stamens of metal flowers, the grin of a Cheshire Cat, the face of a dancing woman, or the glittering pendant of a necklace.
When asked how they would describe their richly varied work to someone who had never seen it before, they said: “Our art is a combination of glass and metal. Glass, like water, flows, and metal is strong and rigid. Glass and metal are opposites, yet, when joined creatively, they achieve an artistic synergy. From this synergy, we create jewelry, garden art, and whimsical pieces.”
“Whimsy” is a key word in any description of their work. Whether talking about the curling flower stems of a handrail, a Queen of Hearts croquet set, or a highly stylized bird (from a series called “Material Girl”), their creations are all fanciful. Strolling along one of the trails through their woods, visitors encounter sculptures of flowers, wild women, and a Cheshire cat, who, like its namesake, is said to appear and disappear mysteriously.
The handrails are a new manifestation of the Houstons’ art. Early this year, they decided that several of the steps on their trails, which are part of their outdoor studio, needed handrails for people with mobility issues. This need evolved into intricate handrails which combine metal, wood, and glass.
The process of creating handrails for clients is similar to any custom work they do. First, they listen to what the client has in mind and make a sketch of how they envision the piece. They then show this sketch to the client and make any revisions needed. Based on the colors requested, the kind of wood (in the case of handrails), and any other special features, they create the final piece, a truly collaborative work which has involved the client directly.
The Houstons admit that the most difficult thing about their own collaboration as artists is the fact that “we are both stubborn and we both know we are right.”
However, the opportunity to create and work with each other “with lots of teasing and laughter,” is a great blessing.
To visit their studio on Cross Road, call 468-2913. Their work may also be seen at the Lopez Farmer’s Market or at their website www.heartdays.com.