Not many Chilliwack artists can count a close-up in a major Hollywood movie among their accomplishments.
But if you dig up a copy of the 1994 version of Little Women, you can see the work of local porcelain painter Linda Phelps fill the big screen for two glorious seconds in a scene showing Meg March (Trini Alvarado) painting a teacup.
"It's unheard of!" Phelps's movie contacts told her of the lingering teacup close-up after the movie came out.
A props buyer had found the Chilliwack artist at a porcelain show in Victoria, B.C., where the Victorian-era movie was being shot. Along with producing three identical, partially painted teacups (two extras in case of accidents) and several hand-painted porcelain plates, Phelps also loaned the production company some traditional porcelain-painting equipment-like her crows-foot quill.
The movie makers kept the teacups and plates, but Phelps soon got the brushes back, and she's been busy with them ever since.
This month, a collection of her work, both in porcelain and on canvas, will be on display at the Chambers Gallery in the Chilliwack Museum during a solo exhibition, titled Classic to Modern, running Sept. 21 through Nov. 8. It's a fitting name for Phelps, who values connections to the past and works out of Wisteria Gallery, a studio in her 1910 heritage home on First Avenue in Downtown Chilliwack.
"I really, truly feel that if we don't know where we come from, we don't know who we are or where society is going," she told the Times.
Preserving a link with the past was what first inspired Phelps to take up porcelain painting in 1983 when she was in her 30s.
Her mother, also a porcelain painter, had died without finishing a bridge tea set she was working on for her daughter.
"I wanted to finish the thing my mom was going to do for me," Phelps said.
The work has been a compulsion ever since, and the tea set has since passed to her son.
A self-proclaimed later bloomer in the arts, Phelps only took up oil and watercolour painting because traveling with a kiln was impractical. At first, without knowing that porcelain painters in the past had done the same, Phelps covered her canvases with images and patterns she could transpose onto porcelain later.
But even when she started painting as an end in itself, the porcelain painter's instincts lingered.
"When I first started working on canvases, I started working them the same way I would work on a porcelain piece," Phelps said. "Some of the early pieces that I did had a real glow to them. They were quite different."
One surviving piece in that style is a large canvas oil painting of red roses that will be part of the Chambers Gallery exhibit.
Also featured will be free-form porcelain creations and jewelry.
But Phelps's first love is porcelain, with a special appreciation for European style, with its raised paste and gold, and its rich colours.
Unlike watercolour on paper, porcelain is a forgiving medium, Phelps said, but it takes a lot of patience, with a single piece sometimes requiring as many as five or six firings.
The process has sometimes tried her patience in the past, but after touring the Sevres Porcelain factory in France recently, Phelps gained a whole new perspective on what patience means when it comes to her chosen medium.
"I'm never going to get upset about how long it takes me to do anything ever again," she said. "This lady was telling us that one plate with three cartouches on it and one centre piece took a month for one person to do...We want instant mashed potatoes with everything, and it's just not the way life is."
. The Chambers Gallery (45820 Spadina Ave.) is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Classic to Modern opens with a reception Saturday, Sept. 21 from noon to 2 p.m. Bring a friend and meet the artist.
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