It was not my intention to buy myself a gift. I already own a Meredith Franck original, purchased many years ago. I simply wanted to interview her and write about her newest designs, influenced by her interest in abstract art. But there’s something magical about walking down the shadowy path beside her house, through the tiny backyard filled with plants and comfy cushioned seating areas, and into the cottage that is her showroom. All (well, most) budget concerns are left on the street. This is a place for draping myself in luscious fabrics, donning fashions flattering to any figure, and telling myself I deserve a little self-indulgence.
If the art-critical eye were to “read” Franck’s work the way one reads a painting, the observations might include: large geometric shapes balanced by smaller shapes and patterns; bold, but limited, color palettes with high value contrast; textural contrast, from soft and smooth to rough or crisp; asymmetry in the distribution of shapes or patterns or at the often uneven hemline; the use of “found fabric,” not unlike a collage artist’s use of found objects; and the use of “surprises,” such as a flap of contrasting fabric that takes the piece to a kinetic or sculptural dimension.
Sometimes a painting is so beautiful it moves me to tears, while Franck’s work moves me to grab it off the hanger and wrap myself in it. I am far from an ideal model at only 5’3”, yet I feel elegant, even taller, as the jeans and turtleneck I wear into the cottage are transformed with the addition of Franck’s jackets and vests.
Franck has been making clothing since she was 11 years old, when, for her birthday, she received a sewing machine. Inspired by her mother, who sewed most of her children’s clothes, Franck soon learned to make her own bell-bottom pants. Later she made clothes for her own children, winning the admiration and envy of other parents.
In 1998, Franck began showing her work at the Lanny Bernard gallery in Park City, her first connection with the art world. Later, she would sell her designs through the boutique in Grand America Hotel, Patrick Moore Gallery and the Bill Loya boutique, all in Salt Lake City. Her work is now carried by Paletti on Highland Drive.
Not only does Franck’s work read like abstract art, it also results from a similar intuitive process. On her large cutting table, she may start by cutting a kimono sleeve. Then some intuitive flash may move her to add a contrasting cuff. And so it goes, with each choice a response to the decision before. “A creative flow takes over me,” she says. Like a painter who enjoys the materiality of the paint and surface, Franck responds to the tactile excitement of the different materials she combines.
At one time Franck dyed her own silks using a process that could take weeks or months. But today she is more likely to use fabrics purchased from other artists or vintage fabrics bought in eBay auctions.
As for designs, she never uses commercial patterns, but makes her own, focusing on clean lines and simple shapes that allow the colors, patterns, and textures to take center stage.
Most recently, she found inspiration and energy in the works of abstract painters – from the masters to contemporary Utah artists. She’s become a regular participant in the Facebook group Abstract Artists of Utah. “Because the artists are local, I can go to a show and support them,” she says.
And it seems the support is mutual. I’m not the only Salt Lake artist who enjoys wearing art as much as hanging it on my wall. Abstract painter Josanne Glass is also a Meredith Franck collector. “I am drawn to color and texture within clean design – in clothing and in art,” says Glass. “I have always liked the more avant-garde in terms of clothing, even when working in corporate roles. Meredith’s work is very much like my paintings – clean design, blocks of color. The complexity is within the blocks. Balance and deliberate imbalance. Perhaps that was part of the initial attraction.”
Since meeting Franck, Glass has painted several works directly influenced by her pieces. The use of stripes, for example, is inspired by the sleeves on some of Franck’s jackets. [see images of Glass paintings]
Though Franck has enjoyed her sales relationships with galleries and boutiques, she treasures the more intimate relationship of direct sales. “It connects me to the people. I enjoy imagining my piece on the person at the event she is going to,” she says. “I don’t think I would be happy mass-producing anything. I would lose something. I am now on piece #653. It’s not hard to track. I know who bought each piece and it makes it very personal to me.”
Franck’s career as a teacher of psycho-education classes for Salt Lake County’s criminal justice division has given her the freedom to pursue art as a passion rather than a living. But there is no doubt how she will spend her time in retirement.
To indulge yourself or to buy a one-of-a-kind wearable art gift for someone special, visit Paletti on Highland Drive, or the Museum of Fine Art’s holiday boutique (Dec. 6), or call and make an appointment to visit Franck’s magical cottage (801-835-3677). You can also visit her web site: www.meredithfranckoriginals.com.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.