Keeping it in the Family

Megan Halsey's art brings a new depth to the word vintage. The illustrator creates dimensional collage art with paper from old family documents, such as letters and journal entries, as well as old buttons and brick-a-brack that once belonged to her grandmother to create nostalgic images with a touch of history.

"My family never throws anything out. This is family junk that is treasure to me. The buttons are my grandmother's. The letters are family letters. The handwriting is so beautiful, it's like a lost art form," says Halsey. The art that results from her collection of family heirlooms is very personal, but Halsey has found that many people relate to the images. "I've had people tell me that looking at these images reminds them of their own grandmother."

The most interesting pieces of history Halsey uses in her work are Civil War letters her great-great grandfather wrote to his wife while he was in battle. "Even as a child, these letters fascinated me. I'm grateful that I can use them in my art. It's really nice to be able to find a way to use these things that have been in our family for so many years," she says.

Halsey sews pieces of paper to a fabric-backed collage to create distinctive works. The color palette can range from contemporary reds, oranges and yellows to more subtle monochromatic, soft and antique cream hues.

Halsey began her career as a children's book illustrator and has illustrated more than 40 books in her 20 years working in the industry. She has received two Oppenheim Toy Newsletter Awards and numerous other distinctions in the children's book field. The New Yorker has called her work "tromp l'oile marvels."

"My favorite thing was doing the decorative end pages because they didn't have to fit any narrative and they could be playful and decorative. It was fun and freeing to make whatever I wanted," she says.

Those images are being used in a 19-piece giftware line from Demdaco that debuted this spring. The line, Simple Notions, includes magnets, frames, plaques and small trays. "It was great to come out of my first Surtex show with this giftware line," says Halsey. She is hoping to expand her product categories to include stationery, bookmarks, gift wrap, partyware, calendars and wall art. "The imagery used on the Demdaco line can easily translate to other formats," she says.

This year at the Surtex show, she will showcase some of her illustrations from children's books that have been repurposed for use on juvenile products. "Some of those images lend themselves very well to use on kids' products," she says. "I did picnicking ants and girlfriend pigs shopping together that would work very well as licensed images. It's fun to go back through that work and look at it in a new way."