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Orange County artist turns her watercolors into fabric, wallpaper

Artist Maria Pace sells linens, wallpaper and other items bearing her designs at her new shop in downtown Orange. / Photo by Rhonda Vanover

Artist Maria Pace sells linens, wallpaper and other items bearing her designs at her new shop in downtown Orange. / Photos by Rhonda Vanover

Maria Pace believes that her luminous watercolors of nature should be as utilitarian as they are beautiful.

So the Unionville native has had her paintings of birds, butterflies and flowers printed on the fabrics, wallpaper, wrapping paper and note cards that she sells at her new shop in downtown Orange.

She was influenced, she said, by the popular William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

“By designing fabrics from my paintings, I am able to make things for people to enjoy in their homes that are both beautiful and useful,” Pace said. “And the idea of utility and beauty coinciding is really satisfying to me!”

Her customers apparently agree. They’ve filled pages of her guest book since she opened Original Designs by Maria Pace on March 20 at 132 W. Main St. The former professional building is being turned into space where artists can create and sell their work, and she’s the first to locate there.

“I really liked what the landlady was doing and she worked with me to make [the store] happen,” Pace said.

Her sunny, one-room space includes vintage chairs she’s refinished and had upholstered in her fabrics. Framed samples of her wallpapers are on display, and there are pillows appliquéd with some of the key elements in her designs as well as napkins, tablecloths and other linens. Smaller items include note cards and sachets.

Pace does much of the sewing in the store on a Singer sewing machine that her great-great-grandmother Emma Morris bought in Washington for $142.25.

“My great-aunt had it and used it to sew her wedding dress,” Pace said. “I guess she just had it in storage and knew that I was working on this project and thought I could use it. It just does a straight stitch, but that’s all I need.”

She hires Cathy Mares Custom Sewing in Charlottesville for the larger jobs, and Lucian Henderson of Orange for upholstery work.

Pace grew up on a farm in Unionville where her father taught her to bottle-feed sickly baby calves and her mother was an avid gardener. Pace said she fell in love with painting when she was 9 and painter and graphic artist Carolyn Emerson taught art for a year at Lightfoot Elementary School in Unionville. She continued taking lessons from Emerson after school and later on Saturdays all the way through high school.

Yet Pace didn’t initially decide to make art her career. She studied American history, literature and creative writing at the University of Virginia, and got a master’s degree in creative writing from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

“I found with writing that you could work on something for months—creative nonfiction or fiction—and not know if it worked or not,” she said. “With painting, you can look at it and know if it works or not and this is something that’s nice to share with people. They can look at it too, and know if they like it or not.”

Pace did a stint at the Orange County Review, worked for a time at Eileen’s Bakery in Fredericksburg, and served as a nanny, among other jobs. But it wasn’t until she worked at a bed-and-breakfast in Italy for two months that she decided what she really wanted to do was combine her love of art and fabric.

The key to figuring out how to do that came when a friend suggested that she contact Spoonflower, a Durham, N.C., company that helps individuals design, print and sell their own fabric, wallpaper, decals and gift wrap.

“I started off with maybe 10 patterns and I got my first shipment of fabric right before I left for a painting residency in France in April of 2011,” she said. “Then I kept playing with it and experimenting.

Pace opened a shop that year on, an online market for unique items. Shabby Love Furniture in downtown Orange also carried her things, as did The Arts Center in Orange, LibertyTown Arts Workshop in Fredericksburg and Rock Paper Scissors in Charlottesville.

A resort in Washington state placed wholesale orders two years in a row, and Country Living magazine selected her as one of the winners in its winners Pitch Your Product contest in 2012.

Eventually, Pace said she realized having a shop on didn’t make sense for her. Everything she was making was limited edition, and if it sold elsewhere she’d have to delete it from her site. Plus, she prefers to interact with her clients.

“On etsy, you just click a button and order,” she said.

Original Designs is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays or by appointment.

“If someone sees an older print that they like, I can get it printed again,” Pace said, “but I’m always making new designs.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407


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