Barbara Franzreb uses ancient Japanese style of enameling in works sold at Colonial Williamsburg

Special to the Beacon Journal

MACEDONIA: When Barbara Franzreb was introduced to the art of tole painting, she immediately was drawn to it. Now, 12 years later, because of her skill, she is working on a commission from Colonial Williamsburg.

"I got started with tole and decorative painting, because a friend had taken some painting classes and I had seen what she had done," Franzreb said. "I have always done some kind of craft work and I wanted to try this."

Tole painting originated centuries ago in Japan, according to Franzreb. This form of painting was very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, when tinsmiths made utilitarian pieces for use in homes. Painted designs were added to the tin pieces for decoration. Franzreb uses the same techniques as the early artists but does her painting mostly on wood, since she has not found a demand for tin items.

"If someone would have told me 20 years ago that I would be a painter," Franzreb said, "I would have laughed at them. It is just that the paintbrush comes to life for me. I can't sit down and draw, but I can paint. It is like anything -- the more you do it, the better you get.

"That is why I like doing it. It is a way to express myself. And, I see it as a gift from God and I need to share it. That is one reason I teach classes, to help other people learn to do it too."

Franzreb, who turns 50 next week, and her husband, Harry, have two sons. She learned to paint when she began taking classes from Phyllis Tilford, an internationally known tole and decorative artist who at the time was living in Fairlawn.

"I had seen Phyllis at craft shows," Franzreb said, "and I thought she did the most beautiful work. She taught me a lot and encouraged all of her students to do crafts shows and put things in shops."

Phyllis Tilford, who now lives in Florida and travels the world teaching tole and decorative painting, is impressed with Franzreb's work.

"Barb is a very good artist and designer," said Tilford. "She has taken what she has learned and has developed her own technique and a style of her own. So many others don't have the creativity to go out there and develop their own style."

After working on her own for several years, Franzreb began traveling to other states to attend seminars and workshops. She began designing her own kits about three years ago, and has started teaching classes in Medina.

"Ideas for new designs began popping into my head. So now, I am marketing my own designs," Franzreb said. "They come with a photograph, very detailed written instructions and a pattern."

Her commission from Williamsburg is based on a series of boxes that she designed.

"Last summer, I talked to a buyer for the Williamsburg gift shops and ended up with a commission for boxes," said Franzreb. "I paint 5-inch-square wooden boxes that are built to hold nine golf balls. On the top of each lid is a different Colonial Williamsburg building. The bottoms and edges of the boxes are faux painted." Faux painting is a style of painting that can resemble wood graining, sponge painting or marbleizing.

The boxes will be sold in the gift shops at the Colonial Williamsburg hotels. Normally there are restrictions on selling articles for artists who design for Colonial Williamsburg. But, according to Franzreb, because these are her own designs and because research at Williamsburg has not found any decorative painting that was done when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, she is free to sell the boxes at craft shows.

Much of her work has a Williamsburg look to it, although she also designs and makes wooden items with a contemporary look, including some very masculine articles as well as some whimsical looking items for children. Franzreb does murals, metal plates, lap desks, lamps, tables and welcome signs. Her pieces sell from $7.50 up to $450, although the average price is between $20 and $60.

"I use all acrylic paint," she said. "Everything is water-based, although there is some antiquing on a few items.

"Anyone can paint," Franzreb declared. "The most important part is the stroke work and the proper way to learn the brush. You don't want too much paint on it. We start out with a basic pattern and people are usually amazed that they can do this. A lot of friendships have been born here in these classes."

Professionally, Franzreb is a member of the Society of Decorative Painters, the Buckeye Tole Chapter; the Tole Painters of Western Reserve and the Ohio Arts and Crafts Guild. She will be exhibiting her work at the 22nd annual Witan French Market, which will be held next weekend at Todaro's Party Center, 1820 Akron-Peninsula Road.

Franzreb holds tole and decorative painting classes at her home and will also be teaching classes at the Woodshed in Medina. For information on her classes, call 330-467-7402 or 330-725-6741 at the Woodshed in Medina, 226 E. Washington St. [You may also E-Mail her for information.]

Article Source: February 21, 1999 - Akron Beacon Journal

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