Updated: Jan 12, 2022
This month I had the absolute joy of speaking with Marcy Hall owner and operator of Rabbit Room Arts Studio, well-known Erie PA artist and creator, now located in Oil City, PA. I've always admired and respected Marcy, not just for the beautiful jewel tones and organic shapes that she uses in her work, but also because she is one of the wisest and kindest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with her more thoroughly this month about her work and her inspiration.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I spent the last 25 or so years of my life working at a job other than art, and while I loved that time, I am so happy and thankful to be now devoting most of my time to being an artist. I live with my amazing partner, Erin, her two teenage and very self-sufficient kids, two dogs, two cats, one bunny, and three guinea pigs!
Though I lived in Erie all my life and love it there, we recently moved to Oil City, PA. Living through a pandemic has given us all a different perspective. For us, it meant moving closer to family, which this move meant for both of us, and infusing our life with outdoor activities. We now live almost right on the Erie to Pittsburgh Bike Trail as well as the Allegheny River, we hike and bike all the time, and being creative and making art is part of our everyday experience.
There are lots of opportunities for artists in Oil City. The natural beauty is unmatched and the growing artist community includes arts and music of all kinds. The community is extremely welcoming to artists and we need more people with different points of view! I am on an artist relocation committee here in Oil City. If you or someone you know is or may be interested in moving here, feel free to contact me!
What does artmaking mean to you?
Artmaking is really the meaning of life to me! I can’t imagine not wanting to try to want to construct, compose, cook, combine, color in, etc. everything around me. I’m a doodler in all areas. I like to try everything! Sometimes, those “master of none” impulses can lead to disaster! But it always leads to growth. To me, artmaking should serve the purpose of helping us understand how we see the world while simultaneously letting us see life through another’s lens. So, you know, whatever helps you do that counts as artmaking in my world.
"To me, artmaking should serve the purpose of helping us understand how we see the world while simultaneously letting us see life through another’s lens."
How long have you been creating?
It seems like the answer for all of us should technically be, “Forever!” I can say that my mom recently found my first drawing that she saved. It was of bird nests in bare trees, which are so obvious here in Western Pennsylvania’s winters. It made me really happy to think that I’ve always made an effort to notice things. And, I feel like as soon as you start to notice things, you have to become creative to make sense of them. I’ve spent my life loving to make things and draw things and sing and play and build. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by encouragement and very little judgement. That’s made all the difference to me!
"...I've always made an effort to notice things...as soon as you start to notice things, you have to become creative to make sense of them."
What inspires you?
I have to answer the general “Everything!” I try to draw inspiration from ALL the stuff I take in everyday, all the interactions I have, all the things I see and hear. In a creative writing class years ago, my professor likened us all to compost piles and said, everything you experience goes in your compost pail, and then every so often it gets taken out to the big pile and meets other older stuff that’s been in there awhile. After time passes and that pile has been turned over and over, you never know what will come out in your writing. To me, writing is art, too, so this really applies to whatever you’re doing to be creative. All that input, the sound of the wind or the movement of a leaf, or the way light hits something, or the curve of a building hearing a new birdsong, or a conversation, can be as inspiring to me as a museum exhibit of a painter I love.
"...years ago, my professor likened us all to compost piles and said, everything you experience goes in your compost pail, and then every so often it gets taken out to the big pile and meets other older stuff that’s been in there awhile. After time passes and that pile has been turned over and over, you never know what will come out..."
How has creating art helped you navigate life’s challenges?
Creating art is an outlet for me and helps me to understand and process my experiences. But, one of the not-as-obvious things that creating things has done for me is helped me to be more confident. And I think to me, facing life’s challenges has so much to do with how you feel toward yourself and if you believe in yourself or not. Maybe because I don’t have any formal art training, I feel a little like an imposter artist sometimes. But, in my mind, since I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing technically, usually, I see myself as an experimenter. And, if you face life’s challenges understanding yourself as an experimenter rather than the one who knows, challenges seem less like obstacles and more like opportunities to learn something new. One of my closest friends started a job with me a few years ago when I worked at the library. On the first day, he said, “I hope a bunch of things go wrong now so I can learn as fast as possible!” We laughed, and actually hoped only one thing happened at a time, but the sentiment is true!
"...if you face life’s challenges understanding yourself as an experimenter rather than the one who knows, challenges seem less like obstacles and more like opportunities to learn something new. "
What’s your medium of choice? Why?
It’s a funny reason, maybe, but I paint mostly with acrylics. When I started painting, I had 6 cats! I knew if I tried to work with oils, all paintings would end up smeared by cat bodies and covered in fur because the paint takes so long to dry, and of course a cat would find all paintings since that’s what a cat would do; and second because another thing a cat would do is knock paint thinner off the table. Cats knocking things off tables is a meme for a reason! I didn’t really even know much about art when I started, so painting was just what I thought I should start with. Since then, I have tried lots of other mediums and modes, but I love the versatility of acrylics. They feel comfortable to me. Plus, the quality keeps improving. I just wish they weren’t plastic or there was a way to recycle them. Maybe there is— I’ll have to look into that!
"...I love the versatility of acrylics. They feel comfortable to me."
What are your favorite subjects or themes?
There are definitely things I’m not as comfortable painting, like landscapes, beach scenes, sunsets, things like that. I like painting the world as a Magical Place, so I love vibrant colors, feelings of movement and activity. I like highlighting the glow and the divinity of our everyday surroundings, so for me that translates mostly loving to paint what I see on walks, hikes, and bike rides at whatever time in my life— buildings and street scenes, city animals like pigeons, and pet portraits when I lived in Erie, and that’s now expanded to include the woods and and trees, and the wildlife creatures we see here in Oil City. I also like
trying to paint stories, if that makes sense. Or something that tells a story, I guess, which is why I really love painting the saints and Dancing Monks that I’ve worked on with Christine Valtners Paintner of Abbey of the Arts in Ireland.
"I like painting the world as a Magical Place, so I love vibrant colors, feelings of movement and activity."
How do you know when your painting is done?
You know how when you write something, you should always have a proofreader before you send it out in the world? At least I should! My writing is usually full of illogical jumps, skipped sentences, things spelled wrong, etc. It’s the same with painting. My partner, Erin, is very much my painting editor. If something feels off, she can feel it right away because she knows me so well. If it’s a painting I’ve been working on for a long time, it’s hard for me to tell where the holes might be. I really love that part of our relationship.
"My partner, Erin, is very much my painting editor. If something feels off, she can feel it right away because she knows me so well."
When you are working through problems in your work, who do you talk to?
Again, definitely Erin. So many ideas and thoughts run through both our heads on any given day. We are good at helping each other filter and shape them. I also have a few friends I talk to, like Sarah Brown-Millspaw, Melissa Sullivan Shimek, Jude Shingle, and you, Melissa! I guess it depends on what I’m working on and who I know matches that experience. One thing I’ve learned is that if you are curious, you should ask questions to people you know who can share their knowledge. In general, I’ve found people really open to sharing thoughts, ideas, or suggestions if you ask from a genuine place of curiosity. Since I’ve moved, I’ve made some new artist friends, and I hope to make lots more! I really cherish having a community of people.
"One thing I’ve learned is that if you are curious, you should ask questions to people you know who can share their knowledge."
What advice would you give you your younger self?
Learn to make to-do lists and schedules if you want to get things done! I’ve spent a lot of time forgetting to do things! That being said, it’s also good to allow yourself to be spontaneous. Find a good balance, I guess is what I would tell myself. That’s a lesson that applies everywhere!
"Find a good balance [between spontaneity and structure]..."
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am a big fan of you, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your art and yourself, for being proud of who you are, and for doing things like this that help build more art community. Thanks for letting me be a part of your journey!