Lighthouse-loving artist breaks the mold

Although new to the Delaware/Maryland coastal art scene, Dee Granger is no stranger to beach life, and no stranger to art.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Dee Granger melts pewter down for a piece she was working on. Granger will attned the upcoming South Coastal Delaware AARP’s Artisan Fair on Saturday, May 24, at the Millville Fire Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Dee Granger melts pewter down for a piece she was working on. Granger will attend the upcoming South Coastal Delaware AARP’s Artisan Fair on Saturday, May 24, at the Millville Fire Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., she was never considered “the artist” in her family — that was one of her four sisters. It wasn’t until she went to college and had a one-woman show that she truly felt as thought other people saw her for her art.

She started college in Wittenburg, Ohio, with hopes of being an art teacher, but left after meeting her husband and starting a family. That was in 1960. When she went back to college, she got interested in sculpture, metal-smithing and jewelry-making. She finished her degree in 1990, earning a bachelor degree in fine arts, in sculpture and metal-smithing, from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

“Going back to school was the best thing I ever did. I was more interested and focused,” said Granger. “I was considered a ‘non-traditional’ student, so I could take just those classes. Even after graduating, I continued to use the facilities at Slippery Rock for sculpture and metal-smithing.”

Her art has been passed down to her four children, each of whom is an artist in their own right — and proud of their mother and her accomplishments.

“I was working in a jewelry store in Slippery Rock, and they marched in with my diploma,” shared Granger.

She is a member of many art guilds, including the Associated Artists in Pittsburgh — Andy Warhol is one of its more famous members — and had a one-woman art show there.

She has tried other media for her art, such as watercolors, but says she enjoys the hands-on creativity that sculpture and metalwork allow her to enjoy.

“I’m a 3-D person,” explained Granger. “Painting drives me nuts.”

One of the more hands-on projects she does now is casts in pewter. She buys scrap pieces of pewter — which resembles silver, but is actually 92 percent tin — melts them down and molds them into different shapes for use as pins, necklaces or other jewelry pieces.

Granger cuts a mold into plaster, pours the melted pewter into that and, in about 10 seconds, has a cast pewter design. She could do work in gold and silver, too, and has, but that requires sending the works away, and the process takes longer.

“It’s instant gratification,” said Granger of the pewter. “I make a design, cut it into the plaster with ‘an exotic tool’ — a nail — and melt the pewter scrap at 550 degrees. It looks like liquid mercury. And I pour it into the plaster mold.”

After pouring the mold, she encloses the plaster with another piece, puts a rubber band around it, and from a small opening on this side oozes out a bit of the liquid pewter. After that starts to change color a bit, it is done. Granger then throws the piece into a bowl of water to cool it down and hammers it out to give it a little more definition in its shape. Sometimes, she will paint it with enamel paint and then bake it to set the enamel.

Granger said that, many times at her shows, she will demonstrate how the casting works, and men who have been in the metal-smithing industry will look on, explaining what she is doing to their wives.

She also does beaded jewelry and enjoys making jewelry out of “found” material, such as an old silver spoon, or someone’s old china. She enjoys the creativity the beaded jewelry allows her but said she would like to get back more into the hands-on work of sculpting and metal-working.

“When I first started making the designs, we would then incorporate it into other pieces. And the chain, the rope-work, and the clasp, all incorporates into the design,” she noted.

However, she said, “Anybody that’s into crafts can buy the stuff at Michael’s and put it all together. I’m getting back into more complicated original designs in silver and gold, and in doing sculpting. It’s more fun to design from the beginning.”

During the course of her life, Granger and her family have moved around quite a bit, but for the most part raised their four children in Grove City, Pa., where they lived for 37 years. When her children were younger, they would vacation at Assateague and eventually, they bought a condominium unit in Ocean City, Md. She just recently bought her studio in Fenwick Island, with a view of the lighthouse — aptly called Lighthouse Studio #4.

The lighthouse name and location were no accident.

After her father did a genealogical study on her mother’s side of the family, they found out that her ancestor Thomas Layton was keeper of the lighthouse at White Island, which is attached to Seavey Island on the Isle of Shoals, off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire.

“So that is why I like lighthouses,” explained Granger.

During her father’s genealogical quest, they also found out about a National History Conference run by the Unitarian Church on the Isle of Shoals, where she has been teaching a pewter workshop in the summer for the past 14 years.

Besides her art, Granger stays active in the community. She plays tennis and is involved in her church, St. Matthews by the Sea. She is in the church’s Women’s Club, which is where she first heard of the Millville Artisan’s Fair. She is the lay leader, teaches Sunday school and has a puppet ministry at St. Matthews.

And she says she’s excited to be getting back into the local art scene —and the beach.

Granger will be at the upcoming South Coastal Delaware AARP’s Artisan Fair on Saturday, May 24, along with nearly 40 others artists and artisans. The fair, at the Millville Fire Hall from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., will benefit the AARP chapter’s scholarship fund for Indian River High School seniors.

Although Granger and her husband have only been full-time beach residents for about two years, they are enjoying the change of pace just fine, she said.

“I’m glad to be back at the beach. It took us a while, but we found our way back.”