It is often said that visual artists pour their heart and ‘soul’ into their work. This is certainly true of Nature Coast Art League Artist of the Month Sylvia Liszka Durell of Spring Hill, whose exquisite masterwork “Innersoul” earned her this coveted NCAL honor for the month of April. “Sylvia created her mystery reveal from articles in a brown bag that included inner sole shoe pieces, fabric, and paper,” read a notice from the league. “She added the glue and paint. Sylvia’s “Innersoul” can be viewed at the Spring Hill Library during the month of April.”
Durell, in fact, is known for her novel application of common household materials in the creation of her one-of-a-kind artworks. Her button art, in particular, has drawn regional and even national acclaim.
“I am a button collector and do love buttons…all kinds of buttons. I got interested in button collecting many years ago after buying a wall hanging from the estate of an elderly lady. I fell in love with it because it spoke to me both as a work of art and a demonstration of her love of the buttons themselves. She had made a pendant-shaped hanging from a gold piece of velvet fabric upon which she had painstakingly hand-sewn her favorite buttons,” said Durell. “When someone gives me, or I buy a box or jar of buttons, there is a visceral thrill for me in sorting through them. The goal is to separate out the collectibles from the plain utilitarian buttons. I use the plain ones to create my button art.”
Durell has earned a number of honors and accolades in recognition of her button art, including:
The opportunity to create several button craft online tutorials for the National Button Society (Tutorials now reside on YouTube @nationalbuttonsocietybutto1746)
Her Pink Button Fish was shown in an “Illuminated Art” exhibit hosted by the City of Tarpon Springs
First place in the 2023 Florida State Button Society Show in the “Creative Mounting” category for her “Wild About Florida” 3-D depiction of an alligator with buttons–a piece also featured in the Brooksville Gallery 201 “Florida Native: Paying Homage to Our Roots” exhibit
An invitation to address her granddaughter’s art class about “Alternative Media” art, in which she focused on buttons as media.
Innersoul, her featured Artist of the Month showpiece, represents another application of everyday materials in the crafting of something extraordinary.
“My Innersoul work started with a brown paper bag stuffed with household discards. When I dumped it all out on a bed to survey it, the “junk” became pieces of a puzzle I had yet to design. I experimented with and thought through several ideas for the use of the materials until I focused on the bottom side of the dozen or so shoe innersoles that dominated the pile,” she explained. “The hard but still pliable foam material that was molded with lines and curves excited me and made me think of the craggy beauty of gargoyles I had seen on buildings in Europe. I cut and arranged the pieces to shape the facial features and hair, and then I painted shadows and contours on the foam to give the face depth. I also used fabric and wallpaper border paper from the bag to finish the piece.”
In the hands of Sylvia Durell, the ordinary becomes sublime. “I often use fabric, thread, zippers, and belt buckles in my mixed media creations,” she said. “And, of course, I use buttons!”
Durell is also a painter and last year completed a memorial portrait of a beloved family friend, one that represents her highly personal approach to portraiture. “My paintings are generally of subjects personal to me. We kept a cow in our garage when I was a child, so I painted a cow. My aunt had chickens that flew to the top of an outbuilding, so I painted chickens flying.” she said. “I am currently working on a series of three paintings that illustrate the steel-making process in the 1950s. My father worked in a Pittsburgh-area steel mill, so the paintings are a tribute to him. I want to preserve this part of our family’s history for my children and grandchildren. I have also painted a portrait of my Mother. She loved gardening, so I surrounded her image with flowers I painted in descending sizes to represent her six children, 13 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.”
Beyond her status as a professional, award-winning artist, Durell also considers herself a devoted and continuous student of the arts, one who never stops learning about her craft. “I studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh right out of high school. Other than that, I haven’t had any formal art training,” she said. “Currently, I learn a lot by attending the Nature Coast Art League meetings. The artist demos are wonderful. I always learn something from them.”
When asked to name her greatest artistic inspiration, her answer is simple and quick: Joy. “My future plans include staying in touch with what excites me in my world and creating art from that joy,” she said. “I also love helping my grandchildren express themselves artistically.”
The public can experience the joy of Sylvia Liszka Durell when they see her Innersoul throughout this month at the Spring Hill Library, 9220 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill. “I expect that upon first glance, people will think “What the heck is that!” when they see my “Innersoul” piece on the wall,” she said. “I hope children will be interested in seeing it up close. It may remind them of fairy tales.”