The cabinets were an eyesore, back when the room was empty and dull.
But then Melissa Halferty grabbed a pair of scissors and a glue gun, and started crafting.
Halferty, 64, of Everett, creates dazzling and quirky mixed-media collages in her craft room. The dreary cabinets were the first to be decorated, with an assortment of old kids’ educational flashcards, rhinestones and calendar cutouts. Some five years later, Halferty’s artistic flair covers nearly every square inch of the room.
“I love to embellish things,” she said, in an understatement.
Over the years, the former kitchenette has become her sanctuary. With the coronavirus shutdown, that’s more true than ever.
“I’ve been doing a lot of crafting now because these are troubled times,” she said. “I’m a big gardener, so I’m either in my garden or I’m here creating stuff. It just clears my head and makes me feel positive and hopeful.”
The room exudes her love for all things red, vintage and Frida Kahlo, the iconic Mexican artist. Halferty cuts out pictures of Kahlo from magazines and juxtaposes them against materials such as painted cardboard and old advertisements.
“I’ve always admired Frida because of her perseverance,” she said. “She had a rough life and was in physical pain for most of it, but she never gave up and just constantly pursued her art.”
Halferty crafts with any and every material she can find: newspapers, kids’ sneakers, checkerboards, 1940s pin-up girl cutouts, Day of the Dead sugar skulls, cupcake liners and Our Lady of Guadalupe statues. Each piece adds complexity, shape and context to the bigger picture, she said.
She likes to shop at Archie McPhee, the Seattle novelty shop known for gag gifts, toys and oddities. She also goes to garage sales and thrift stores, looking for inspiration.
“I look at things and see a history behind them,” she said. “Old newspapers, old recipes, old advertisements. I think about who had this before me and what did it mean to them? How can I use this in my art to express myself?”
She’s also inspired by handmade gifts from friends and family. One friend gave her a knitted heart with various buttons sewn in, which she placed next to a garland made of cupcake liners, tissue paper, ribbons and magazine pages.
“People know I like quirky things,” she said.
Halfterty, who comes from an artistic family, learned how to knit, embroider and garden at an early age. Crafting became a lifelong passion.
In 2015, she and her husband, Frank, retired and moved from Kenmore to Everett. Inspired by a quote from British writer Virginia Woolf’s famous essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” they decided to divvy up two rooms in their new home and treat them as his-and-hers refuges. Frank Halferty, 65, a former music teacher, set up a studio in his room.
“Her style is so unique,” Frank Halferty said of his wife’s craft room. “In her stuff, there usually is this design element that comes through, but there’s also a story element. Her art has a little bit more depth to it, even though a lot of the times, it’s very humorous and quirky.”
A former elementary-school teacher, Melissa doesn’t plan her collages. Instead, she goes by feel.
“I never sketch things out or practice,” she said. “I just start gluing.”
She said it’s a trait she picked up from teaching first- and second-grade students most of her life.
“As a teacher, I was just in heaven being able to do art with the kids all the time,” she said.
Halferty said her students taught her invaluable lessons about what it means to be an artist.
“For one thing, they’re fearless,” she said. “No matter what you present them with, they’re not going to say, ‘I can’t do that.’ They say, ‘OK, let’s go. Where’s my glue stick?’ When we would watercolor paint, the set-up and the clean-up were not always peaceful, but when the kids were doing the paintings, they were so focused and absorbed.”
She’s not finished decorating her room. She treats it the same way as she does her garden — it’s a never-ending adventure.
“I’m always adding to it,” she said. “It’s just such a happy and joyful space.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org.