Artist Miranda Lake’s Home
The living room’s display of boats, one from Lake’s family and the others from an estate sale in New Orleans, reminds the artist of travel and adventure. Plus, she says, “I like models of things.” The taxidermied parrot is one of many that Lake has accumulated and plans to use in dioramas that combine her paintings with actual birds.
Photo by Sara Essex
Miranda Lake is best known for her exquisitely colored encaustic collages whose surreal images inhabit a delicate space where beauty and grace transcend hardship and strife. Yet poetic collages on wood are not her only medium.
Lake’s work exists all around her. From the stone-and-mortar pathway she and her handyman and friend of 10 years, Randy Humphrey, have recently laid in the garden outside to the vivid paint colors used throughout the house, every visual element is a means for artistic expression.
“The house is definitely an extension of my studio work,” says the artist, who fittingly describes the 100-year-old shotgun as having been a blank canvas when she first viewed it 12 years ago. “It’s the culmination of so much time and effort and a real reflection of my creative aesthetic. The house and gardens and my paintings are having the most lovely symbiotic affair where the moods and vignettes I’ve created here are sometimes echoed and amplified in the worlds I create in my work.”
Lake grew up in rural Connecticut, in an 18th-century farmhouse surrounded by cow fields and the kind of idyllic beauty that leaves an indelible impression. Those environs; an interest in biology and zoology that for a time had her pursuing a future as a doctor; and a deft color-sense, inherited from her late father, an op artist, are elemental to her work even as its subject matter changes over time. Examples of what she calls “strange little juxtapositions and motifs” – exhibited in both her home and her work – include a horned typewriter (a reference to the need for journalistic integrity), a stuffed tiger jumping through a ring of fire, various reptile and animal forms, birds, seashells, urchins, barnacles and arrows. Horses, a passion since she began riding as a child and a subject she plans to explore for her next show with Visions West Gallery in Montana this June, can be found inside and outside the house. There are horse lamps on the bookshelves, toy horses peering from her front windows and a weathered pair of plastic rocking horses next to the flower bed below the front porch.
The house itself, a classic shotgun built in 1910, occupies a deep double lot, which allowed Lake to add an enclosed side porch, a garage and a separate studio and to develop a shaded garden path all the way around the property. “It was the first house I looked at, and when I saw it, I was sold,” she says. “It had so much potential.
There was no landscaping, but the lot just kept going and going.”
She jokes about the house coming with both original sloping, crooked floors and original termites. But seated at the front of the house looking backward through its shotgun layout, she is pleased by the deliberate progression of colors chosen for each of the rooms, the way she painted the ceiling over the bar to resemble malachite and the personal stories that accompany the furnishings and finds she’s collected over the years. Some of the antiques, including the fainting couch and the two parlor chairs in the bar, originally belonged to her grandmother. Other pieces were picked up on Craigslist, Etsy and eBay and purchased from local antiques stores along Magazine Street and in Bywater. She stumbled upon the oval circa-1920s bar just two weeks before moving into the house. Made by the Coca Cola Co. for the Jena Street Social Club, it was a serendipitous discovery she couldn’t pass up given that her home is located on Jena Street, as well. When the yen for a vintage tanker desk for her new side porch (which serves as dining room, office, guest room and lounge) struck, she searched Craigslist and ultimately hit upon one outside of Baton Rouge for the bargain price of $40.
Although Lake’s work is sold through fine art galleries in multiple cities – Denver; Livingston, Mont.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Palo Alto, Calif. – she is equally driven by a desire to design everyday household items that are available at more affordable price points. In addition to painting, she plans to begin producing prints of her work and to put her love of color, pattern and recurrent imagery to further use in the form of textiles, tableware and upholstery. “I always wanted to find a way to create something beautiful and useful, approachable and affordable, something just about anyone could have in their home,” she says. “My intention is to expand my visual repertoire to create a variety of goods from stationery to throw pillows and custom reupholstered vintage furniture.”
Like numerous architects and artists before her, she finds inspiration in organic sources – the undulating shapes that comprise the backgrounds of some of her paintings were taken from pathology slides – and believes that beauty can be conveyed in even the most utilitarian objects. She gives added weight to her own belongings – a pitcher, an antique sign or a Bush radio, for example – by arranging them into groupings that are simultaneously quirky and elegant.
A sense of humor is evident in the mix. The dark ashen color in the center of the house was intended to look like a “cigar club at the Kentucky Derby,” but the provenance of the bedroom’s muted pink is a bit more tongue-in-cheek: “I describe it as Courtney Love’s dirty tutu circa 1994,” Lake says with a smile.
The predominant themes of Lake’s paintings are also part of the aesthetic at work in her home. After Katrina, some of the property sustained flood damage, and last fall, a fire damaged the back half of the house. But Lake, who is still very much the country girl with a love of getting her hands dirty, used both events as opportunities to make improvements to the lush little oasis she calls her compound. “My mother says, ‘When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,’” she says. “I am very interested in the liminal space that allows for the possibility
to transcend hardship. There is a certain beauty or grace in life’s struggles, which I think can engender the best part of ourselves to grow.”