ALTON - Phae Morrissey has always loved the Milton Schoolhouse. This month, Milton is returning that love by featuring her art throughout the building.
The Milton Schoolhouse is home to a number of businesses. Every month, they invite a local artist to arrange their work in the main hallway, so almost everyone who enters Milton will walk past it. For Morrissey, the opportunity to display her art is made twice as special by her personal connection to the people who spend time at Milton.
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“Having my pieces up in a space that I already love means a lot to me,” Morrissey said. “And then getting that positive feedback from my friends and heroes and just the random folks off the street has been really uplifting.”
Morrissey spends a lot of time at Milton, chatting with the regulars at Maeva’s Coffee and her partner, who works behind Maeva’s counter. But when she’s not at Milton with her loved ones, she can be found either searching for new materials or working with her welding hood on. Covered in stickers, even the hood is a work of art.
But art wasn’t always the plan, though Morrissey enjoyed it as a kid. In 2019, she enrolled in Lewis and Clark Community College’s welding technology program with plans to enter the trade. She quickly realized how much she preferred utilizing metalworking for art projects.
“I just was really taken with the art form and the skill,” Morrissey said. “I decided while I was in the program that I wasn’t going to enter the trades but that I was interested in using that skill for my own personal use instead.”
Over the past few years, Morrissey has honed her woodworking and metalworking skills. She also recently introduced glasswork into her projects. The art is made of scrap metal and similar materials that would otherwise be thrown away. The glass flowers in one piece, for example, were made from discarded glass she discovered in the Milton Schoolhouse itself, from back when it used to be a glass factory.
Many of Morrissey’s pieces are nature-based and dynamic. She explained that the material she uses for a piece will often guide her decisions about it.
“I am really interested in reusing materials. So a lot of times, it’s a matter of looking at a piece that I already have,” Morrissey said. “I just really kind of try and look at the base and see if this was going to actually grow up, this piece of wood, what kind of path would it follow? How big would it be?...I try to follow the natural curve of the wood. I have a lot of friends that are plant enthusiasts, so I see their home displays, which is art in and of itself. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from them and the natural environment.”
While Morrissey’s creations look carefully planned, the process is much more organic. She works on a piece until she deems it finished, takes a picture to post on her art Instagram page, and then usually gifts the piece to a friend. The end result of a project sometimes surprises her.
“With my own creativity, I can’t just think and say, ‘Alright, here’s exactly how this thing is going to look,’” Morrissey explained. “I let it flow and I tweak things a lot. Maybe I’ll drop it, and it’s like, well, now it’s bent a strange way. How can I incorporate that?”
The Milton showcase is one of Morrissey’s first. She was involved in a small showcase at a St. Louis church a few months ago, which ignited her interest in sharing her work publicly. In the future, she hopes to host her own art shows throughout the Metro East area.
Until then, she’ll keep doing what she does best: creating art for herself and her loved ones, surrounded by the people and places that feel like home.
“I would love to do art full-time,” she said. “But in the meantime, I really enjoy people enjoying my art and sharing it with my friends and family and peers.”
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