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By the Way: Turning old images and words into something new


No hearts and flowers for Kathy Brown. The Stockton, N.J., woman has instead opted for the whimsical, even quirky, quality that dominates much of her artwork.

“Most of the pictures tell little stories,” she said. “I like to play with words.”

The unique art she creates in the workshop in her charming 1850s-era house is decoupage. She cuts bits and pieces of artwork from papers or magazines and applies them in layers to a sheet of paper to create a new piece of art.

The only tools she requires are a small pair of scissors, an X-ACTO knife, rubber cement and a cutting mat. The tools are, of course, supplemented with an enormous amount of creativity, a constantly growing stash of newspapers and vintage magazines, and the ability to put images together in a meaningful and artistic way — one that conveys the artist’s message.

Kathy, who grew up in Doylestown a member of the Happ real estate family, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University and worked for Raytheon Engineers before her children, a son and daughter, were born.

“I worked mostly on power plants,” she said. “After the kids, I did some consulting and worked most recently in residential redevelopment.”

When she retired and was looking for some kind of handwork to spice up her free hours, she turned to decoupage as a hobby.

“I love it and I like that I can sit down and create a finished piece in an evening,” Kathy said. “I also like to recycle the material into society.”

It has now become a business called All Spare Bits.

Kathy was first introduced to the art when she attended a decoupage exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Paper cutting or decoupage (in French) was popular in France in the 17th century. Artists in Paris used it to decorate bookcases, cabinets and other furniture. But its practice goes back way before that, according to art historians, who claim the origin of decoupage lies in East Siberian tomb art. Nomadic tribes used cut-out felts to decorate the tombs of their loved ones. The art then migrated from Siberia to China and, by the 12th century, cut-out paper was being used to decorate lanterns, windows and boxes. More recently, Matisse and Picasso occasionally produced decoupage.

Kathy keeps her original artwork, photographs it and then sells the photos. She also has turned some of her designs into postcards. She has books and books of her decoupage designs. It’s easy to see, as she pages through her collection, that her style has evolved over the years. It’s grown more and more complex and more amusing.

One of her earlier works is a postcard showing a canal boat on the Delaware Canal. Added to the peaceful scene are a pair of mules, a couple seated on lawn chairs, people on the boat, a couple walking along the towpath in the distance and a bird.

“You’ll see birds in a lot of my pictures,” Kathy said. “I like birds, so I just put them in,” she said.

“Night Owls” shows a man driving a pickup truck loaded with owls through a quaint, nocturnal street scene.

Another is “The Brush Off,” a picture of a 1950s couple obviously on a date. Planted right in front of the woman is a brush.

And there’s another scene where she has pasted pictures of people on tombstones in a graveyard.

Kathy’s decoupage photos are available at Country Chic in Frenchtown, The Corner in Flemington, Moondance Farm Studios in Chestnut Hill and The Bountiful Collection in Rancocas Woods, N.J.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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