WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 1009

Tampa artist Lisa “Liasi” Martin Smallwood creates Impressionistic works of art inspired by iconic jazz singers and musicians. Paper artist Kristi Abbott uses vibrant colors and designs in the creation of her complex, multilayered collages. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, painter David Horton sits for an interview to discuss why he fills his canvases with colorful, symbolic icons and fantastical creatures

AIRED: April 29, 2021 | 0:26:45

- [Man] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for "WEDU Arts Plus"

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU,

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation

Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969.

- [Dalia] In this edition of "WEDU Arts Plus",

a Tampa Bay artists creates complex works of art

inspired by iconic jazz singers and musicians.

- The style is more like impressionistic.

It's like I'm making a suggestion, okay.

And I'm gonna give a little bit of detail

but I'm not going to go into it.

- [Dalia] An artist's keen eye

toward colorful and complex collages.

- It's really trying to gather

a lot of stories and messages in one piece.

- [Dalia] Brush strokes that create

worlds of color in magical realism.

- My opinion is kind of an offshoot of that

trying to present a situation or an image

that would tell an underlying story.

- [Dalia] And a 19th century architectural gem.

- There's some richly carved woodwork

with lots of organic motifs carved throughout.

You'll see acorns, and grapes, and vines, and birds,

all in the carvings.

- It's all coming up next on "WEDU Arts Plus".

(upbeat music)

("Relaxing Bells" by Bobby Cole)

Hello I'm Dalia Colon.

And this is "WEDU Arts Plus".

For Philadelphia native Lisa Liasi Martin Smallwood,

music plays an integral role in her life.

See how the mixed media artist uses an impressionistic

style to pay tribute to her late musician father

and the iconic jazz singers and musicians from days of old.

(upbeat music)

- My name is Lisa Martin Smallwood AKA Liasi.

I'm originally from Philadelphia.

Currently, I'm living out here in Tampa Bay

and I'm a visual artist.

I work with different mediums

such as ink, pastel, and acrylic.

The style is more like impressionistic.

It's like I'm making a suggestion, okay.

And I'm gonna give a little bit of detail

but I'm not going to go into it completely.

I'm going to create an illusion

to the brain of like, okay, wow.

You know, oh, he's really blowing that sax,

or that trumpet, or, you know, playing that piano.

Like my Nina Simone, I love Nina, you know.

And the shades that I use suggests that is abstract

but at the same time it has a surreal feel to it.

(gentle jazz music)

I can paint a painting and make it look like a photograph

but I like to experiment and to project, you know,

the feeling that it gives me.

(gentle jazz music)

- I think what really separates Lisa from other artists

is that she really adds depth and passion into her artwork.

And I think also the use of colors to capture the ambience

and give the viewer that in-depth expression

so that they feel like that they're actually

a part of that piece.

- Is Jason here?

- [Jason] Hey I'm in here in the studio.

- Hey Jerri.

- Hey, how are you, Lisa?

- I'm good, I got my Aretha Franklin piece.

Jason, how's it going?

- Excellent, how are you?

- I'm good.

- Oh, this looks magnificent. - Thank you.

My favorite art piece is one of my favorite places.

I love that piece.

- You and me both.

(Lisa laughs)

I wish she was singing to us right now.

- Well, you know, I will sing but I don't do that.


They have welcomed me into this establishment.

I mean, to see the whole production

is like to me a class trip.

And they work on my art, they treat it great,

they do my reproductions.

Now, why are you rotating it?

- Basically so the highlights

from the shiny inks, of the metallic inks.

- Right.

- I first met Lisa while she was doing

a live painting exercise

in our gallery in St. Petersburg.

We had a musician playing there

and she was painting him live as he played.

And I was just blown away by what she did.

So we talked to her into coming here.

- She showed me some of her artwork

which I fell in love with immediately.

And we just kept talking about artwork.

We hit it off right away.

She ran into a situation where she needed a framer

to have a piece fixed up.

And she came out to visit us,

and met the team, and saw our operation,

and was very impressed.

- [Lisa] Oh, that looks good.

- Yeah, we should save this and then we'll get a shot.

So once we get the artwork captured and the color correct,

then we can spread it out onto a myriad of things

depending on the venue of where the artwork

is gonna be sold at or displayed.

♪ R-E-S-P-E-C-T ♪

I knew we'd get her singing.

(Lisa laughs)

- The music actually, I don't know it's just like in me.

You know, every guitar, natural pluck, or whatever,

it's like every stroke for me, you know.

And that's how the two come, you know, together.

- Lisa is from Philadelphia.

And Philadelphia has a music scene unlike any others.

And her father was in the music world.

And you can just tell that it's in her blood.

So when she paints musicians and performances

and that type of stuff, it just, the paintings sings.

You can see the music, you can feel the energy,

you can feel the emotion that comes out.

And I think that that's one of the things

that makes her such a successful artist

and makes her paintings of musicians so popular.

(gentle jazz music)

- So my father Dowell Smallwood Jr,

he was a drummer, a native from Philadelphia.

And he played with Johnny Stiles and the Manhattans

which was a jazz group back in the 1950s into the 60s.

My father was a great guy and he has really inspired me.

And he always encouraged me to continue to paint.

Just the memories and the stories that he would tell me,

I try to put myself there for that moment.

Some of the paintings that I have painted,

a lot of times are memories.

It could be his memories that he shared with me

and I'm just painting it out and laying out, you know,

everything in my mind, in my heart

that I felt during that thought process of, you know,

processing his story.

- I think Lisa's artwork

really has a very poetic vibe to it.

And she's actually able to capture those poetic expressions

which creates a real synergy with her work.

You can just look at it

and begin to just talk about it in a very poetic manner.

Oh my, oh, this is so beautiful.

- I hope that my artwork can hatch a memory.

Art is very therapeutic and I just want people

to enjoy what they're looking at

and, you know, open that box of memories.

- To see more of Liasi's artwork, visit

Kristi Abbott's work controls the eye

with its vibrant colors and patterns.

Upon closer study, her paper collages

revealed their complexity.

Built layer upon layer,

Abbott depicts beloved icons and landscapes.

(upbeat music)

- Where is this paper from?

This is just beautiful.

This is a must.

I like this one.

That really looks three-dimensional.

All right, let's keep going.

This is good.

My paper collection started actually

about seven years ago in Sydney.

The right paper can make or break a piece.

Oh, I like that one.

This one's beautiful.

I'm going to start like a Dundee pile.


And it's really growing into something.

I now have big paper, you know,

printed drawers full of paper.

I'm like a kid in a candy store.

I'm like aww.

(upbeat music)

Within my latest body of work,

I've really tried to push the typical idea

of collage as an art form.

Crocodiles actually do feel kind of leathery

and rough like this.

Not that I felt too many crocodiles.


The biggest surprise people have when they see my work

is realizing that it's made from paper.

You're gonna to have to stop me from going over the top.


(upbeat music)

When I was younger I used to do a lot of jigsaw puzzles

and spot the different puzzles

trying to find hidden imagery in artwork

which was children storybooks.

(upbeat music)

I guess the way that I would describe my work

it is really a combination

of multiple layers of imagery and papers.

It's really trying to gather

a lot of stories and messages in one piece.

(bright guitar music)

My father's a native Minnesotan

and my sisters and I were all raised in Sydney, Australia.

There was a decade there that I worked

side-by-side my parents.

And we ran a very successful training business

but the artist in me was very much crying to get out.

And so I decided to leave that role

to move to Minnesota and follow the dream

which was to become a full time artist.

This here is my latest studio find

that I use for my large pieces of handmade papers.

Sometimes I'll pick up a paper

and it'll be in my drawer for, you know, six years.

I won't know when I'm gonna use it.

And then a perfect project will come

along and I will be like, "Yeah, this is the one."


I'm going to show you a few of my favorites styles.

In here, we've got my reds and oranges.

And this is one of my absolute favorites.

This is a beautiful handmade paper from Japan.

The reason I use papers,

I found with paint I could never really get the fine,

beautiful lines that I wanted.

And it was when I started working with papers,

using a scalpel and a blade,

I got these beautiful fine edges.

I have almost an unlimited scope of what I can play with.

Some more Indian papers and then some more beautiful papers

used in my foliage and trees.

I think the biggest step in my development as an artist

was actually really moving into

the Lowertown Lofts Artist Cooperative

and being around other artists

that I could get feedback from.

And actually that's how I moved into collage.

I decided to do some studies that were all in paper.

And I brought them into my studio

and I brought in two of the ladies

and I said, "Guys, what do you think?"

And they just looked at me and they said,

"You should be working in paper.

"You can do stuff with paper that, you know,

"I can't even dream of."

(gentle guitar music)

At the moment, I am working on two pieces.

I really decided to look at who are two standout characters

that tell a bit of a story of Australia.

You know, Ned Kelly and the "Crocodile Dundee".

One talking about historical Australia

and one talking about modern Australia.

My series as well kind of developed very organically.

For example, I'd been working

on my pin-up series as a subject matter.

I was very comfortable with

and I have a background in fashion and theater design.

So the costuming element was great.

I was showing at a few different fairs

and I had a lot of people coming out to me and saying,

"Oh, wow, you know this is beautiful

"but, you know, have you done Marilyn,"

"or have you done Audrey or Sophia?"

And so there were all of these fabulous women

that they were hoping to see in it.

And it really got me thinking that's a whole another area.

So I went back and I decided to pick a Audrey Hepburn.

And then I embed all of these other fabulous women

that have done great stuff for girl power

over the last century within that piece.

And so that was really the beginning

of this new style of work that I'm doing.

(bright guitar music)

I feel I'm creating something much more

than the popular culture images.

How I feel I guess I'm really adding to the art world

in my way is by weaving in this fabric of papers

and also this fabric of hidden imagery.

I could maybe use the two of these

and then maybe use this.

I think that could look pretty cool.

I get these feeling sometimes when I'm driving,

I've left the studio and I'm on my way somewhere

and it's almost like a tingle all over.

I can tell you it's the most unbelievable

happy feeling in the world.

To think that I took a chance, you know,

it's scary sometimes.

Actually it is scary not just sometimes

but it is scary to put that kind of faith in yourself

to be out and make it work and to be able

to now write when I go back to Australia

in the customs card "I am an artist, that is my occupation,"

is a very cool thing.

I pinch myself often.

But I'm very happy.


- For more about her work visit

Baton Rouge, Louisiana painter David Horton,

is inspired by his surroundings.

His style is described as narrative magical realism

evident in his canvases filled with colorful symbolic icons

and fantastic creatures.

- You were born in New York but raised in Louisiana

and an artist really from the very word go

receiving your first commission at the age of 13.

Then you had your formal training at LSU

but it really was an uncle who fan the flame.

- I was very close to him from an early age.

He was my mother's youngest brother

and one of the most preeminent watercolorist in Mississippi.

His name is Bob Dunaway and he gave me materials

and encouragement and overall made me feel

that artists had a special place in the world.

- Now, you describe your style as narrative magical realism

and you don't mind being labeled a narrative painter.

Can you talk about your style and how it evolved?

- Very early on I was attracted to satire, cartooning,

political cartooning, and storytelling.

For a long time I wanted to be a author, short stories.

Never really cared much about novels

but poetry and short stories I wrote for many years.

And so my painting is kind of an offshoot of that

trying to present a situation or an image

that would tell an underlying story.

- Foreign travel was a key influence, wasn't it?

You spent a good bit of time in Paris in the early 80s,

and then also in Spain.

Please talk a little about how

that foreign travel experience has made your work change.

- The French experience, I was able to have studios

in Paris and in Provence over several years.

And it was a new world for me in terms of seeing

how people interact in a different culture than ours.

The French influence lasted many years

and it resulted in mostly interior and a little bit dark

interaction among the figures in the paintings.

However, in 1990, I had the opportunity

to take a studio in Spain, Southern Spain, on the coast,

right around the Costa Blanca.

And the colors, and the people, and the culture

was so radically different from anything

I'd experienced in Paris.

I always thought of Paris in terms of monochrome.

And of course, Spain was completely polychromed everywhere.

The blues, the purples, and the brilliant whites.

And my technique evolved by looking at the murals.

Even in the small town had many murals painted

on the sides of these white stucco buildings.

And that was something that I had never experienced before.

- There are many stories to tell here.

How have the stories that you tell evolved over the years?

- When I first got back from Spain,

most of the stories were borderline mythological.

They contained icons, and creatures, and figures,

and objects that I gleaned

from learning about ancient symbols.

I began to look around me to find out

how I could use symbols or create my own symbol structure

to express or

kind of explain concepts of what happens

either in society or among groups of people

or between two people.

And so using new icons gathered

from South Louisiana and other places,

that's where my work has been going for a number of years.

- Fish, rabbits, boats, flowers that shed petals,

icons and symbols appear on your work over and over again,

strange fantastical creatures.

How has the symbolism in your work hold the key

to understanding the world those creatures inhabit?

- Well, I think a lot of who we are

are the things that are imprinted on us

early in our lives as children.

I was always out in the field, in the woods,

in around the bayous.

These creatures are things I just became very familiar with.

They were just part of my daily existence.

And so knowing what they meant to our culture,

particularly in Louisiana,

I was able to attach certain meanings

to these things that

some of the meanings had origins

going back couple of thousand years.

Some of them were origins that

in what I experienced of the icon.

One example might be the rabbit.

And we've always heard the term wild hare.

Well, it's spelled H-A-R-E and it's meant to imply

the kind of insanity that rabbits have in the field.

When we observe them, I mean,

they tend to run for to and fro.

And then coming back to the literature, the March hare.

So I attached a meaning to that

of kind of an impulsive small insanity.

And now use it in that context within the paintings.

- How about Louisiana?

How has the landscape and environment

of your homeland manifested in your work?

- The culture is unique as we know the United States.

And as a result, we have a lot of things

that can be translated into art.

Things that we feel are important here

such as food, joy of living, and through dance, music.

And taking that kind of attitude

and try and infuse that in the painting,

I found that people find it something they can relate to.

- They are rich in magical worlds

that are available to the viewer

that deeper that they look into your painting.

And it's been such a pleasure to be able

to experience a little of what we see through your eyes.

Thank you so much.

- Thank you.

- See more at

The Eustis mansion in Milton, Massachusetts,

is going through a painstaking renovation almost 150 years

after this architectural treasure was built.

When the house was constructed in the 1880s,

it was state of the art with no expense spared.

- [Jared] This is as close to America's landed gentry

as one can get it.

- [Elyse] A country estate, wide open spaces,

the rolling blue hills behind us.

So it's really a sort of idyllic space to be.

- [Jared] For 140 years this has been the grand house

on the hill in Milton, Massachusetts.

An 18,500 square foot home enveloped in green.

For nearly all that time,

it's been the pride and joy of the Eustis family,

starting with newlyweds, W.E.C. and Edith.

They were in their 20s when her parents built the home

as a wedding present.

- Their twin sons were born in 1877

and they moved in here about 1879.

So just a young family of four living in this magnificent

huge house as their starter home.

- [Jared] The Eustises we're very early practitioners

of sustainable living.

In its earliest days,

the home was run as a gentleman's farm.

- They only purchased fish

and a few other things outside of their estate.

They wanted to grow everything here

and truly live off of their own resources

as best they could.

- [Jared Voiceover] Elyse Werling is a Curatorial Assistant

with Historic New England, which purchased the home

in 2012 with an eye toward preservation.

Until then, the property had always remained

in the Eustis family.

Do you have a favorite part of the property?

- [Elyse Voiceover] Well, inside the house,

the parlour is my favorite room.

It's a really nice, warm room.

- [Jared] Historic New England has spent the last five years

and more than $5 million restoring

and improving the home and estate

which had been built with essentially no expense spared.

- [Elyse] They went for the high-end

and the most well-known artisans

and the most connected artisans.

- There's richly carved woodwork

with lots of organic motifs carved throughout.

You'll see acorns, and grapes, and vines,

and birds, all in the carvings.

Everywhere you look there's something, a floral,

even the stained glass windows

are another great example of that.

- [Jared] The mansion was designed by William Ralph Emerson,

a starchitect favored by Boston Brahmin types.

Historic New England's Peter Gittleman

says the home is a rare surviving example

of the Victorian era's Aesthetic Movement

that swept through the United States.

- It's rallying cry was art for art's sake.

And what that really is is saying

is that there is value in art.

And it simply was a love

of deep, saturated, colors, patterns throughout.

- A team of restoration artists methodically

worked their way through the mansion

restoring fixtures, removing layers of paint,

and restoring original colors,

like the dining room which features green walls

flecked with hints of gold.

How extensive was the restoration effort here?

- [Peter] Probably the largest aspect of the restoration

was the the paint work that we did.

Because our goal was to try to bring the paint colors back

to the way that they were in the 1870s and early 1880s

when they were first done. - [Jared] When it was built,

the mansion was state-of-the-art

with an elevator, a high-end kitchen

including this stove which has always remained.

And these.

Speaking tubes.

- Before electricity, speaking tubes is how you basically

communicated with your servant.

One end of the tube you would blow into

and it would produce a whistle which would alert a servant

to come over to the tube that ended in the kitchen.

And then the person calling would basically speak

through the tube and you could pick up

what they were saying. - [Jared] So one step up

from cans and string it sounds like.

- It is and it was better than yelling down the staircase

which is one of the things

that Victorian households absolutely insisted on.

You simply could not bellow through the house.

- [Jared] With the exception of just a couple of rooms

including the dining room and the master bedroom

furnished just as the Eustises designed them,

the home is now filled with less precious

period appropriate furniture.

So visitors can walk throughout the home without a guide

and even sit down in rooms like they own the place.

- [Peter] It's an opportunity for people

to have a historic house experience that they really want,

not the one that we are forcing them to have.

- [Jared] And one that gives

an even stronger impression of house beautiful.

- To learn more, visit

and search Eustis Estate Museum.

And that wraps it up for this edition of "WEDU Arts Plus".

For more arts and culture,


Until next time, I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(dramatic music)

- [Man] Major funding for "WEDU Arts Plus"

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU,

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation

Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969.