By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Just out of graduate school metalsmith Autumn Brown had a problem finding a place to call home as an artist.
Studio space to work and display her work was hard to find, expensive and came with landlord issues. “I was always trying to put my studio wherever I could.”
Her own work focused on the combination of metalsmithing with ceramics. After working as a production jeweler, she decided to do her own venture making traditional jewelry “to pay the light bill.”
Her business was Blue Onion, a tribute to her family that had roots in Vidalia, Georgia, the home of the sweet onion variety. She traces her interest to jewelry back to them. Her great-grandparents had a jewelry store and great grandmother who loved porcelain.
She set up shop in an old restaurant, a studio with an “extremely rude” landlord, and shared space with other artist. Never settled, her jewelry and gear had to be ready to move with her to the next location.
She notice as she moved around “all these buses” parked on farms. It was like schools “themselves” of their fleets.
That got her thinking. About two years ago, she finally located a bus, on eBay, a 1985 International Harvester with less than 50,000 miles on it. She paid $2,600 for it.
The bus had a varied history – a transport vehicle for the Air Force, a senior citizens bus, a hunting lodge and a home for a young couple.
Her boyfriend and parents, “thought she was crazy.”
Undeterred she set about transforming it into an artistic home on wheels, a place to work, teach and display her own and other artists’ jewelry.
Now the Blue Onion Bus, BOB, is visiting Bowling Green. Brown was brought to campus by Bowling Green State University metals instructor Marissa Saneholtz, who knew her from graduate school.
Brown gave a workshop on campus, and then set up a display of student work. The bus will be parked at Art Supply Depo, 435 E. Wooster St., today (Nov. 12) from 10 a.m.to 6 p.m.
Brown said the bus offers an alternative to young, struggling artists.
Not that getting BOB into shape was an easy task. Brown tore out the furnishings. She ripped out the flooring, and built it up again.
Throughout she tried to recycle what she took out. She’d just started teaching at Eastern Michigan University as the coordinator of the school’s metals program, so students could use what she did not need.
And she then employed reused materials when she could. She got hickory flooring from friends who had a water heater explosion in their kitchen. She finished off the center aisle with oak that she believes was once a basketball court.
Brown had to redo the roof. She scraped off all the paint, stripped all the rust with acid and then treated it to keep rust off. She then finished it with a special coating for buses that had porcelain balls in it. “I liked that.”
She also stripped a layer of the exterior paint.
In the past year, she’s brought it to several events.
The most recent and ambitious was participation at Charlotte Contemporary. The Blue Onion bus had to be shipped to North Carolina on a flatbed truck, another adventure for Brown.
For the art show, Brown assembled an exhibit, Leaders in American Studio Jewelry: 1940-2000. Some of the work from that show is on display in the bus along with the BGSU student and faculty work.
The Blue Onion Bus “is an evolving thing.” Brown said she plans to keep it even if it stops running, though she’s been told mechanically it’s in good shape.
“I’ll always have it,” she said, as studio, exhibit and teaching space. “I like how it’s changing. I’m looking forward to see where it goes.”