‘Art is freedom,’ Marilyn Tanner approaches craft with devil-may-care attitude

Photo Kristin Schultz
Niskayuna artist Marilyn Tanner's work has been displayed in the Schenectady County JCC as part of the center's rotating exhibition program.Photo Kristin Schultz Niskayuna artist Marilyn Tanner's work has been displayed in the Schenectady County JCC as part of the center's rotating exhibition program.

By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

There is nothing in Marilyn Tanner’s world that cannot be turned into art, not even the collar on a fur coat.

Throughout November and December, the Niskayuna native’s artwork was on display at the Schenectady JCC as part of its exhibition program.

Tanner does not peddle in oil paints and bowls of fruit on a table. Rather, she revels in texture, dimension and the unexpected.

Art is who Tanner is. She wears thick, black-framed, cat-eye shaped glasses she bought in Israel. She wears leggings in a bold black-and-white geometric pattern and a long black winter coat with a fur-lined collar.

And she’s always loved art, although, she said frankly, she wasn’t good at it. She envied her naturally gifted high school classmates.

“It never stopped me from trying,” Tanner said. “I’m still plodding along. I try different things. I’ll try anything and everything.”

Everything includes fabric collage, ceramics, sculpture, needlepoint (“That makes you feel like an artist,” Tanner said), quilt art and zentangle — the art of doodling structured designs that may eventually turn into a picture.

She lived in Israel for a year in the 1970s. There she met Thierry, a Frenchman.

“He was better looking than Paul Newman,” she said. “He was beautiful.”

Though the romance bloomed, Tanner did not wish to give up her life in the United States and move to Strasbourg, France. She broke it off, but the two remained in contact.

He proved to be her muse for three pieces displayed in the JCC exhibit. Two charcoal drawings and a multimedia rendering of her beau as quilt art including leather, fur, acrylic paint and thread.

Photo Kristin Schultz Marilyn Tanner drew on her past for these works. They all feature her former French beau, Thierry.

Photo Kristin Schultz
Marilyn Tanner drew on her past for these works. They all feature her former French beau, Thierry.

“Art is freedom,” Tanner said. “Nobody can tell you what to do.”

Nobody could tell her not to trim the fur off a coat to use as hair on a fabric collage figure. Nobody could tell her not to let portions of her work extend outside the frame. Nobody could tell her not to buy a fixer-upper home or not to buy a huge hand-blown chandelier while on a trip to Hong Kong.

Photo Kristin Schultz Marilyn Tanner uses thread, water color, acrylic and other materials in her quilted pictures.

Photo Kristin Schultz
Marilyn Tanner uses thread, water color, acrylic and other materials in her quilted pictures.

Photo Kristin Schultz Local artist Marilyn Tanner works with textures and dimension as seen here in a quilted portrait of a woman.

Photo Kristin Schultz
Local artist Marilyn Tanner works with textures and dimension as seen here in a quilted portrait of a woman.

Tanner’s art reflects her devil-may-care attitude. Her fabric collages are three-dimensional and feature fabric figures with painted, polymer clay faces. For a couple of collage pieces, Tanner used printed scarves and added elements. In one case, it appears that three men are tumbling through a night sky.

When she was working on another fabric collage, she could not figure out what to use to create hair on a figure. She finally found the perfect material on a fur-trimmed coat. She snipped off some pieces and glued them to the collage. Done.

Her childhood friend, Leslie Neustadt comes over and the two “play art.” Tanner said the two will spend hours digging through the totes of supplies in Tanner’s basement and offer one another advice on projects.

“I’m blessed to have met her,” Tanner said.

The show at the JCC was her first. She didn’t want to sell any of her work, only display it. When the show ended, she planned to take the pieces home, where  shewill keep creating. She has a library of how-to craft books she is anxious to dig into.

Her children have left the house, but all live in the area. Tanner has four grandchildren and another on the way.

“I am a grateful person,” Tanner said. “I wake up every day and live a life of gratitude.”