Made in Sarasota

By staff March 1, 2006

Anita Wexler's Misty Creek living room couch is plush purple and turquoise; the accompanying chairs resemble turquoise butter curls on a purple rug, and her dining room chairs are a cheery red. So when you see Wexler's artwork, especially the unique "angel" chairs she makes (featured on HGTV's Crafters Coast to Coast last year), their bursts of tangerine, cobalt, purple and lemon yellow fit right into her eclectic d├ęcor.

"I don't do a lot of brown," says Wexler wryly. "And I don't usually throw a lot of things out."

Wexler's chairs are unlike anything you'll ever see in a furniture store or even in many galleries. She uses frames from ordinary chairs she picks up at garage sales or secondhand shops, but once she's through with them, there's little left of the original. She reupholsters the seats in canvas splashed with color and graphic designs, paints the back and legs, then adds the "angel," made of jigsawed plywood. This includes wings attached to the frame with hinges, a face and arms-lots of arms-so the chair looks like it is part furniture, part sculpture.

One chair has a purple seat with swirly stripes and a six-armed figure behind in peach, purple and blue. Another cheery one has a white frame with a pink, yellow and lavender seat, blue wings and a pair of endearingly crossed arms. A narrow-bottomed sky blue chair has a face and fluttering, upturned arms. She's even created a loveseat with three angels on the back, so animated that sitting on it would feel like joining a party. Each chair sports a heart clustered thickly with buttons, bits of glass and jewelry.

The angel chairs are a new innovation for this artist, whose vivid oil and acrylic paintings fill her home and hang in galleries in Florida and New York City. Wexler grew up in Illinois with a homemaker mother and a father who worked for Caterpillar Construction. Although her siblings went on to practical fields-two nurses, an engineer and a biologist-Wexler was always doodling and drawing. After three years in the Navy, she studied graphic design at Parsons School of Design in New York City, where she lived and worked as a graphic artist for trade publications.

She and her family moved here three years ago. Now she teaches pre-kindergarten at Alta Vista Elementary in the morning, spends afternoons and evenings with her family, and hits the canvas after everyone has gone to bed.

"Now I have less time to paint, but when you get a chance, you have it all saved up," Wexler says. "It's precious and effective."

As well as her chairs, Wexler has several series of paintings, including a line of botanicals, figures, and her latest interest, masks. She gets her inspiration from her travels to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and from interacting with her three lively children, whose games and artwork often give her ideas, and who are perfectly comfortable with their mother's work, often perching on one of her vibrant creations to tie a shoelace. She rarely sketches designs ahead of time, preferring instead to see where the chair will take her, and says that the surprise makes all the hard work of sanding, priming, painting and woodcutting worthwhile.

"You've got to really want to make the chair," she says. "It's the fun of making it and the surprise of what you create."

You can see some of her work at Her angel chairs start at $200. Wexler can be reached at (941) 350-8340.

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