By Jeanne Sager
NORTH BRANCH May 24, 2005 Jillian Rahm Switko and husband Marc Switko pooh-pooh the idea that you need to know how to draw or paint to be an artist.
A great doctor is an artist, Marc said. He takes it to that level.
The owners of the North Branch Art Company prefer to look for the tools of their trade where others would turn up their noses.
Marcs parents dragged him to auctions and flea markets when he was a small boy growing up in eastern Sullivan County.
Jillians dad was an auctioneer.
So they live the old saying, One mans trash is another mans treasure.
They notice funky spools and old cans, keys to old doors and earrings that are missing their mates.
Its like comfort food for us old junk, Jillian said with a laugh.
And in this months issue of the Disney-owned magazine Family Fun, the Switkos are showing a group of eight local youngsters Something to Treasure.
The couple which has made found-object art both a living and a life attracted the eyes of the national magazine last year.
After years of holing up in a trailer in Monticello just creating, the Switkos purchased a 19th century building in North Branch and began opening their studio to the public.
Choosing his words carefully, Marc explained the decision to go from full-time creators to part-time educators.
Because its financially tricky to do what we do for a living, it turned into workshops and classes, he explained.
And parties, Jillian added, kids parties, corporate parties.
The Switkos still sell their collages, shadow boxes and ornate mirrors on the arts and crafts circuit. Theyve made connections and gotten into some of the top juried shows on the East Coast.
But theyve found that teaching their trade is just as important, especially for kids.
You cant have a good scientist or mathematician without art, Marc explained.
But kids go to an art class and learn about perspective and straight lines. They dont learn to let go.
The workshop featured in the May Family Fun takes the power of the artist and puts it directly in the hands of the child.
The eight children, all local, were given the chance to pore through the Switkos studio, picking out bright-colored buttons and bits of wrapping paper, feathers and photographs to create their own shadow boxes.
And the Switkos offered up tips, included in a sidebar to the Family Fun article on making your own box at home.
The couple is in the process of expanding their offerings this summer, inviting people to set up classes at the North Branch studio or in their own homes or businesses.
Taking these found objects, allowing people to pick and choose what will go on their own piece, offers a connection to the art thats unbelievable, Marc noted.
Adults love it because it brings them back to being kids, he explained. Its taking memories and making something new.
Not just throwing it away, Jillian added.
The kids love it too, Marc continued. Were teaching them artistic freedom; they realize art is not just about learning specific techniques.
Wooden spools, an old plastic doll, seaglass, glue . . . doesnt sound like the art kids learn in school.
Marc would agree.
Its just the way you put it together, he explained.
The Switkos have been putting things together since the late 90s when Marc encouraged Jillian to make her first collage.
At the time, Jillian, a Parsons School of Design alum, was sick with Lymes disease and had little energy for her work doing commercial art for places like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn.
Marc, who has a masters degree in counseling from SUNY New Paltz, suggested the collage as a form of therapy, and somehow the ideas took off.
The couple decided to quit their jobs and move back to Sullivan County where Marcs family has lived for generations.
They developed a process of working together on pieces, building shadow boxes with the objects that caught their eyes and creating huge mirrors with glittering glass and baudy beadwork.
Im the drawing force behind the ideas . . . but Jill really brings them to fruition, Marc explained.
The couple has made major sacrifices for their art Jillian jokes about the muffler missing from her car; shes on a mission to see just how long she can last without it.
But along with daughter Emma, who will be 3 in July, theyre eking out an existence and creating their niche.
Their goal is to spread their love of another mans junk.
For more information on the Switkos and their workshops, call the North Branch Art Company at 482-4203 or e-mail Jillian and Marc Switko at firstname.lastname@example.org.