Here’s a Way to Learn Art History by the Seat of Your Pants

Photo by Paul Stebner

Most people confronted with a housecleaning project don’t view it as an opportunity to expand their artistic horizons. Then again, most folks don’t look at old pieces of dirty, discarded furniture and have visions of O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, Klimt, and Miró. 

But for busy multimedia artist Merrill Gisondo, a cluttered basement was much more than a looming weekend chore. She saw a roomful of free art supplies just waiting to be given a new lease on life with a few coats of paint. And she recognized the potential to create an entirely new body of work. Now, by introducing ergonomics to art history, Gisondo celebrates the intersection of form with function.

“When I moved to North Carolina three years ago, there were some old chairs in the basement of the house, and they looked pretty boring,” she recalls. “So I started cleaning them up and painting them. Asheville’s a pretty artsy town, and for now the chair thing is something on the side that I enjoy doing. They’re recycled chairs, and I hope they find good homes.”

Merrill Gisondo never saw a chair she couldn’t change. Photo by Paul Stebner

Gisondo confirms that they aren’t just eye candy, but are meant to be sat upon. After painting them with a nature scene or a representation of a famous work of art, she gives her artist chairs a durable protective coating of polyurethane. Her scenes honor Appalachia and Old Masters whose work will show up well on her chosen platform. The composition can present a logistical challenge, since a chair is shaped like two canvases set at a right angle. 

“Sometimes, I will just play with it, and alter it to fit the chair. I love Kandinsky, and his work lends itself to chairs. I did a Magritte, and in the original painting it has a chair floating in the sky. So I changed the chair in the painting so that it matched the chair I was painting on. I haven’t tried Impressionism yet, and I’d like to do a Salvador Dalí, with the melting clock. I think people would like that.”

Always the art teacher, despite being officially retired, Gisondo writes underneath each piece where the original work came from. “I’m an Art History major,” she says, “so I’m up on my artists.”

Gisondo already used up the inventory she inherited in her basement, but keeps acquiring new pieces from other people who are moving and de-cluttering. “I’ve also started painting some tables, and I have a friend who makes Adirondack chairs that I paint. He brands them ‘One Legged Chairs.’”

The chairs, she explains, do have all four legs. But the good-
natured fellow who makes them only has one leg — and a wry sense
of humor.

Classic artworks are ideal for Gisondo’s platform. Photos by Paul Stebner

Merrill Gisondo, EcoDepot Marketplace (408 Depot St. #100, Asheville’s
River Arts District, 828-595-4082, and on Facebook: Artist Chairs by Merrill. For more information, call 914-374-3738 or e-mail

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