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Alongside the azaleas and calla lilies, an artistic partnership blossomed this spring. Like a beach sunflower, the creative collaboration and friendship between painter Ashley Cassens and jewelry designer Nicki Turner unfolded and stretched toward the sun.

Their collection, entitled “Florescence,” marries prints of Cassens’s oil paintings with a corresponding pair of clay earrings by Cori Rose Handmade artist Nicki Turner. The collection is an ode to the eccentricities, adornments, and charms of a woman’s appearance that have been, and are often still, held against us as ‘over the top,’ ‘temptations,’ ‘too much’ – as “Eye Traps.”

“EYE TRAPS” BY ASHLEY CASSENS

Ashley Cassens is a Central Florida representational figure painter and Florida Southern College graduate. She grew up in Daytona Beach and moved to Lakeland for college, where she earned her Bachelor in Fine Arts in 2006. She went on to obtain an MFA from Florida Atlantic University in 2017.

Her work has been exhibited at the ARC Gallery in Chicago, the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach, the Box Gallery in West Palm Beach, and Palm Beach State College. The artist recently had two of her paintings, “Stirring Secrets” and “Sprinkles,” picked up for licensing at Home Goods. In addition to her career as a commissioned painter, Cassens teaches elementary art. 

“I fell in love with it,” she said of representational figure painting. “I’m not the kind of person that can wrap my brain around how to make things abstract. It’s hard for me to pair things down and simplify them. I want to make them more complex all the time.”

Her most recent series of traditional oil paintings on patterned fabrics is called “Eye Traps.” The name and theme of the series is the reclamation of a term that had been used to shame women. It comes from a pamphlet released by the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), often described as a Christian cult. Cassens listens to podcasts while she’s painting and was enthralled in the “Some Place Under Neith” podcast episode covering the IBLP.

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The IBLP pamphlet, “Learn Ten Ways to Direct the Eyes of Others to Your Countenance,” is a guide on appearance. It features every girl’s favorite hit, “Wear a Smile.” The leaflet includes tips on choosing a hairstyle to complement the face shape, accents to wear near your face, how to “say the right things with your eyes,” and proper posture. It reads in part, “A lady’s knees must always be kept together when sitting. For the best impression and good health, legs should be crossed at the ankles. Her body should not look as though it were ‘draped’ over the chair.”

Ashley Cassens was especially inspired by rule number six: Avoid Eye Traps. Don’t show skin, don’t wear ‘teasing’ fabrics that might cling to the body, or bright spots of color that draw attention away from the face (I think the IBLP is looking at us, ladies). Anything that could draw attention away from the face – accessories, fads, written messages on t-shirts, or any ‘excesses’ – are considered eye traps. There’s even a handy guide in the back to help identify outfits that may include a dreaded eye trap.

“All the things they talked about being “eye traps” are what I think make women so beautiful and amazing and unique,” Cassens said. “I wanted to flip this negative term and make it a positive term and trap your eye visually with something that was captivating and beautiful.” The women in her series defy the concept of an “Eye Trap” – some with chopped hair, chunky earrings, bright eyeshadow, and unbothered expressions. She had already been working on the series before she named it, and when she heard the term, she felt it encapsulated her subjects and what drew her to them.

After a successful collaboration with interior designer Ann Cox, Cassens wanted to work with another artist again. This time to create something wearable – perhaps a jeweler or sunglass designer. She had a short list of designers she thought would be a good fit, but when she spoke with Nicki Turner, owner, and designer of the Lakeland-based clay jewelry start-up Cori Rose Handmade, the search was over. They clicked immediately and found they had mutual connections.

“It was awesome to have another mom to collaborate with because we understand each other’s schedules are tight, and there may be interruptions, and we feel like we don’t have to be so apologetic about it, which is nice,” Cassens said.

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CORI ROSE HANDMADE

Nicki Turner grew up in Illinois, moved to South Carolina, and then landed in Lakeland to attend Southeastern University. She majored in Social Work and has a master’s degree in Human Services. Turner worked with the Department of Children and Families and has volunteered at Parker Street Ministries. She and her husband founded a church in the Parker Street neighborhood called Strong Tower Church.

You might say Cori Rose Handmade was born through a clay play date with her daughters. Turner had so much fun making clay donuts with her girls that she was instantly inspired, and design ideas and color palates swirled through her mind. She began following related accounts on social media and checking out books on clay at the library.

Eventually, Turner started a social media account for Cori Rose Handmade, dedicated to sharing her creations with friends. She wasn’t selling her jewelry but would happily gift them. Her friends and family implored Turner to offer her art for sale. “It was a hard concept for me – thinking about selling something that I love to do because I just wanted to share the joy that I had making it with other people,” she said.

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Last summer, she started attending markets as a vendor and launched an online store. Her daughters are still involved with Cori Rose Handmade. She and her mini business partners gather for business meetings where they discuss color palettes. She’ll ask the girls what they’re drawn to or what colors make them feel happy. “In our house, we love to play with color – mugs, nail polish, art on the walls.”

In June, Turner left her job at Southeastern to create full-time for Cori Rose Handmade. She’d worked at the college for three years and missed spending time with her girls. She wanted to volunteer at their school and her church more often and work on her designs. “While I was at work, I was daydreaming about making earrings and color palettes,” she laughed.

This spring, when an email from Ashley Cassens came through, Turner looked up the artist and was thrilled at the possibility of a collaboration. “I was blown away by her work,” Turner said.

The pair went back and forth on an idea that would incorporate one another’s art. They worked on color palettes and mood boards for the collaboration. Once the earrings were complete, Cassens added them to her paintings. The pair didn’t meet in person until their collection debut at Venue 650 in June.

“This doesn’t seem real, this dream of working with another artist,” Turner said. “I feel like we work very well together even though we haven’t known each other long. […] It’s a unique thing to meet someone else and just get each other and work together so well.”

Cassens and Turner have two bundles for sale in the Florescence Collection, each including a 5x7 print and corresponding clay earrings. The limited collection includes the “Rosario” bundle and the “Praised Mightily” bundle.

The name Florescence suited their joint efforts. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a state or period of flourishing.” The title paid homage to that love of floral and the positively blooming subjects of Cassens’s “Eye Traps” series. “We both loved florals. We loved the idea of blooming,” Turner said. “These women, they’re blooming, and their beauty is showing through who they are.”

The Florescence Collection is available for pre-order at corirose.com. Keep up with both artists on social media to see what markets they will attend in the future (and maybe future projects together).

 

Cori Rose Handmade

www.corirose.com

FB @corirosehandmade

IG @corirosehandmade

 

Ashley Cassens

www.ashleycassens.com

FB: Ashley Cassens Art

IG @ashley.cassens

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