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The Fabric of Art

(June 2010) posted on Mon May 24, 2010

Find out how Rusty Arena applies his passion for art to a long-running career of creating unique, screen-printed home décor.

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By Andy MacDougall

You know you are on to someone with an interesting background story when he answers an inquiry about his favorite jobs by relating the story of painting actress Cloris Leachman in the nude. Not a nude painting—they actually body painted Cloris, a long time friend and client, for a photoshoot for a health magazine. It took 14 hours. It was an experience. What’s that got to do with screen printing? We’ll get to that.

Arena Design has operated from the Houston area for more than 20 years. You won’t find their products in the local Home Depot, but you will find them gracing the homes of the rich and famous in magazines such as Architectural Digest, Interiors, Veranda, House Beautiful, Southern Accents, Elle Décor, and various coffee-table books. This company is well known and respected in the U.S. and worldwide in the upper echelons of the interior-design and architectural circles for its original patterned wallcoverings, fabrics, and floorcoverings, which pay homage to ancient tapestries or classic Fortuny designs—but are all original and made in the USA. They’re represented to the trade through exclusive design showrooms in major cities, but I should warn anyone who might be thinking of remodeling that, unless you have an unlimited budget, you should probably skip this article right now.

Portrait of the artist as a young man
The unassuming guy behind the company is Rusty Arena, born and raised in Houston by parents who migrated west from New Orleans. “Both of my parents were encouraging with any and all creative endeavors by me and my two brothers, Ron and Randy,” Arena says. “I remember my mother liked to sew. At around the age of five I was busy gathering bits and pieces of fabric from under her sewing machine. I glued my favorites to paper for no apparent reason, and then added a little paint and crayons. When asked what I was doing, I replied, ‘I don’t know.’ That was my first creation that I remember.”


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