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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.


By Andy MacDougall

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“We had hired a series of employees over the years, but it was exhausting to train new staff. My absence had a negative effect on the morale and quality—one needed to possess the passion to create and take pride in what was produced. Only one employee had all the required skills and temperament to stay working with me for the last 14 years. His name is Ruben Mason. Without his commitment, it would have been almost impossible to survive so many twists and turns in the road. He is currently the head of production. Tina Sloan is my assistant, which is not an easy task. Her job is to keep us on schedule, maintain showroom sampling, invoicing, and shipping. My other key worker is Jose Sanchez, a good printer and builder and overseer of the studio and adjoining property. It’s hard to put together a good team. I have one now and consider them to be extended family.”

Arena Design made a conscious decision to strive to create the finest unique hand-made products on the market (Figure 3), surmising correctly this would get his products noticed in the major design magazines. Rusty was inspired by Mariano Fortuny, a Spaniard living in Venice, who died in 1949. He manufactured some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world and was called the magician of Venice for transforming Egyptian cotton into opulent recreations of 17th-century handwoven silks. Other historical textile designs were lovingly rescued and preserved, thereby creating a legacy to which other designers can refer. The conservation of these antique patterns provides us with the basis of most traditional motifs we see today.

Fortuny’s fabrics are still produced in Venice, many years after his death, on machines he invented in the early 1900s. Many in the interior-design world consider Arena to be a latter day Fortuny. His commitment to excellence and innovation in the mixing of printing and handwork continue to produce articles, reviews, and spreads in all of the major interior-design magazines. This has led to increased sales and ongoing representation that has allowed him to grow and stabilize the business. Arena’s company purchased its own building three years ago—a major accomplishment—to better handle future challenges.

“As for the future of Arena Design, I think it will endure. I hope my dedication to preserving and developing new printing techniques will not be replaced by a computer-generated image,” Arena says. “I hope there will always be the real thing out there so people can choose. I’ll continue to edit through new technology, select that which is useful, and incorporate into a workable relationship with passion to continue growth. It is a joy to create; it is what I do, and those moments under my mother’s sewing machine playing with bits of fabric have become my life.”

Andy MacDougall
Andy MacDougall is a screen-printing trainer and consultant based on Vancouver Island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. E-mail your comments and questions to andy@squeegeeville.com.


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