Lawyer Pat Baker walks to work from his home near downtown Buffalo, carrying dog biscuits for the canine neighbors he has befriended along his daily route. The attorney also picks up discarded objects and rusty castoffs. A judge spotted him one day and asked, "Are things that bad?"
Actually, things -- rusty or otherwise -- couldn't be better for Baker and his award-winning artist wife, Dianne, who uses these "treasures" for her collages.
You never know what's going to be put to use in one of her mixed-media fiber sculptures, including computer circuits and mattress springs.
Yet the Bakers maintain the integrity of their 89-year-old house on Soldiers Place "in a city rich with architectural gems," Dianne Baker said. "Houses in the city are distinctive."
The Bakers arrived in Buffalo from the suburbs years ago after longing for the vitality of city life. "It's too bad that the sense of neighborhood is lost in our isolating society," Dianne Baker said.
She and her husband sought a home with architectural beauty in a stimulating environment, so when they found an artist's house complete with gardens and perennial beds blossoming in colors and textures to delight the eye, they knew they were home.
The third-floor attic of their house evolved into a studio. It had walls of drawers, perfect for the unusual assortment of things that the Bakers found on street corners, in garages and at yard sales.
Knowing every inch of the city, Dianne Baker has been a member, among other organizations, of Buffalo/Niagara WorldConnect for two decades, "because it's important to show visitors how Americans live and point out our city's attractions," she said. "We have too long overlooked the wonderful assets of our city. The variety of theater, art, music, dance that's easily accessed and affordable. We are so culturally rich, you could be busy every night."
This urban artist has also volunteered at Albright-Knox Art Gallery for almost as long, to "support the fantastic collection we have and to educate more people about art, so that it becomes part of their life." You may have spotted her decorated buffalo in South Buffalo, "distinguished by its real pasta," said Wendy Attea Huntington, head of development for Burchfield-Penney Art Center, in her "Herd About Buffalo" guidebook.
Nothing will deter this artist. What has been cast off -- excess rope from a wholesale supplier or film from a librarian -- has found a home in her attic and sooner or later morphed into wall hangings or sculptures that give it new life.
"I never wanted to produce traditional tapestry. I ask myself, 'What is it that makes an object useful, or not useful? When is an object beautiful?' " said Baker, who has a master's degree in social studies from the University at Buffalo, besides her art study in Florence, Italy.
You can see her work at an "Unfamiliar Landmarks" show, which opens at 3 p.m. next Sunday in the Jewish Community Center, 2640 N. Forest Road, Getzville. It will be on display until April 16. There will also be a collection of her work in the Delaware Avenue Jewish Center.
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