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Oakmont gallery owners give new life to unlikely objects

| Sunday, May 18, 2014, 9:09 p.m.
Customized sneakers at Truthful Art in Oakmont
Michelle du Toit Nortier, owner of Truthful Art
Customized sneakers at Truthful Art in Oakmont
Michelle du Toit Nortier, owner of Truthful Art
Details from a custom painted door at Truthful Art.
Details from a custom painted door at Truthful Art
A custom-painted piano in progress
Constantine & Pletcher
Small time: Turn back the hands of time to a more graceful era with this J.E. Caldwell Co. carriage clock that stands just 4.5 inches tall. Estimate: $1,000-$1,500.

The truth is: Oakmont is a pretty creative neighborhood.

One of its inspirations is Truthful Art, a gallery offering laid-back painting workshops, funky furniture makeovers and cool customized sneakers.

Owner Michelle du Toit Nortier, 25, of Fox Chapel focuses on keeping things green through creative reuse. In her Cedar Way studio, she focuses on transforming old or unlikely objects into art.

Nortier's work ranges from colorfully painted Converse All-Star sneakers — water lilies, Elvis portraits and Pittsburgh Penguins — to wine bottles that are “dressed” in fanciful clothing and accessories.

According to Rachel Dawn Renaudin, 25, of Forest Hills, who collaborates with Nortier at Truthful Art, the studio's approach is an extension and an expression of their personal creative philosophy.

“Michelle and I want to share our unique and function standpoint with art,” Renaudin says. “For us, art is far more than a visual description of something. Art communicates, touches and changes people's perspective on reality where words fall short.”

A painter and fellow Edinboro University graduate, Renaudin promotes the studio's work and teaches workshops alongside Nortier.

Those workshops share the artists' passion for painting. Relaxed and inviting affairs by design, Truthful Art welcomes participants to BYOB and serves light fare for the afternoon sessions. Acrylic painting workshops run from noon to 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Classes cost $45 and include paint, brushes and canvas. They are open to adults with any level of artistic experience.

The gallery has caught the attention of other Alle-Kiski Valley artists and art studios. Vesna Leibowitz, who runs Lower Burrell's Artform Gallery and Tattoo with her husband, Seth, says Nortier has collaborated with their artistic efforts in the past.

“We love everything that she's doing, and we always have her work in our shows,” Vesna Leibowitz says. She hopes to see more efforts like Nortier's in the area.

Nortier says she believes in finding beauty in simplicity, be it the quality and character of wood, bottle caps or fabric. That extends to items that are discarded. When she salvages them, she does DIY in her own way.

“I look for these things to not only transform them into art, but into the unexpected,” she says.

Among past projects are an old piano, which she sanded, then repainted with a vibrant scene. Another specialty of Nortier's is giving forgotten doors a makeover. These unlikely canvases are bright with landscapes, portraits and a signature scene that gives the viewer a peep through a large keyhole.

Nortier accepts commissions, too, taking a client's long-forgotten furniture and turning it into a one-of-a-kind functional piece.

Doing so proves beneficial in more ways than one, according to the artist.

“Truthful Art strives to work for a new response from the audience, to reach the people, not just the artists, in a functional, environmental and innovative way,” Nortier says.

To Renaudin, their mission is about not only giving new life to repurposed pieces, but also, she says, redefining what fine art means.

“The core of what this creative center stands for is the openness to approach any surface necessary with artistic intention,” she says. “Whether the concept is more adequately described on canvas, an old window shutter, an abandoned piano or a lampshade, there are no bounds or limits that should ever set an artist back.”

Julie Martin is a contributing writer for TribTotal Media.

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