An artist for life, Brackney’s passion influences generations

Credit the parents of Marilyn Brackney — a founder and coordinator of the long-running Déjà Vu Art and Fine Craft Show — with teaching her the concept of reusing everyday materials to create art.

It wasn’t a raised environmental consciousness on the importance of recycling that motivated Joe and Millie Hanna. Necessity forced them to find other things for preschool daughter Marilyn to draw on after she pulled hard-copy books out of the family bookshelves and decorated blank pages at the end with the earliest of her artwork.

Mother Millie brought home pages of no-longer-needed business forms from her office job at the Montgomery Ward store in Terre Haute, with blank back sides of the sheets serving as canvas for Marilyn’s art. Dad Joe, meanwhile, contributed to the family initiative with cardboard shirt forms that came back with pressed dress shirts he wore to work as a Terra Haute advertising agency copy writer and owner.

While the innocent destruction of family reading material stopped, creative ideas were starting to form inside the head of one young Hoosier.

As a child of the 1940s, Brackney began to develop the imagination used in her creation of art while listening to radio shows such as “The Green Hornet” adventure series and the “Fibber McGee and Molly” situation comedy. Too early to have a living room television to view pictures with her eyes, the youngster instead invented images in her mind.

And while art would eventually fill her life with a satisfying creative outlet, she didn’t seem destined for that as a high school graduate.

Facing an impending deadline to declare her major as an Indiana State University freshman, Brackney put on her thinking cap.

“I always liked to draw. I guess I’ll be an art major,” she recalled of her seat-of-the-pants decision.

A year later, Brackney’s college counselor suggested adjusting her major to art education, which carried financial benefits in the form of merit scholarships, earned during sophomore through senior years of her undergraduate program at Indiana State.

After graduation, Brackney would teach art in public schools over the next 20 years.

Without much of a public-school budget for art supplies, the resourceful teacher turned to trash, or repurposed waste — just as her parents did for her — to fill her classroom cabinet.

After ending her career as a K-12 educator, she continues to teach elementary-age students by leading them through summer and winter art lessons from the second-floor studio of her home on the north side of Columbus.

Brackney’s educator influence also fuels lesson plans available for creative young minds through her website, www.kid-at-art.com. The free educational art resource, also known as The Imagination Factory, was created in 1996 to encourage people to repurpose materials in the creation of art.

That came four years after she created Trashasaurus Rex, a dinosaur model made with household trash Brackney had collected.

At 9 ½ feet tall and about 10 feet long, the model dinosaur was stuffed with paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, egg cartons and about 300 grocery bags. It was created as a protest against a 1990 federal court ruling forcing Indiana landfills to accept solid waste from other states.

With a frame made of chicken wire and six layers of papier-mache plus an outer layer that included old gloves for the dinosaur’s humps, Trashasaurus Rex debuted in Columbus in November 1992. After being stored for years in a shed on the Brackneys’ property, it became a permanent exhibit at the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum in North Carolina in 2000.

Brackney’s passion for creative reuse of materials led to the 2005 creation of the popular Déjà Vu Art and Fine Craft Show, which she has coordinated each of the past 16 years. The 17th Déjà vu show will be held Nov. 12 at The Commons.

Brackney has utilized many art mediums over her lifetime. Starting with using her finger pressed against her home’s frosty wintertime windows at age 3 to draw faces, Brackney has also created art through traditional means such as water color, slate etching, pencil drawings, pen-and-ink drawings, sculpture, paintings and print making.

Brackney has concentrated the majority of her creative time the past three decades, however, on a 900-year-old process of creating designs that resemble the stone marble. In marbling, acrylic paint is applied from a vat of water to paper or fabric, often later incorporated into collages for mixed-media art.

Brackney learned about marbling during classes offered by a Columbus arts organization. A recent empty-nester at the time, she was looking to widen her interests in art.

Brackney’s developing expertise with this art medium resulted in her acceptance into the exclusive nonprofit Indiana Artisan organization in 2017. It features art and food creations made by 220 Hoosier artists and foodists from 56 Indiana counties.

Launched in 2008 as an economic development program within state government, Indiana Artisan transitioned to a non-profit corporation in 2011 with a mission to connect the state’s creative communities with a select group of artisans who produce exceptional fine art and craft, food and beverage.

Each year, Indiana Artisan food and art jury panels meet to review applications of prospective new members. In the group’s 2021 jury panels, 11 of 40 applications were approved for Indiana Artisan designation.

Although five other current Indiana Artisans work in mixed media, Brackney is the only one who does marbling, which produces designs that can never be duplicated.

“It’s a happy surprise. You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.

With her experience running the Déjà vu art show, Brackney stepped up to help organize and publicize last year’s self-guided Indiana Artisan IN Columbus show at the Columbus Learning Center, held June 1 through Aug. 15. The first-time exhibit included about 200 pieces of art made by 67 artists from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River. It was part of the Columbus Area Bicentennial Celebration.

“Considering Indiana Artisan IN Columbus was a first-time show, that COVID precautions limited access to the building and the public was cautious about indoor events of any kind last summer, the artists scored the show a win,” said Rosalyn Demaree, Indiana Artisan executive director and president.

Nine of the exhibitors sold pieces totaling nearly $3,000. Several more sold work after the show closed to people who had visited it.

“Marilyn’s energy was unstoppable. She was the key person to get news coverage and promotion about the show in Columbus and the surrounding area,” Demaree said. “People who work at the Columbus Learning Center told us it was the best-attended show the building has hosted.”

People who have come to know Brackney have witnessed the passion she exudes.

“She is a relentless promoter of her beloved hometown and a tireless advocate for the arts. Her classes for children are building the next generation of Hoosier creatives, and her personal campaign to make adults aware of art is inspiring,” Demaree said.

Now 78, Brackney doesn’t see a time when she will voluntarily step aside as artist and art teacher.

“When my husband retired, he said: ‘I guess you can retire, too’,” Brackney said. “And I said no. Tell a bird not to sing? You just don’t turn this off.”