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Mansfield Magazine

Local Artist Talks Inspiration, Lil' Blue Goat & the Benefits of Community Collaboration Within Historic Mansfield

Jan 04, 2017 08:35PM ● By Melanie Heisinger
Lil' Blue Goat is a uniquely located local business within Historic Mansfield. It has plenty of character, and lots of fun trinkets and art pieces to peruse, as well as tasty treats. 

Lil' Blue Goat is located within Dr. Robert Smith's Optometry in Historic Mansfield. It is owned by Mary and Eddie Phillips, one of Mansfield's art power couples. Their art can be seen all around Mansfield, as they have been part of public art projects such as the Mansfield 88 Piano Project, the giant kaleidoscopes just outside the Mellow Mushroom, the Mansfield 30 in 30 mural project, and more. They were also recently featured in one of our articles, "Exploring Art & Creativity in Mansfield."

We were able to get in touch with Mary Phillips, one of the owners, and learn a little but more about her inspirations, as well as her unique store, Lil' Blue Goat. And thankfully, it looks like there will be more exciting projects on the way for the Mansfield Community to enjoy! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Has art always been a passion of yours? 

Playing Alice in
Wonderland-style croquet
I grew up as an only child, and my family moved from North Carolina to northern Indiana when I was quite young.  We stayed in this very cold - and subsequently, often isolating - location until returning to NC when I was 14.  I spent many long, winter days entertaining myself with paper and pencils, crayons, watercolor paints, and a platoon of stuffed animals as companions.  I loved to design things: houses, farms, cities, train cars, wardrobes, wallets, backpacks, RVs - these are a handful of the things I remember designing as a child - drawing intricate plans and often making 3D renditions out of paper and tape.  Somehow, the designs always centered around the aesthetics of livability, usability, and functionality.  

It wasn't until years later when I was studying Botany and Plant Ecology in college that I made the connection between my love of science and art/design.  Form always follows function - and the natural world is filled with beautiful examples of how shapes and patterns arise from fulfilling the most simple needs - structure, stability, safety, survival.  The more I played around with art and design, the more I realized how profound the role shapes, colors, patterns and textures are in our life, and how much they contribute to our comfort and psychological well being.  

I guess you could say that every work of art is also a scientific experiment, because each one begins with a hypothesis: "What will painting an interactive piece of art on a public sidewalk do to make people feel welcome?" or "How can small paintings of an endearing character build a common bond in a community?" or "Will sculptures that invite touch and play help people pause and look around to see what else is in the neighborhood?" 

You have quite a few public projects around Mansfield. What are they, and where did you find your inspiration? 

It is important to note that my husband is the other half of everything found around Historic Mansfield.  I might be the mad scientist with a vision for manifesting the world's most creative and art-filled town, but he is the engineer, muscle, endurance and talent behind all of large-scale pieces that we make. I am a big-picture thinker, and Eddie is all about the details.  

Inspiration is found at the intersection of the big-picture ("How can we make Historic Mansfield into the coolest go-to art destination in Texas?") and the details ("What can we do in this one particular place to make it stand out?" or "How can we use this piano, or scrap of steel pipe, or tiny place on a wall to make it into something engaging and exciting?").  

The inspiration for the giant kaleidoscopes came from the intersection of "wanting to create something bold, interactive, and utterly unique" to stand at downtown's major intersection, and "Gosh, we sure have lots of pipe on hand, what sort of colorful and interactive piece can be made with pipe?"

Mural projects are either brought to us by building owners, or we see a wall and think, "I know what would be totally awesome here!" The Mansfield 30 in 30 Project came to me as a way to fill lots of spaces with interesting, fun, friendly art while simultaneously creating an activity. In this case, a scavenger hunt.

The members of Discover Historic Mansfield initiated the Mansfield 88 Piano Project, and we painted the one at Steven's Garden and Grill.  When a friend offered her late mother's baby grand for the project, I knew it had to be something special, and be housed indoors.  Eddie primed it and we sketched a quilt laying over the top made of 6 x 6 inch squares, then invited the public to come paint a square. This became my first experiment with collaborative community art.

I'm absolutely in love with this concept. I think it has the potential to draw people together, to give them a sense of contribution and connection, to make everyone see how we are literally the sum of our parts. I hope to do many more collaborative community art works in the near future!

Your most recent project, the Mosaic Piano, is gorgeous! How long did that take you? 

The baby grand piano, donated by Angela and Dru Davidson and housed at the Music Place Mansfield Fine Arts Conservatory on S. Main St, was an experiment in using paint to create a collaborative work of art. The mosaic piano, that is out in front of the Chamber of Commerce, was an experiment in using scraps (in this case, of recycled pottery and tile) to form a more graphic, textured piece collaboratively. I did a quick sketch of the flowers on the piano, and smashed and separated tile/pottery pieces into buckets of different colors.  

The sketch was numbered like a paint by number kit, and during a downtown event we invited passersby to help adhere pieces into the design. About 50% of the work was done that night, then Eddie and I, along with a handful of volunteers, picked at piecing in the rest of the tile to fill it out.  

Over all, I guess there is about 100 man-hours in the piece. It took a case of adhesive and boat-loads of grout, along with over 100 pounds of tile and pottery scraps! I think it is a beautiful metaphor for community: each of us may be one small scrap - maybe shiny, maybe small, maybe rough around the edges, but together we are something amazing! 

What's one of your most memorable moments while creating a piece of art? 

Neither Eddie nor I have any formal training in art, it's just something we are driven to do. Every new project is an adventure into the unknown, especially if it involves using materials that are unfamiliar to us. We sold our first job for a custom metal stair railing system before having even purchased a welder, which speaks pretty closely to how most of our new skills are acquired!

The most memorable moments are always when we finish a project and get to absorb that instance of curious confidence at having learned something new and having done something totally innovative.  

My favorite example isn't an installation, but rather an example of group performance art. I had a dream one night that a group of people dressed in Victorian clothing were playing a version of Alice In Wonderland croquet, along the streets paralleling Main Street. I woke up and said, "Why not?" A few weeks later we had over 75 people dressed in costumes come downtown to play croquet with giant plastic balls that were hit through four foot wickets with pink plastic flamingo mallets. (See photo above)

It was a scream. In fact, I think we need to do it again! 

Tell us a about Lil' Blue Goat. What inspired you to open up within an optometrist's office?

1946 - The Smith Building was a
General Store and Pharmacy

The building at 126 North Main Street in Historic Mansfield, Texas, has been owned by the Smith family since it was built in 1895. It opened as a saloon, became a general store and pharmacy with doctor's services in the back, and then became Dr. Robert Smith's optometry office in the mid 1970's. Dr. Smith and his wife, Ann, still practice at this location.

In October 2014, Ann attended a Texas Downtown Association meeting.  The keynote speaker addressed a current dilemma facing small historic areas as they move toward restoration and renewed life: many spaces are occupied by businesses that do not encourage pedestrian interest or retail/residential growth - such as accountants, doctors, insurance companies and owners who simply use their real estate for storage.

One solution posited was to 'space share' window front areas with artists, bakers, gift shop owners, or other 'eye catching' operations that will enhance downtown ambiance and draw shoppers to the area. Ann was convinced. We began remodeling Dr. Smith's window front waiting room November 19, 2014, and officially opened for business January 23, 2015.  

During the restoration, the walls and ceilings were taken back to their original architectural glory, a partition wall was built within four feet of the ceiling, and a new floor was installed. Using salvaged furniture - painted various shades of blue, of course - we created our merchandising spaces, and filled the shop with our art.  

Before this wonderful adventure, people had to know where to find our studio and garden (which used to be out on a 7 acre mini-farm in Rendon, until we sold the place in order to buy a home in Historic Mansfield) to see our creations. And thus, the 'Lil' Blue Goat' was born!

Space sharing is a win-win for everyone: the hosting business receives more walk-in traffic, the tenant has an inexpensive space to launch a retail venture, and the historic district gains more interesting shopping opportunities for residents and visitors to explore!

What's your personal favorite aspect of Lil' Blue Goat? 

I love the family feel of space-sharing, and I love being a pioneer in adaptive use of urban spaces. It is also interesting to be on the forefront of 'micro-retail' and to work within and experiment with the possibilities of using 180 square feet as creatively and efficiently as possible. And I love adding so much color to Main Street.

Can we expect any more projects from you in the future? Are there any currently in the works?

Eddie and I are mid-way through a mural at Level 5 Design Group - on the north facing wall on Main Street. We have sketches and bids out for three other mural projects, and we are prepped to paint hundreds of square feet of ghost signs at the new Main Street Lofts.  

I have an entire three-ring binder of ideas for everything from more interactive sculptures, giant functional pieces of furniture, chalk board mini-mazes, more collaborative community works, to a vision for a sculpture trail, artistic bike racks that spell words, and an MISD student gallery wall.

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