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Through the Looking Glass

After carving out a new life, Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art.

Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

Brilliant afternoon sunlight pours into Robin Pierson’s studio, illuminating the antique windows, sea glass, seashells, and pieces of wood and glass that line every wall and cover every surface of the room. With a stove warming the garage-turned-artist’s space in Gray Gables, the organized chaos of Pierson’s studio feels like home. Hammer in hand, Pierson methodically flattens a collection of shells that are too bulky for use in her art.

Robin Pierson adds the flair of color and texture to windows and walls with her one-of-a-kind window art, displaying all of the beautiful treasures she’s collected. Pierson dedicates her days to creating and showing her unique decorative works. From a swirl of shells and sand to framed chart maps with oceanic relics to custom memory windows, the diversity of Pierson’s projects is only matched by the array of materials she incorporates. “I’m just so amazed by some of this stuff. To some people, it may look like a piece of broken pottery,” Pierson, 52, says while sifting through a bag of ocean-smoothed pottery pieces. “To me, it’s beautiful, and I wonder where it came from. You just don’t know how old it is or how far it traveled.”

Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

Ten years ago, Pierson was behind a desk in corporate America. As the human resources manager at Ocean Spray for 13 years, Pierson frequently gave unhappy employees the same piece of wisdom: “You’re the only one who can change it.” When tragedy struck Pierson’s life three times, she decided to take her own advice. “After I lost both of my parents and my husband in a six-year span, it was like someone slapped me in the face and said you’re really not going to live forever,” Pierson says. “It made me step back and really look at my life.”

Pierson left Ocean Spray in 2003 to start her own business as an artist. She pursued art in her youth—her mother taught her how to knit and draw her way to a “most creative” yearbook superlative—and her creativity resurfaced at the perfect time. “It’s been the best thing I’ve done in my whole life. I don’t regret it,” she says.

Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

In the spring of 2004, Pierson established Robin’s Nest Interiors, painting faux finishes like bricks or floral patterns, and painting kitchen cabinets, furniture, and walls of people’s homes. The following year, she enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in 2005, studying decorative painting while continuing to help organize and add colors and to her clients’ homes.

During her annual winter trip to Key West in 2005, Pierson dined in a restaurant that had tables decorated with fake coins from the historic Mel Fisher shipwreck, the coins cast in resin. Pierson started imagining other applications of this object-casting method, and thought “it would be great if you could see through [the table].” Soon she developed an idea that was so exciting, she woke up at 2 a.m. to test it out. Arranging shells, colored glass, beads, and a piece of her mother’s jewelry on the glass of an old window, Pierson cast her first decorative window in her kitchen before sunrise.

In the winter of 2008, Pierson traveled to St. Augustine, Florida to establish a Florida chapter of Robin’s Nest Interiors, her window art on the backburner. As winter came to an end, Pierson and her boyfriend returned to Key West, where he ran into a friend involved with a local art and music show. There was one open artist slot for the show, and Pierson’s boyfriend volunteered his girlfriend—and her decorative windows—to fill it. “I said to him, I have no idea how to be in a show, or how to price anything!” Pierson chuckles. Pierson brought a dozen of her decorative windows to the show and sold almost every one. “That’s when I knew that [window art] was going to be my next adventure.”

Pierson uses resin to cast onto glass a carefully selected, precisely placed arrangement of seashells, sand dollars, starfish, sea glass, sea pottery, fish bones, beads, pearls, jewelry, sand, split peas, gravel—any materials with complementary colors and textures. The “canvas” for each piece varies as much as the materials: salvaged antique windows, French doors, mirrors, custom framed glass hangings, fireplace screens, glass shutters, cabinet doors, and more.

One of the first shops that displayed her window art was Pentimento in Chatham. “Her work comes from her heart, and everything she does has a special touch,” says Pentimento owner Suzy Nickerson. “Her work embraces all the beautiful aspects of nature . . . the flow and the colors of sand and the tides. Because her work flows so beautifully, you get that feel of motion and the feel of a walk on the beach. And you can bring that feeling into your house.”

Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

The creative process for each project usually begins with an inspiration piece—a shell, a piece of sea-worn pottery, a vintage necklace. With that piece as the focal point of the design, she selects other materials that work aesthetically with the inspiration piece and then “paints” with the materials, spiraling bits of glass, sand, and pearls, for example, out from the focal point.

“I work really hard at getting [the design] balanced, like you would paint a painting,” Pierson says, holding up a window sprinkled with blue glass, seashell pieces, iridescent beads, and a chunky piece of frosted sea glass. Her fastest-selling pieces measure 19.5 inches wide and feature the swirling “Beach Walk” design, inspired by the washed up shells, sea glass, and other artifacts that she finds on daily walks along the Cape Cod Canal with her rescue dog, Savannah.

Pierson’s chart windows are also popular wall hangings. She sets a chart map inside of an antique window, and designs around the map’s features a flowing arrangement of shells or sea glass or stones from the area. “I’ve done custom charts for people where I’ll locate the chart of where they live and use shells and things that they’ve collected,” she says, noting that she’s designed windows with maps of Buzzards Bay, the Carolinas, and Florida.

Robin Pierson found a successful niche in decorative art

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

Regardless of the clientele or locale, it comes down to aesthetics. For the Florida crowd, she uses brighter blues and more tropical pieces, like ocean-tumbled glass, pottery, and shells that she finds in Key West or purchases from a couple in Bermuda that collects for her. For her Cape Cod clients, she incorporates shells from the area and slightly more subdued hues.

In the 10 years since she left the workaday world, Pierson says she’s actually worked harder than ever. However, the happiness she has found is a fair wage. “When I get up in the morning and the sun is shining through one of my window pieces, it puts a smile on my face,” she says. “When people see my work, I want them to think that is really beautiful . . .I don’t want them to think too deeply about it. I’ve had so many people say, ‘It just makes me feel good when I look at it.’ And that’s all I want.”

Ashley Owen is a freelance writer and a former Cape Cod Life Publications intern.



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