"One of our cats ate one of our goldfish this morning," says artist Starr Hagenbring in one of the many entertaining stories that pepper her rapid-fire conversation. "Pedro has been looking guilty all day."
A conversation with Hagenbring is an animated affair, to say the least. Her art and her home are equally colorful.
A Chicago-area native who grew up in a mid-century modern house, Hagenbring has been active in the arts since childhood. She found an outlet for her creativity in high school theater and developed a passion for costume and set design.
After obtaining a degree in theatrical set design with minors in architectural history and archaeology at the University of Kansas, she moved to New York and pursued a career in costume and set design. To supplement her income, she began designing and hand-stitching one-of-a-kind garments.
Today, her exquisitely detailed pieces are sold at Art & Eyes (3708 Magazine St., 504-891-4494; www.artandeyesnola.com), the Magazine Street store she owns with partner Paul Wilcox. The store is a combination of what the two do best: Wilcox's handpicked selection of unique eyewear and Hagenbring's art.
Hagenbring's jackets are constructed thoughtfully, layer upon layer. Her current collection, the Saint Series comprises jewel-toned silk jackets ornamented with medieval-inspired collages of saints. She paints and hand-stitches each piece. "It's a real sensory delight," she says. "I pick the palette, I cut it out, I paint on it. I love seeing a piece of fabric that is morphed into a piece of clothing."
The store's eyewear ranges from inexpensive Eyebobs to high-end, featherweight leather frames from France. "New vintage" frames (frames made in another era but not pre-owned) and frames made from vinyl records also are part of the fashionable inventory.
Hagenbring describes her hand-sewn works as kaleidoscopic. The word also can be applied to her lively Lower Garden District home. She fell in love with the 19th-century house for multiple reasons — including its view of St. Alphonsus Church's stained glass windows. As a child, Hagenbring colored a window screen to look like stained glass (to her parents' chagrin) and has felt a connection to the beauty and mystery of these windows ever since.
She decorated the house with her brand of multicultural joie de vivre. Color, patterns, art and fine crafts made by artists she's befriended over the years are blended throughout the home. In the entryway, a collection of diminutive Manhattan skyscrapers accompanies a Tiffany lamp. In the dining room, a graphic scarab pattern and stripes mingle with religious iconography. In an upstairs hall, a group of charmingly naive West Virginia landscapes painted by Wilcox's grandmother lends a genteel feel. In the master bedroom, mid-century and Moorish lanterns create a Moroccan-inspired look. In her work studio, rainbow displays of threads and fabrics are neatly arranged along built-in shelves.
"I'm not a minimalist," says Hagenbring, who also has an extensive collection of jewelry from all over the world. "I like to see a lot of detail."
A dash of irreverence connects the variant themes. "I'm a beauty hound and I'm also a humor hound," she says.
After living in Miami and participating in the movement to preserve South Beach, Hagenbring relocated to New Orleans with Wilcox several years ago. "It's so beautiful and charming and it has so much depth," she says. "[Its] individual culture is still happening. That has been lost in so much of the United States." After their friend and fellow artist Jacqueline Bishop told the couple about an ideal Magazine Street property, Hagenbring and Wilcox opened Art & Eyes.
When not in the shop, Hagenbring is often at fine crafts events. Next year, she'll exhibit her wearable art at the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show, The Art of Shopping fundraiser by the Palm Springs Art Museum, The Smithsonian Craft Show and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In February, she'll take part in the Recycled Fashion Show at Rock 'n' Bowl benefiting Bridge House/Grace House.
"I am always making things," Hagenbring says. "I just want to make beautiful stuff that makes people happy."