ASHEVILLE — Kathy Lonas had no idea what the nest she found on her farm would do for her son’s career. But it became the focal point of hundreds of works of art by Mitchell Lonas, a resident artist in Asheville.
Then, last November, the set director of the popular “Twilight” movie series found one of those nest paintings in Gallery Bienvenu in New Orleans.
The gallery called Mitchell Lonas on his birthday, Nov. 18, and told him that the set director of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” might want his nest painting for the movie’s set. And that the set director might want to commission him to make another one like it to make a pair.
A few months later, it was confirmed. Even though the 6-feet-by-4-feet paintings of robins’ nests would have to be shipped to the movie set in Canada, the set director “wasn’t interested in anything else.”
The paintings will probably float in front of a large-scale window across from the entryway to the Cullens’ house in the fourth and fifth “Twilight” movies, according to Mitchell, who is ecstatic about the whole string of events.
It all started when Lonas, who predominately painted portraits after graduating from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville with an art degree, pulled out a nest his mother had given him.
In his basement studio, with a shiny piece of aluminum placed on his easel and a light above it, Lonas started carving the image of a nest into the metal.
“I got really emotional, and I knew I was onto something,” he said.
The nests are a tribute to his mother, he said, the kindest person ever in Lonas’ book. “I think a lot of times, energetically I try to put feelings from my mother — my sense of home — in my work,” he said.
Back in 1998, long before any of his nest creations, his mother showed him three or four nests she had found on their property.
Kathy Lonas said one of the nests was made completely out of their two horses’ hair — a red horse and blonde horse — all wound together and “mingled” together into a nest home.
“It’s so exciting to see a little bird carry a limb or branch and build a home,” she said.
She showed them all to him, he loved them, and she told him they were probably from a “wrench.” Her son told her that she was probably combining the word “wren” and the word “finch.” They both laugh about it now.
It turned out to be a swallow’s nest that would change Mitchell Lonas’ artistic career completely.
He had long carried those nests with him, but in that basement he finally discovered how he wanted to share them with others.
Within a few weeks, he had a whole show put together. “I ended up calling the show the ‘Wrench Series,’” he said with a grin.
The initial creation Lonas made on aluminum, which he keeps in his studio, doesn’t show off the glint or starkness of the nests, but now he gets his aluminum pieces powder-coated with an opaque black or white paint covering. Then he uses customized cutting tools to incise designs into the aluminum.
The result? “The light catches different parts, showing off different lights,” Lonas said.
Also, the dark, empty space or “negative” space in the paintings gives one’s eye a place to rest, according to the artist. He noted how a lot of paintings force one’s eye to see everything too obviously.
According to Lonas, gallery owner John Cram phrased the way a nest inspires best of all. “The nest is a precarious thing. It sets into mind the ideas of security,” Cram said. “It’s not about abandonment — it’s about security and home.”
Lonas also carves trees and floating feathers into his metal canvases once in a while. “Nature gives us the most to work with,” he said. “As a mother wants her child to leave, she lets a few feathers out of the nest.”
Lonas is doing what he loves, but he never realized that his passion would generate as much work as it does. “The moment I finish things, they go out,” he said.
Right now, he is working with the retail store Nordstrom, creating seven to 12 paintings for every new store they build.
That also increases his visibility as an artist, he said.
While busy with work, Lonas said he won’t miss the premiere of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1”
later this year.
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