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Setting the Tones

Brown furniture bored artist Maidew Ack. Now bright masks and hand-painted tables reflect her sensibilities.


Maidew Ack looks the part of an artist. Dressed in black leggings, black T-shirt and a black vest festooned with appliqued elephants, the spirited sexagenarian exudes a Bohemian air better suited to a loft in SoHo than a ground-level apartment in Laguna Hills.

But, oh, what an apartment.

Forget that it has the same floor plan as the hundreds that surround it.

"I wanted color," Ack said, gesturing to her brightly hued artwork and hand-painted furniture. "I got tired of looking at brown furniture."

Ack painted a pecan dining room table, which she's had for more than 45 years, black with lines of white, gold and orange arranged like pickup sticks. She even tackled the backs of the table's leather chairs. And a sofa table in the dining room went from brown to a combination of red, light blue, orange and purple with dancing, bejeweled stick figures adorning the top.

"With the furniture, I had no idea about what I was going to do; you start it and it just takes on a life of its own," Ack said. "For instance, on the top of the sofa table I originally was going to make flowers, but they just started to look like dancers."

Nothing proved sacred in Ack's campaign to brighten her furniture. Her grandmother's wooden rocking chair was transformed from brown to a combination of yellow, red, purple and blue.

"It's going to be in the family anyway, and grandmother would have liked it. She was always ahead of her time."

But Ack didn't stop there. While at a friend's house she noticed a pile of bark the gardener had just removed from a palm tree.

"Maybe it's just me, but I looked at that bark and saw a face," Ack said.

Inspired by the look of African masks, she took a few pieces home, grabbed her paintbrush and applied acrylic paint to create whimsical artwork that decorates her dining room and bedroom walls.


The faces, which she calls ecological art, are painted in a variety of styles--from African-inspired pieces to a self-portrait. Interior designers have sold her bark art to clients for $150 or more. Each piece can take as long as a week to create.

Bark is not the only material Ack has rescued from the garbage and turned into art. She has painted paper towel and toilet paper dowels with bright colors and glued them to a board to create abstract wall hangings.

Soda pop cans have also caught Ack's eye. They have been painted and mounted. Their tabs form the border.

"I hate to waste things, and I love to create, so I just take my brush to things," she said.

Being an artist is new to Ack but not a surprise, given her background. Her first career was as a singer in Michigan. "I wanted to be a cross between Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills," Ack said. She became an interior designer to make more money.

"People love to hear you sing but they're not willing to pay," she said. "With the lessons and rehearsal time you put into it, I decided that if I was going to work at something that hard I wanted to get paid."

Her interior design business has lasted three decades and into three states, starting with Michigan. Ack and husband Earle operated an interior design firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., for 17 years before moving to Laguna Hills eight years ago. They're now design consultants.

"You don't have to be a trained artist or interior designer to be creative," Maidew Ack says. "You just need to get in there and do it."

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