Cedar Ridge Art Studio is a culmination of Tom and Paulette Brabender’s lifelong passion and talent. Nestled on 12 acres with a vantage point of the battlefield, their Fairfield home is surrounded by trees, nature, and inspiration.
By Jaime Ridgley | Photography by Casey Martin
Contributions from each artist make their home a cohesive, cozy space, from the murals and phrases painted on the walls by Paulette to each room’s door crafted by Tom, with no two alike. A mix of the couple’s artwork hangs on the walls, and the couple jokes that there’s not a blank wall in the house to be found.
Their art styles are very different. “I’m more impressionistic,” Paulette says. “Tom’s very realistic.”
Originally from Erie, Pa., Tom and Paulette met in high school and attended an art college in Cleveland together before eventually moving to a small village outside Chicago. There, in the ’80s and ’90s, Tom designed and built kitchens for hospitals, stadiums, and large corporations across the country, including Anaheim Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Soldier Field. Paulette also grew her business in the Midwest, creating wall murals for nurseries, painting gourmet popcorn tins for specialty stores, and even creating pieces for Nordstrom and children’s boutiques.
The couple vacationed in Gettysburg and Lancaster for 10 years before moving to Adams County permanently 20 years ago. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.
These days, the couple’s creations are often discovered by word of mouth. Each award-winning artist enjoys painting, though their mediums differ drastically; Paulette prefers watercolors, while Tom enjoys airbrushing.
Their studios are as different as their styles. Tom’s is in the loft space of the home, his drawing table positioned over a skylight to take advantage of natural light and situated next to a massive roll-top desk he crafted from American cherry.
On this day, an airbrushed painting of a bald eagle head sits in the middle of Tom’s drawing board, its white feathers looking downy and delicate in stark contrast to the piece’s black background. For this particular piece, Tom had photographed an eagle on a local farm, and then enlarged the photo to see the details. After hand drawing the bird’s profile, he determined the color combinations for the piece, airbrushing in layers to create the texture he wanted.
Antique broad axes and other hand tools displayed on an exposed ceiling beam hint at another of Tom’s passions: woodworking.
Tom has made much of the furniture in the couple’s home using cedar from their property, including the mantel in their living room, tables scattered throughout, and massive bedframes.
He is also masterful at repurposing existing items into new pieces, such as a corner cabinet he recently built for friends by using the original shutters from their farm.
Paulette and Tom’s rustic log home is a comfortable reflection of their personalities. “We wanted the house to look like it had been here for 100 years,” says Tom.
To achieve that feel, they used old barn siding for the home’s floors, which creak as if they’d been walked on for a century. Hand-hewn logs, their edges rough, are found throughout the home, as are plenty of windows to keep the space from being too dark.
Tom designed the kitchen, which features a large sunflower mural painted by Paulette on one of the walls. He also built all of the cabinets and the kitchen island. “We didn’t want conventional cabinets because they didn’t have them back then,” he says. “They had cupboards, so I built it the way that it would have been 100 years ago.” Special details, such as the use of old spoons for the drawer pulls, lend to the charm of the room.
Down the hall, Paulette’s studio area looks like a cheerful cottage. Her workspace, situated between two corner windows, looks out onto their property and the nature that surrounds them. It’s there where she keeps her colorful palette and wields the style of paintbrush that she’s used since high school.
Watercolor always has been her preferred medium. “Watercolor is fresh, and it’s clean for me,” she says. “It’s one of these things where when you lay it down, that’s it. I’ve never been interested in painting acrylics or oils; I just like that fresh, clean look.”
Paulette can often be found on the battlefield in her 1949 baby blue Plymouth convertible. “I sit there with the board in my lap, sketch with pencil, and then use my watercolors,” she says. She has favorite areas and subjects that inspire her, like the Klingle and Trostle farms, and paints them in different seasons. “It’s very rewarding,” Paulette says. “I just get so much joy, and it’s so good for my soul when I go out onto the battlefield.”
About 12 years ago, Paulette started hosting an art show the weekend before Thanksgiving featuring painted glassware, linens, signs, ornaments, wreaths, Tom’s handmade furniture, and more. It’s grown so much that it’s now a weekend-long event that encompasses the entire first floor of the couple’s home.
For Paulette, one of the benefits of being an artist is the ability to touch people through her work.
“It’s nice to know,” she says, “that you put a smile on somebody’s face with something you made.”
Cedar ridge Art Studio
To learn more about the artwork of Paulette and Tom Brabender, visit www.cedarridgeartstudio.com or call 717-476-0411.