Diary of a Restoration

Victorian HOmes

Diary of a Restoration

Part of a series called “Diary of a Restoration” that follows a homeowner through the restoration process.

The artist at home

Eric and Rebekah Armusik’s Pennsylvania home serves as part gallery, part studio

By Robyn Davis Sekula

Photography by Vince Lupo

Victorian Homes | October 2009

We’ve found the right home. I could see it as a space to work and to display my art, a place I could bring clients. Our lives and work could merge together nicely. – Eric Armusik

Buying an old house was part business decision, part personal decision for Pennsylvania-based artist Eric Armusik.

During his first visit to his soon-to-be-home in Hamburg, Pa., Eric envisioned the house as a place where he and his wife, Rebekah, could build a family, and he could build his budding art business. Eric is a painter who works primarily on figurative oil paintings and commissioned portraits in the style of the Old Masters, and he wanted a space where he could create paintings, using the furnishings and architecture of the home as his backdrop and its setting as his inspiration. His work, which has an antique feel to it, makes it suited especially well to an older home.

He also wanted to use the house as a place display his work, using his home as a place to entertain clients, have a glass of wine with them and discover their thoughts about his work, which would ultimately inspire more work.

It’s a use that the house’s original builders likely would have approved. Like Armusik, homeowners of Victorian times often ran businesses from their home. There’s no evidence that the home’s original owner did that, but like Armusik, he was an entrepreneur.

Their house was originally built for William Scott, a carriage builder in Hamburg. The Armusiks believe it was completed in about 1865. When the Armusiks ran across the home, it had been owned by a young man in his early 20s who, because of his financial situation, leased the home out to four tenants. Upon purchasing the home, the Armusiks wanted to return the property to its original beauty while enhancing the home with décor appropriate to showcase Eric’s work in a comfortable setting.

Eric started on his newly-purchased property with setting up a studio in the home’s carriage house, both painting and displaying in the space. But as his house’s restoration came closer to completion, he moved his work into the home and began using the house and its Victorian furnishings as backdrops for paintings. Today, Eric’s primary space for painting is on the second floor. With three small children, he has to keep his paints and works in progress tucked away behind a locked door, and his upstairs study gives him space to do that. But he does, at times, break away from that and choose another room in the house as the backdrop for his work.

Rebekah, Eric’s wife, is his primary muse, a role she has not embraced, he says, laughing. “I enjoy painting her because she’s gorgeous and she has a lot of drama to her,” Eric says. Other family members, including his own children, have become models for his paintings, as well as neighbors and friends. And in some cases, he’s asked perfect strangers if they’d be willing to model for him. It usually takes some convincing, he says, but it’s often worth it. One of his favorite paintings is called “Pensive Woman.” The subject is a woman who worked at a local video store. Eric asked her to pose for a painting that is set along a local river bed, and she agreed. A neighbor was the inspiration for three paintings, two of which have sold. The third one, called “It was Time,” is still for sale.

At times, Eric turns to paid models. This is particularly true when he is creating a classical nude painting. “I am doing more classical nudes in my work,” Eric says. “Not many artists can pull off that level of definition in the human body. I’ve dedicated my career to being one of the best in this genre and my ambition is paying off well in sales. I think there is so much beauty and subtlety in the body, and it is one of the hardest things to paint.”

In some cases, Eric has been creative with the settings of his work. He created one painting in his carriage house studio showing a woman looking out of a window, and while he liked the model and the woman’s pose, he didn’t like the setting around her or the view out of the window. So he added in furnishings from his home, and created a different scene outside the window. “It works, but it is completely assembled,” Eric says.

One of the best advantages for Eric comes when it is time to show work to a client. In a home-like setting, rather than a stark gallery, prospective buyers can see how a painting enhances a furnished room, and see what it looks like among other works of art and furnishings. Eric can also talk to them about what they like about the painting, and he enjoys the social part of the job immensely. About a dozen paintings remain in his home and are for sale. This occasionally creates a happy problem: a painting sells that he likes. “Then you have this hole on the wall, and you have to create something else to go there,” Eric says. “But that’s a great problem to have.”

My home is the perfect place for my work. Not only is it a wonderful place to display the paintings, with ceilings 10 feet to 12 feet high in the house, but my home is usually on display during public events, such as the yearly “Historic Home Tour of Hamburg” during the December holidays or private events for collectors, art professionals, and friends and family. It really makes a difference having a traditional home showcasing traditional paintings.  –Eric Armusik

The paintings of Eric Armusik

Eric Armusik’s work is timeless, comfortable in both modern settings and in homes with a distinctly vintage feel. He uses modern-day models and clothing that are selected based on classic features to compose the mythological or historical figures in his paintings. Eric’s work will be included in a show in Lancaster, Pa., October 2 through 31 at the Progressive Galleries. For more information on the show or Eric’s work, see his web site, www.ericarmusik.com.

-     St. Sebastian. A martyr who was often the subject of Italian art, particularly by artist Andrea Mantegna.

-     Eros Awakened. Victorian loved their cherubs, as does Eric, who depicts the mythological Eros waking   from a nap, modeled by his son, Alexei.

-     Devotion. This painting was created in Eric’s carriage house studio, and he added the furnishings and curtains from his own home into the painting.

-     The Madness of Nero. One of Eric’s favorite paintings, it depicts King Nero ignoring Rome’s fiery defeat, shown behind him.

-     It was Time. This is one of Eric’s more popular paintings th  that used a neighbor as a model.

-     St. Jerome. One of the saints of the Catholic church who is also depicted often in Old World paintings and portrayed by a neighbor.