Bringing Vintage Back
By Sallie W. Boyles | Artwork by Tamera Massey
“I love to create and share joyful exuberance in all that I design and do,” says architect and artist Tamera “Tammy” Massey.
Based in Seaside, Florida, Massey is known for her extraordinary ability to conceptualize projects and effortlessly sketch how structures will materialize, inside and out. She holds dual degrees in architecture and interior design, and expresses her artistic side through graphic design, drawing, watercolor, photography, sculpture, and typography. She also designs highly customized furniture.
“Lots of various energies are brewing inside of me,” Massey acknowledges, noting that she incorporates a piece of her art in each of her architectural projects. “I’ll take it upon myself,” she adds, “in many of my projects, to apply specialty finishes to the floors, walls, and architectural elements of the spaces.”
Recently, Massey launched StudioSoLoStyle.com to showcase and sell her multimedia artwork. She further welcomes commissions. “This is my therapeutic outlet to allow the other side of the brain to share itself,” she says, explaining that an “irresponsible dream world” is fine for pure art, not for practical blueprints. No matter how far they might push the envelope, architects always face restrictions like budgets and building codes.
As much as possible, Massey admits, “I travel to the beat of my own drum.” Her family tree reveals where Massey’s artistic side and independent nature originate, but certain aspects of her DNA remain a mystery. “I can remember, at the age of three or four, understanding things I’d never been exposed to,” she says. “I could sit at the piano and pick out tunes with no effort whatsoever. The same was true with spaces and places.”
When she was only five, Massey proclaimed that she wanted to be an architect. “I felt a close connection to spaces and forms,” she recalls. “I would sit and repeatedly draw plans, which my parents thought was a little bizarre, and I would build houses and floor plans out of pine straw in the front yard.” Searching for a plausible explanation, she offers, “I believe we have many lives, and maybe some of our talents come from a previous life. I was born in 1957, sort of an old soul, a very mature child.”
Precocious, she questioned her proper Southern mom’s concerns over “what people think about you.” Massey contends, “I rebelled against that vein of thinking. Why are you molding yourself to be accepted by other people, when it’s not what your true soul is telling you to do?” In response, she shaved her own head at fourteen “as a rebellion to the norm and a poor choice in my experiential hair color journey!”
Looking back, Massey refers to her childhood as both “charmed” and “surreal.” Country life entailed “chasing crop-duster planes across fields, collecting eggs in the chicken coop, feeding pigs their slop (awful smell), milking cows, birthing kittens, killing snakes with shotguns, fishing at daybreak, gigging frogs at twilight, driving stick-shift vehicles at the age of ten, and being surrounded by homesteads of extended family with party-line telephones (so everyone knew each other’s business and secrets).” The budding artist also fashioned jewelry from dried corn kernels, created tie-dyed shirts using berry juice, wove mats from bamboo reeds, made mud pies, and sewed. While her dad had a more “laid-back” demeanor and passed on the artistic genes, her mom—“an academic” who exhibited “extreme perfection and intellect”—stimulated Massey’s thirst for knowledge. Research is second nature to her. She also has a way of mentally wandering to distant places, possibly from her mom’s reading to her about Robert Louis Stevenson, who, as a sickly child, could only travel in his dreams.
Thanks to her parents’ letting her go, Massey enjoyed a real adventure at fifteen when she went to live with her aunt, Marjorie Massey, a renowned designer of interiors and textiles. Working as her apprentice and traveling between New York City and Florence, Italy, Massey not only had a hand in designing textiles, carpet, and wallpaper, but she also experienced her aunt’s glamorous lifestyle.
“I had an intriguing dinner with Salvador Dalí—a friend and colleague of my aunt’s—at the St. Regis in New York,” says Massey. Tagging along to numerous dinners reflecting “the finest elegance with wonderful cuisine and wine” in the company of industry moguls helped Aunt Marjorie dissuade powerful men from hitting on her. “That’s just how things were,” Massey muses, “with women in a man’s corporate world.”
That episode of her life left an indelible mark, but the prior decades seem most alive in Massey’s soul. They emerge in her art as flashbacks to “the fabulous 1950s, the golden age of couture fashion,” and “the early 1960s’ Pan Am, Madmen, Doris Day and Jackie O chic, combined with [the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon movie] Beach Blanket Bingo.” She says, “I savor creating what I think we should happily remember from that time.”
I rebelled against that vein of thinking. Why are you molding yourself to be accepted by other people, when it’s not what your true soul is telling you to do?
Gulf Coast motifs are also prevalent in her art. Having vacationed in Florida throughout her childhood, Massey fell in love with the nostalgic New Urbanism environment of Seaside and settled there with her young son and daughter, now in their twenties, after her divorce.
“My primary sources of inspiration are my two amazing and tolerant kids,” Massey insists. “By no choice of their own, I raised them in the chaotic reality of an adult, artistic, hands-on business world.” The rest, she says, “is stoked by my responsibility to share my God-given gifts, my appreciation for the small and happy things in life.”
She describes her work as “the visual language of a glamorous era, beautiful women, positive vibes, anything coastal, colorfully classic cars, vintage signs, the beauty of typography, and a touch of architectural imagery.” Each piece has a unique evolution. “I don’t record my processes as steps,” says Massey. “I don’t go by any rules. I’ve never cooked by a recipe. I’m just going to do what my heart and soul and mind say to do next.”
That said, Massey might begin with one of over fifty thousand photographs she has taken. Next, perhaps, she’ll apply a physical collage to the photography, followed by acrylic, marker, or colored pencil accents. When satisfied, she’ll photograph the work at that stage and use Adobe computer programs to add other enhancements. Most digital creations take from one to three days to complete, depending on Massey’s flexibility and her sense of what the work needs. “Sometimes I’ll stop what I’m doing,” she says, “telling myself to breathe for a while. Other times, I’ll immerse myself in my art until it’s finished.”
Her mixed-media productions fall into five series. Typographic Collaging Imaging features collaging typography, photography, images, color, and texture layering. Architectural Illusions Imaging uses hand-drawn architectural images, photography, typography, color, and texture layering. Retro Romanticism Imaging incorporates photography, retro couture images, era typography and symbolism, color, and texture layering. Environmental Interpretation Imaging combines natural environmental photography and the manipulation of color and texture layering. 3D Mosaics blends glass, stone, natural elements, clay, color, and textures.
While looking into new applications for her digital art, Massey is considering a book of architectural renderings that feature the villages along Scenic Highway 30-A. Credit to the architect and her personal notes on what she finds alluring about each structure, scribed in artistic typography, would accompany her drawings. (Her inspiration is a five-by-seven-inch book, An Architect in Italy, which contains watercolor-washed images of Italian landmarks.) “I love our little corner of the world,” she says, revealing that her collection would be a love letter of sorts to the area.
Whatever comes next, Massey asserts, “Art is my way of living; there is no end to it.”
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To view her current offerings or contact Tammy Massey directly, readers should visit StudioSoLoStyle.com or follow her on Instagram @tameramassey and @t.masseyarchitect. Her architecture websites are MasseyArchitects.com and TammyMassey.co.
Sallie W. Boyles works as a freelance journalist, ghostwriter, copywriter, and editor through Write Lady Inc., her Atlanta-based company. With an MBA in marketing, she marvels at the power of words, particularly in business and politics, but loves nothing more than relaying extraordinary personal stories that are believable only because they are true.