It takes Maddy Witt anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to build a house.
“I like to capture details, so if bricks are involved, it takes more time,” Witt said, as she sorts through a few subdivisions’ worth of houses that are spread out and stacked up on the work table in her apartment.
Some of these houses are modest, Craftsman-style dwellings — the sort found in Tulsa neighborhoods that came into being in the early part of the 20th century. Others are more modern places, with high-gabled roofs that look almost aspirational, or squared off and flat-topped in the mid-century style. Some are positively stately, while others show signs of obvious neglect, even abandonment.
Some of the houses are framed by aspects of landscaping, such as shrubs, bushes of flowers and trees. Others show only the literal shadow of a nearby tree, casting an unusual pattern over the façade.
“Right now, I have about 127 of them,” Witt said. “My goal is have at least 200, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get that many done in time.”
People are also reading…
Over the past couple of years, Witt has been — to use her description — meandering through Tulsa neighborhoods with a sheaf of watercolor papers, each about the size of a folded greeting card, and a portable palette of watercolor paints, creating miniature portraits of houses that catch her eye.
However many Witt can complete in the next few days will go on display beginning Wednesday, May 25 at Curations by Gilcrease, the retail and gallery space the museum recently opened in the Shops at Mother Road Market, 1102 S. Lewis Ave.
The exhibit does not have a title as yet, and Witt is still working out the most effective way to arrange the more than 100 images that will be shown.
“At one point, I thought about trying to arrange them in a roughly geographical way — houses I did in north Tulsa grouped together, like that,” she said. “At first I would write on the back the general area where that house was, but I didn’t keep that up. So probably putting this show up will be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.”
Gilcrease is the reason Witt, a native of New Mexico, came to Tulsa four years ago. She had earned a degree in studio arts from Trinity University in Texas and was looking for a job.
Witt is an art conservation technician at the museum, helping to keep the permanent collection at Gilcrease in as pristine a shape as humanly possible.
However, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Witt was among the Gilcrease employees to be furloughed for a time.
“I’m someone who really enjoys and needs some kind of social interaction,” Witt said. “So a friend of mine and I started going for walks around the neighborhood. We’d go through places like the Maple Ridge neighborhood, and it really struck me at the number of different architectural styles you might find in a given area.”
Witt began carrying a sketchbook with her to capture the images that caught her attention, but she quickly realized a monochromatic approach wasn’t satisfying.
“I really love color, and I have this portable watercolor palette and a special brush that would allow me to paint on site,” she said. “I had been given this huge stack of small watercolor papers at work, and I thought this would be the best way to make use of them.
“I realize it is kind of a funny thing to do,” Witt said, with a slightly embarrassed laugh. “Since I’m not including the street numbers or anything that might give a pinpoint location, I rarely ask permission when I see a place I want to paint. I have had a couple of people who were pretty suspicious about what I was doing in the street in front of their house, but for the most part, when the owners find out what I’m doing, they have no problem with it.”
Witt does not work exclusively on a small scale. The exhibit at Curations by Gilcrease will also include some of her larger watercolor paintings that she describes as “community space paintings,” which capture the activity in and around art exhibits and businesses, such as the Shades of Brown coffee house on Brookside or Antoinette Baking Co. in the Tulsa Arts District.
The small houses project was, Witt said, a way for her to “get out of my comfort zone. When I started, everyone was locked inside, and there was this real fear about connecting with other people. It would have been easy for me just to stay indoors, but that would have been the easy thing to do. I felt I needed to make myself get out there and see what’s going on around me.
“I hope that’s something people take away from this show,” Witt said. “So many times we drive by the houses in our own neighborhoods without really seeing them. These paintings are my way of slowing down and taking a closer look at where we live.”
Tulsa World Scene podcast: PGA Championship restaurant recommendations and more