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Art Maker: Lou Conover, shingle/tile designer

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover on Pine Street in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover in the Pulpitt Hill Co housing in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover on Pine Street in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lou Conover stands with a shingle design he created for his home in the Pulpitt Hill Cohousing Community in Amherst. Below, more of Conover’s work. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS PHOTOS

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover on Pine Street in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover in the Pulpitt Hill Co housing in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shingle Designs created by Lou Conover in the Pulpitt Hill Co housing in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS


Friday, October 06, 2017

Lou Conover, who lives in the Pioneer Valley Cohousing Community in Amherst, has worked in a number of fields: music, software, education (teaching math). But over the past 17 years, he has also taken up a different trade: installing decorative shingles on the outside of buildings.

“I put installations on the exterior walls of structures using regular cedar-shingle siding,” says Conover, 62. “I cut the shingles into shapes so that on the wall they create an image. This is a somewhat unique art form. I’m the only practitioner that I know.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Lou Conover: My current project is a series of wall sections that wrap around a porch. The images represent a process of community. But I also can’t forget that the primary purpose of the shingles I put on a wall is to keep the weather out. My tools are carpenters tools. 

H.L: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

L.C.: I wouldn’t say I have Eureka moments. I want my installations to reflect the natural environment of the site. It could be an abstracted image of the skyline, or a tree with images of different leaves from nearby trees. I often incorporate mathematical concepts and diagrams. The medium is very restrictive, so an important source of inspiration is the necessity of working within its limits.

H.L.: How do you know when your work is finished?

L.C.: When the wall is covered. Shingles overlap, so when the tops of a row of shingles are covered by the next row, I can’t make any changes to them. 

H.L.: Have you ever had a “mistake” – a project that seemed to be going south – turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

L.C.: I wouldn’t say my mistakes result in artistic discoveries, but since the art form is new, I’m discovering the properties of the materials and working out the principles of the craft as I go. In that process, every mistake is a learning opportunity.

H.L.: Name a few artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

L.C.: I’ve followed the Arcadia Players since the group’s founding in 1989. In the baroque period, mathematics was still considered an art, a creative endeavor of discovery, an attitude I have worked to instill in my students.

A visual artist whose work has an influence on me is M.C. Escher, who was also inspired by mathematics. And my daughter, Emily Lyons, has been an inspiration: She’s been an artist much longer than me, and her aesthetic sensibility has influenced mine.

H.L.: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you'd be?

L.C.: I don’t know that I’d call myself an artist. This is an entirely new career for me. My first career was as a musician and performance artist. I didn’t stop performing, but having a family forced me to make a better living, and I spent 20 years as a software engineer. In 2003, I became a high-school mathematics teacher. I still work part time as an instructor at Mount Holyoke College, but my primary focus now is on shingle designs.

H.L.: What’s your go-to snack while you’re working?

L.C.: Plain seltzer. Working on a scaffold in the hot sun is thirsty work. I can go through two liters a day when it's especially hot.

H.L.: What do you do when you’re stuck?

L.C.: The stuck part is when I'm trying to come up with a design. So far, inspiration has always come.

— Steve Pfarrer