Amid the talented artisans of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, it would be nearly impossible to guess which tent featured two entirely self-taught artists.
Mike Albin has never received formal training in photography and his wife, Patty Albin, has never been professionally trained in painting.
Nonetheless, the couple from central Tennessee have won more than 40 awards for their unique combination of photography and painting.
They also won Best in Show 2-D in 2007 at the Gold Coast River North Art Festival in Chicago. At the time, it was rated the No. 1 fine arts festival in the country, “which is crazy for two self-taught artists,” Mike Albin said.
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“We have a pretty amazing story; we met on a blind date in 1997. We’re both self-taught, neither one of us had any confidence in our abilities until after we got together,” Mike Albin said. “Photography was a hobby for me and painting and drawing were hobbies for her. We got together and inspired and encouraged each other.”
Mike photographs nature scenes, then Patty continues the photograph by painting onto the frame around it.
The idea for their collaborative art began forming after the couple moved in together.
“At the time, we were living in Fort Lauderdale and I was doing a lot of scuba diving with an underwater camera,” Mike Albin said. “I had a room in our house, before she moved in, that was all my underwater photographs, which I had gone to Wal-Mart and bought mattes and frames for. I knew nothing about framing.”
Patty Albin, however, did have experience with frames.
“Well, in high school she used to work in a frame shop,” said Mike Albin. “Three months after we met and she moved in with me — it was kind of a love-at-first-sight kind of thing — she saw the reef room, and she said, ‘You’ve got some great photographs, but your framing stinks.’ ”
Patty Albin then experimented with the collaborative technique for the first time on a photograph of a sea turtle Mike Albin had taken.
Both artists loved the outcome and decided to see if they could profit from it.
“The first piece we ever sold was sold in a gallery and they took half the money,” Mike Albin said. “I thought, well shoot, you know there’s too much time and effort for her to do that, so that’s when we decided to do our first show.”
Shortly after this decision, the twosome turned their idea into a reality.
“Probably six months after we got married, we did our first art show just to see if this would fly at all,” Mike Albin said. “Neither one of us had any confidence in our abilities.”
The show turned out to be just the beginning of a lifetime career.
“The very first art show we did was a little local art show in Florida,” Mike Albin said, “and on Saturday we went to the art show with all this enthusiasm. Some people were going by and going, ‘These are really neat’ and, ‘We love them,’ but nobody bought anything.
“So, we went home depressed. Then, Sunday morning we woke up and said, ‘Alright, we’ve got one more day of the show.’ Then they actually came around at noon and actually gave us a first place award and a check and then we sold a piece! We went out and celebrated and we’ve done probably 20 to 25 shows a year for the last 16 years since then.”
The duo have traveled all over the country for art shows, including Chicago, Miami, Houston, Kansas City, St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati, Mike Albin said.
“We like to stick to the Midwest to Eastern parts of the country,” Mike Albin said.
The State College festival is one of the art shows they attend regularly, this being their sixth or seventh year, Mike Albin said.
“I love the people here, the surroundings, the campus is beautiful, the food is good,” Mike Albin said. “People buy, which is really important. If they didn’t buy, we wouldn’t be able to keep coming back, so that’s probably the most important.”
Part of their success comes from the originality of their craft, Mike Albin said.
“There’s no one else doing anything like it,” he said. “There have actually been people who walk the show that have said they can feel the synergy and harmony in the booth and they’re drawn to it. It’s the whole love story. We live together, work together, travel together and people still ask us if we’re newlyweds when we go into restaurants.”
Despite the potential hardships of being a couple who work together, the two still greatly appreciate all the other has to offer.
“Before we did this, she was a massage therapist for 10 years, so I’m a very lucky guy,” Mike Albin said, chuckling. “And she feels she’s lucky to have me. Why, I don’t know. We both feel lucky to have the other and it’s just been a great experience for two self-taught artists.”
Further information on the couple’s work can be found online at www.albin arts.com or by calling 347-568-3278.