Janet Fanto is an artist who is a collector of wonderful things as well as a former antique dealer.
The antique dealer part is important because that business gave her access to many pieces of her collection – pieces that were given new lives in her mixed media art in addition to pieces used to create her fascinating home.
Fanto first came to the Eastern Shore after a show in D.C. to visit with a friend. What she remembers about that night is, “The ducks were noisy!” And that was her introduction to the mid-shore.
Between 1995 and 2008, Fanto had an antique shop in Easton as well as selling on the road. With the economic downturn, she closed up shop but continued selling her antiques on the road in places like Texas, Chicago, Nashville, Miami, and Jacksonville. Then gas prices went up, and prices for antiques went down, so she left the road and settled into her Cambridge home, bringing much of her collection with her.
Fanto’s art journey is engrossing! Prior to attending the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC), majoring in ceramics, where she didn’t finish her degree, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria. Next, she wound up in Mexico for six years because she wanted to do independent study, still under the auspices of CCAC. During her time there, she exhibited her detailed pencil drawings in Mexico City. Then there was a stint at a Manhattan, New York, gallery doing drawing restorations, after which she was off again, this time to London and then back to Vienna to study painting at the Academy for Art. At the time, the Academy was free for anyone. She stayed in Austria for about 6 years.
At the Academy for Art, Fanto studied oil painting, taking all her classes in German, “The only class I needed help with was physics.” The degree she obtained from the Academy is equivalent to a Master of Arts in U.S. schools.
Drawn back to Manhattan by her cousin, a major influence in her life, Fanto was introduced to antiquing. Here she learned the art of selling on the road with no shop as home base, which later stood her in good stead as noted above..
Now in Cambridge, Fanto had her own studio above Joy Staniforth’s Joie de Vivre gallery for a while. “When I went to my studio, I could sit and work for hours at a time. This period was conducive to my discovering my inclination toward mixed media.”
The day we spoke, Fanto was wearing one of her own creations, a necklace with a pipe tobacco tamp, a wax seal that dated between 1800 and 1820 with two beehives on it, and a dog whistle. “I take things where I find them, “she says, “including in the woods. “
Fanto’s home is like walking into a museum. The walls are crowded floor to ceiling, in an array fit for any decorator magazine, with the art of all media. Because of her own proclivity for detailed pencil drawings, her collection includes Paul Antragne, a French artist who lived in Mexico, as well as framed originals of her own very detailed pencil work. Her taste is eclectic, running from outsider art to traditional art.
After the walls come the stationery mixed media pieces that line her many bookshelves, cabinets, and corners. As eclectic as her necklace, these assemblages pull together feathers, sometimes nestled into crystal holders, seashells and seaweed, small skulls, diminutive antique figurines, and rocks from crystal to turquoise. There are interesting twisted branches set in Mexican pueblo-type pottery and underwater scenes under glass domes. Four-foot dried seedpods sit in a wicker basket complemented by an old stool with decorative metal twists. Scattered everywhere are more seashells, barnacles, and rocks of every sort, complimented by even more statues, and all of this lives with other antiques that she has kept to live with.
The only time Fanto shows her work is during The Dorchester Art Center’s members show and annual show “to thank members for their support and to showcase their best original work,” usually in June. In 2023, artists could enter up to four pieces of their work.
At the 2023 Members show, among several other mixed media pieces, Fanto showed a work made from the frame of an old clock with the guts removed. An antique, the back shows what Fanto identifies as oriental markings. The inside gathers together her repeating motifs of stone and shell, feather, and figurine. Back home again, the piece sits next to a work that looks like a miniature Roman temple, topped with crystals.
All of the above is showcased in just the living area, with much, much more to be found in the rest of the rooms on the first floor.
Surrounded by 25-year-old trees and plantings, Fanto’s house, including the interior, is a work of art itself. She has used a life’s passion to create a serene, vibrant, and welcoming home that displays at every glance her artist’s eye.
Tammy Vitale has spent many years of her life regularly visiting the Eastern Shore and moved to Cambridge in 2023. An artist herself, she has fallen in love with all the facets of art available in Cambridge/Dorchester County and wants the rest of the world to get to know and love the arts and artists of this area as much as she does.