By Yelena Sapin

Photos by Melissa Donald

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an artist, to live and breathe your work so passionately that you joke you must be crazy? Printmaker and mixed media artist Wende Cudmore, 65, has been going full speed ever since she embraced her creative side once her two children were grown. Her recent work, wearable art made from pressed and dyed slices of vegetables and fruit, is part of the KMAC Couture show at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Intrigued? There is a pair of multi-colored sneakers in the entryway of Wende’s Salem, Indiana, home. Slip them on and step into her life. …

Wende’s KMAC design is called “Butterfly Muse.” She used over 200 pounds of turnips to complete the dress. 

You’re sitting at the top of the steps to your sunken living room, putting on the rainbow sneakers, as you call them. You have two closets full of shoes, but this is the most comfortable pair when you’re working on the concrete floor of your basement studio and going up and down the stairs all day.
You had stayed in bed a while, watching the morning news with your dog Yoda and your cat Boy Cat on either side, but now you’re anxious to get to work. You feed the animals and the aquarium fish, then go out to the garage to greet and let in Annabella, the newest feline member of the family.

After finishing your favorite breakfast of banana and peanut butter on toast — “monkey toast,” your dad used to call it — you head downstairs to pick up where you left off on your project. Between the prepping and the slicing and the blanching and the pressing and the dyeing and the sewing of the vegetables, your pieces take months to complete. You’ve yet to find another artist who does exactly what you do — who’s crazy enough to do this, you say — but to you, there’s something magical about the process.

The shoulder piece includes some dyed okra.

After three attempts, Wende crafted a beautiful pair of wings. 

Wende works in her basement studio on a hat made from dyed pressed turnips and feathers. 

You’ve been prepping a new batch of turnips all morning and snacking on the fresh, crisp slices as you go, so your stomach took a while to let you know it’s time for lunch. You take a break to toast some gluten-free bread for a quick sandwich, finish off a few leftovers, or grab a plate of cottage cheese and fruit. Then it’s right back down to the studio so you don’t lose the creative flow.

You’re always busy doing something. When the weather is nice, you set up a studio space outside. You also like working in your garden and around the house. In the winter, you’ll do indoor exercises, but you’d much rather stay active by mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, or maintaining the koi and goldfish pond you’ve built with Ron — a high school friend from your upstate New York home town with whom you reconnected after your husband died, and who has since become your life partner and second father to your kids.

The necklace is made from dyed okra, wooden beads, and turnip pieces. She also used wood
 burning to create the look. 

You finished working a little later than you anticipated, so you put together a light supper instead of making the salmon as you had planned. You enjoy cooking, and Ron is happy to eat whatever you prepare. You like to stick to healthy eating — fruits and vegetables, fish, hormone-free chicken — but the one thing you can’t give up is bacon. There’s just something about bacon!

As the day winds down, you try to relax your mind with a little reading or TV. You take a shower, or soak your muscles in the hot tub if you’ve been working on the house. With Ron’s construction background and your creative enthusiasm, the two of you are always tackling home improvement projects. But by 11 o’clock, you’re usually in bed, Yoda and Boy Cat settled in on their chosen sides.

(L-R) Hats made from pressed dyed vegetables; Wende’s mom and muse, Gladys Williams, proudly wears
one of her daughter’s hats. 

You’re wide awake. That okra in the garage freezer — you just figured out how you can use it! If you slice it lengthwise, you can twist it into a necklace piece. Or maybe you’ll keep the pods whole and paint them like iridescent peacock feathers.

(L-R) Sews part of the “Butterfly Muse” dress. She prepares to lay down the vegetables for the hydraulic press.

You get out of bed, put on your slippers, and get the okra out to thaw overnight. You get back in bed, but your mind is racing with the possibilities. You can’t wait until it’s time to put on the rainbow sneakers again and go back down to your studio to try out the new idea.

Wende gets in some cuddle time with Yoda and Boy Cat. 
Wende and her partner Ron built their Koi Goldfish pond located in front of their home. 

Then you think back to 17 years ago, to your “other life” when you were struggling to raise children while caring for your ill husband. You were in very different shoes back then, but it’s because of that past that you get to walk in the shoes you wear today. Funny how life turns out, you think as you finally drift off to sleep.