Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
Jane Raemsch begs to differ.
Color this artist flame broiled. The Spokane woman is anything but flattered at some rip-off artists she says unashamedly cash in by copying her unique window paintings without permission.
“I hate it, I hate it,” says Raemsch, 43. “This is a bunch of copy cats who are degrading my work.
“Maxfield Parrish had people who copied him. I suppose Picasso did, too. But shame on people for not coming up with their own ideas.”
Raemsch is a Gonzaga University bookkeeper by day and a free-lance artist during her off hours. Her specialty is painting detailed, stark white winterscapes. She stumbled on her trademark technique a few years ago, while doing windows at the Schoenberg Center, where she works.
Trying to draw her favorite tree - a birch - Raemsch dabbed a bit too much white acrylic paint on the glass. Without thinking, she grabbed a razor blade and sliced away the excess.
The resulting sharp line gave the tree a snappy definition. A scrape here and there on the trunk added the stripes common to the birch.
“I said to myself, ‘Whoa, I like that,”’ she says.
Since perfecting this unusual razor blade artistry, many store owners and private parties paid Raemsch to add a festive touch to their windows.
With success, however, has come the pretenders.
A shopping mall. A hotel. A spa. … Raemsch says she can’t drive through parts of Spokane without seeing her signature birch trees and monochromatic snow scenes reproduced - usually in substandard ways.
She has actually caught some of the forgers studying her work to figure out how she does it. “I’ve tried to keep a sense of humor about this,” says Raemsch. “But why shouldn’t I stand up against something so unethical?”
You’ll see perhaps the most glaring example of counterfeit Raemsch on a downtown section of North Post.
On the east side of the street is the real deal. The eye-popping scenes she painted on the windows of Sinnard’s Fine Art, N220 Post, appear three-dimensional and spectacular.
Houses, a draft horse and an angel fill out her winter wonderland that, at a casual glance, looks as if it might have been etched.
On the west side of the street are the sad copies on Riverpark Square windows. The technique is similar. The striped birches are there. Ditto snow fields and clouds. But these drawings are flat and simplistic.
Sign painter Tony Martin, who did the work, says he’s not proud of imitating a fellow artist’s style. He says he was hired by ad agency Robideaux Warner and told to copy Raemsch.
“This is the last time I’ll copy Jane’s work,” vows Martin. He adds that “there’s a million ideas I could come up with,” but that Robideaux’s Leslie Warner “wants Jane’s stuff.”
Warner denies ever telling Martin to copy Raemsch. She says she once tried to hire the artist, but that Raemsch couldn’t fit the Riverpark job into her schedule. “I think Jane’s work stands by itself,” adds Warner.
Raemsch, however, says Warner asked her last year if she could have her work copied. “I said absolutely no,” says the artist.
“I don’t recall that conversation,” counters Warner.
Ralph Busch, of the Spokane Arts Commission, has looked into this holiday hubbub and takes Raemsch’s side. Her art, he says, “is alive” while “the rest is a wasteland.”
Busch says Raemsch might have a legal case if she can document what she has done and contrast it with the work by her imitators. Raemsch, however, doesn’t have the money or inclination to hire a courtroom mouthpiece.
This woman is only looking for a little common courtesy.
“It hurts me when people tell me they saw my window paintings and then it turns out to be one of the others,” says Raemsch. “Like any artist, I just want to be respected for my own work.”
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