The Making of Abigail

One of the most synergistic and seamless collaborations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing happened just weeks ago. IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association), a design chapter I associate with here locally in Phoenix, sponsored a wonderful charity event called “Take a Seat” (also done in other cities around the country). The concept is this: artists and designers make a unique chair and then the artful chair is up for bid. All proceeds from the auction this year in Phoenix went to “Military Assistance Mission,” an organization formed to give financial assistance to military families in need. It was founded by Margy Bons, a mother who lost her son in Iraq on Mother’s Day. For more information:

My good friend, Lainey Prather of Absolutely Gorgeous Walls LLC, and I chose to team up. There were few limitations around this project, so when forming the initial idea, I considered the charity itself and coupled it with our natural strengths: Military/Freedom + Wall Specialists = Abigail Adams, the chair. Allow me to explain our process…

As is typical in my process, a general image came to me in my mind’s eye (and while showering, also typical – ha!). I saw an antiquated wall structure with a woman’s portrait emerging through the broken and crumbling plaster. So, when I first met with Lainey, I did a VERY rough sketch as a tool to explain the idea. However, I didn’t know who the woman was. And, in our early discussions, Lainey and I felt it most important to honor someone we both felt was key to our freedom and independence, from the feminine perspective, especially since women in our American history as we all know haven’t gotten much press. This piece was going to have profound meaning. We could feel it! We considered Susan B. Anthony and a few other Suffragettes, but quickly concluded that Abigail Adams best represented a woman’s strength in the earliest formation of our country. We found this younger depiction of her and it began to solidify and ENERGIZE our creative process!

abigail adams portrait







Lainey committed to experimenting with her plastering magic and produced an 8″ x 10″ board. And, I re-worked my rough sketch to include it.

Abigail Adams under plaster

Take a Seat Rough Sketch










Then, we met with our friends at TruCollective LLC, young entrepreneurs, Thad Trubakoff, Jordan Trubakoff, and Brett Eichmann, who we knew to always think and construct outside the box. They were equally as jazzed about the concept and the overriding premise to help this wonderful charity. Not only that, they instantly understood the aesthetic we were trying to achieve. And, they suggested repurposed lathing strips of wood for the structure, which took the project to a whole new level! Imagine five adults jumping up and down like gleeful children! It’s that moment when the creative energy pulsates through you… and then you cross your fingers that the virtual image hanging in our collective thought bubble actually manifests into something that’s even close to doing it justice.

Getting down to business, we made a tentative work schedule, including the pertinent parts of construction: the lathe wall structure, the initial plaster surface, the painting of the portrait, the crackle finish over the portrait, and the making of/the attachment of the bottom structure, whatever that was going to be. We had thought a plaster pillar of sorts. But, that part was still to be determined.

Meanwhile, the guys built. And, Lainey and I did our research on Abigail Adams. Here is just some of what we discovered:

Married to John Adams, she both supported her husband’s work and “held down the fort” at home. She was his chief adviser and war correspondent, fed and cared for soldiers, produced gunpowder when in short supply, and all while raising and homeschooling four children, enduring disease, grieving the loss of her fifth child, and managing a farm. She became an ambassador and “First Lady,” although the term was not used then. She regularly advised John on matters in congress and, not one to keep her mouth shut, she spoke out against slavery, demonstrated a deep belief in the importance of education, and drew attention to the laws of the time that oppressed women. The fire in her belly was no less than her husband’s or any other person fighting for independence. It is a misnomer to think that only modern women are “doing it all” because Abigail is one of our earliest feminists and her life’s work built our country’s foundation, as much as the men who signed our “Declaration of Independence.”

The many wonderful letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams recorded a great love and respect and a remarkable partnership in the formulation of our country and they inspired Lainey to suggest the letters be a three-dimensional feature in our collaborative art piece. Again, insert gleeful moment here!


I often wondered if Abigail was channeling through us to get her message out, especially when I came across this wonderful quote of hers, “I wonder if future generations will ever know what we have suffered in their behalf.”


Abigail Adams was absolutely amazing! We, no doubt, found the perfect feminine symbol representing our country’s freedom! Or, she found us. Not sure.

And, the guys found the repurposed strips and the structure was even better than we had imagined! Gleeful!


Lainey put on the first several layers of Faux Effects “Aquastone” white plaster (with drying time between layers) to pave the way for me to come in and paint the portrait of “Abigail.” Lainey prefers a combination of Sherwin Williams, Faux Effects, and Annie Sloan products. She was so meticulous to create a perfectly smooth surface which made my job a breeze. The plaster oozes through the slats in the back (not shown here), very much in keeping with the early construction of houses.

White plaster of Abigail structure

Then, I began the painting process over the white plaster, laying out the portrait format and putting in a background color.

Abigail Painting, line drawing

…and, then, a few more details.

Me at work on Abigail

Here, she is finished and ready for aging, crumbles and cracks!

Finished Abigail no plaster

Best part was listening to the soundtrack to “1776” as I painted! “Till then, till then, I am as I ever was, yours… yours… yours… yours… yours….”

Lainey, with just the right touch, added more plaster and sepia toned glaze over and around “Abigail,” and for the finest crackle over the face, she used Annie Sloan “Craqueleur.”

Abigail crackled closeup

Remembering when in our high school production of “1776,” John asked for Abigail to send “salt peter” (gunpowder ingredient), I pondered how that must have been shipped to the soldiers. It came in barrels, but I couldn’t find a whole lot of description. So, taking artistic license here, I went off to Lowe’s Hardware and found the perfect, already weather-beaten half-barrel. And, it took the guys at TruCollective no time at all to fashion a base with hidden wheels for maneuverability. We love these guys!!! That was the finishing item in the whole process. We kept well within our budgeted time and under $100 in supplies.

guys attaching barrel on chair

A re-enactment. 🙂

And, our masterpiece was born… as well as the resurrected “Spirit of Abigail Adams”!

The auction took place in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 14, 2015 where “Abigail” was well received and she garnered a very generous sum toward helping military families in need through MAM (Military Assistance Mission). We thank everyone who participated in this wonderful event, but a most special “thank you” to our brave men and women who work to preserve our freedom everyday.

I will post a link for the whole collection of chairs as it becomes available.

Lainey Prather and I stand with "Abigail" at Scottsdale Fashion Mall where  all the designers' chairs were on display prior to the auction on October 14th.

Suzanne Whitaker and Lainey Prather stand with “Abigail” at Scottsdale Fashion Mall where all the 2015 IFDA-AZ “Take A Seat” designers’ chairs were on display prior to the auction on October 14th.

From the IFDA-AZ “Take A Seat” Auction Night. Suzanne Whitaker, Brett Eichmann, Thad & Jordan Trubakoff (of TruCollective) and Lainey Prather.