By Jessica Mozo
You might say Chattanooga resident Ivene Webb wears her art on her sleeve. Webb has been a painter for four decades, but she isn’t your typical oil-on-canvas artist. She got her start doing oil paintings back in 1971, but today Webb is best known for her “wearable art,” which includes ladies’ shirts and bib overalls.
“I paint with fabric dyes. They look much like oil paintings, but they are softer and they wash well,” Webb says. “I do a lot of farm and country scenes, like cows in a pasture or a little tractor in a field. I also like to paint bridges, houses and lots of flowers. Today I’m doing irises on shirts.”
The Making of an Artist
Before devoting herself to creating wearable art, Webb spent 27 years working as an inspector at Chattanooga’s DuPont plant. Her coworkers nicknamed her Cricket, and she signs her painted shirts by that name.
“I started at DuPont when I was 18, and they said I hopped around like a Cricket,” Webb says with a laugh. “Now they could call me Turtle.”
While working at DuPont, the plant manager commissioned Webb to paint an old barn that was on the property before DuPont. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“That’s how people began to realize I was an artist,” she says. “I hung my oil paintings at DuPont, and people bought them. Then I retired early and started painting on clothes.”
Soon Webb was teaching classes so other people could learn to paint on clothes, and she built up quite an inventory of clothing.
“I started selling the clothes at art shows in the Nashville area and later at the National Cornbread Festival,” Webb says. “My bib overalls used to sell like crazy – I would paint on one leg and the bib and something coming out of the back pocket. Now I mostly sell the shirts.”
Webb still paints 12 to 15 oil paintings each year, many of which are commissioned. “I’ve done snow scenes and made them into Christmas cards,” she says. “I stay busy. I’m not a TV person, and I don’t even have a computer. But my next goal is to make a website.”
Webb also creates nativity figurines of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the wise men.
“I make them with Styrofoam cones, porcelain heads and little clothes,” she says. “Then I dip them in starch, let them dry, paint them and sell them at shows.”
The complete set of nativity figurines sells for $300 and is popular with churches. Webb’s oil paintings range from $150 to $500, and her painted shirts sell for around $55 plus tax. It’s not uncommon for customers to visit her at shows wearing shirts they purchased several years earlier.
“They stay bright and don’t fade, especially if you wash them in Dreft detergent like baby clothes,” Webb says. “I’ll have people wear them five years later and tell me it still looks great.”
Interested in learning more about Ivene Webb’s wearable art? Call her at (423) 867-1888.
We’re giving away one of Ivene Webb’s ladies’ shirts, size XL. The shirt is denim and features a small painted barn on the front and a larger barn design on the back. To enter, leave a comment below before Sept. 29. To increase your chances of winning with extra entries, please like us on Facebook and sign up for our e-newsletter. We’ll announce the winner on Sept. 30.