Using a mixture of analytically researched elements, McClendon instinctively creates with environmental and symbolic materials that capture the background, achievements, idiosyncrasies, and emblematic characteristics of the collector. Incorporating straw, grasses, corn husks, dried flowers, and ethnic fabric from Africa, India, South America and various corners of the globe, McClendon develops a journey of discovery. Using the ancient art forms of painting with encaustic waxes and oils, along with papermaking techniques, McClendon incorporates her own handmade papers into paintings and bookbinding another lost art. "My work evokes this feeling of finding lost treasure, lost human emotion, deeply buried," she says.
Whether she's composing a painting that's comprised of her clients most prized possessions; custom-designing wedding invitations embellished with ancient symbols; or acting on an impulse to combine natural elements such as linen fibers or gold and silver leafing to design surfaces that shimmer with texture and color, McClendon says ARTeological's mission is always constant. "I have a thirst to explore the essences of identity and emotion using color, texture, combining primitive and contemporary techniques."
McClendon's ability to become interwoven or passionately lost in the creative process has yielded works that are hauntingly precise in capturing human emotion. "After I became a mother some nine years ago, I was very conscious of the relationship between the brain, the heart and the womb," she begins. "As a mother, I suddenly didn't know if I was making decisions using my brain, heart or womb. Thus, I poured my soul into the creation of a very abstract piece that spoke of how I felt." McClendon says that the clarity of her vision was confirmed when a man seated at an exhibit told her that he was sitting in the middle of a womb when he spotted her piece. "His cognizance of the place that I was trying to capture reassured me that my materials transcend their innate quality to convey life." Oppression, social injustice and spiritual identity are also powerfully captured in materials that McClendon has fused to document the Middle Passage.
"I created a large body of art about the Middle Passage. I have a passionate need to express what our ancestors must have felt, and what subsequent people put up with," she says. "We need a social link. The Jews have a Holocaust, and the soul of every race of people cries out for understanding of the iniquities that bind the past with the future."
So enthralled with history is McClendon, that she is pursuing graduate studies that combine her love of archeology and art. With a bachelor of art in
African American history from the University of Maryland, in association with studies at the University of London, and graphic-design training at Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, McClendon says she knew at age 5 that she'd someday merge visual arts and archeology. Interior designers nationwide applaud ARTeological's ability to blend aged items with color and texture to create powerful imagery. At $150 to $225 per-square foot, ARTeological's unique designs embellish innumerable upscale residences, corporate spaces, hotels, and restaurants. Presently the 5year old company is marketing select images to be licensed as surface designs for textiles, home accessories, and paper goods. McClendon estimates that ARTeological will gross $265,000 in 1999 in licensing royalties, historical art-project sponsorships and gross sales.
She is one of a handful of African American artists in the country who teaches at the Smithsonian Museum and acts as adjunct professor at Washington, D.C.'s, The Corcoran School of Art. Furthermore, she is the only known African-American artist who owns and operates a hand paper mill and bookbinding studio. At the Smithsonian Museum, McClendon offers bookbinding courses that guide students through the book-construction process, exploring properties of paper, book structure, and design. At The Corcoran School of Art, she teaches papermaking and book arts a curriculum she developed to explore the various natural fibers, colors, and techniques that go into hand papermaking and book structure. McClendon first took up papermaking 15 years ago in her search for a unique paper texture to paint on. Using cotton, linen and abaca rather than wood pulp, McClendon creates fibrous virgin papers that become speckled, porous, ribbed or grainy after she imbues them with her aesthetic trademark.
More recently, McClendon has embarked on works devoted to delineating African-American's role in history, and recounting the events experienced by those whose names are seldom emblazoned on our memories. One such exhibit that she is preparing showcases women's initiatives, with her debut project focusing on women of color who have impacted history in unusual ways. These memorable tributes are being marketed to corporations in preparation for a sponsored national tour planned to commence in the year 2000. McClendon's concentration and clear-cut artistic direction focuses on self-discovery through art objects: "There's no better time than the new millennium to offer social commentary that spans the rich cultural legacies of the past."