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Tracy Frank, Published April 07 2013

‘Intense and edgy’: Fargo artist makes a fashion statement

If you go

What: 15 Minutes of Fashion (fashion show featuring Stevie Famulari’s Fortune Favours collection) during the Plains Art Museum Spring Gala

Where: 704 1st Ave. N. Fargo

When: 7 p.m. to midnight May 4

Contact: (701) 232-3821

Info: Tickets to the gala, which includes drinks, food, and entertainment, are $90 or $100 after April 19.

Online: plainsart.org,

FARGO - Stevie Famulari isn’t afraid to make a statement.

She has painted the snow in her front yard pink (or black, depending on her mood), created dresses from live plants, and started a cake on fire on the Food Network.

The Fargo artist and North Dakota State University landscape architecture assistant professor surrounds herself in art.

Her home is adorned in photographs of her own artwork as well as the creations of others.

And she can be seen wearing black platform shoes covered in silver spikes, fire-truck red spiked stilettos, or a brightly painted leather jacket.

“I’ve been told I’m intense and edgy,” Famulari said.

The jacket is part of her newest endeavor – a series of wearable leather artworks called Fortune Favours.

Famulari created the clothing line out of pieces of leather she sewed together. She then enlisted the help of some friends to paint the pieces using their bodies as brushes.

For a few of the pieces, Keith Huff of Fargo painted his body and then wrapped his arms around Famulari, who was wearing the clothing.

Huff said he was honored and humbled to participate in the project.

“It was extremely educational and unique,” he said. “I had never done anything like that before.”

When she wears the pieces now, Famulari said it feels like Huff’s arms are still wrapped around her.

“His arms make me feel safe,” she said.

One jacket was painted by a masseuse as if she were giving a massage.

Another friend finger-painted Famulari’s timeline on an untanned leather dress as Famulari wore it.

“There are different kinds of human connection here,” she said.

Famulari also added meaningful details to her works.

A jacket has rivets on the cuffs of its sleeves that spell the word “empower” in braille.

Another jacket is sewn together with a stitch that looks like the jagged pattern of a heart-rate monitor.

A dress that is devoid of paint except for one yellow stripe on the inside is covered in 13 spikes to represent 13 emotional scars Famulari carries with her, she said.

Each piece means something different and evokes a distinctive feeling when Famulari wears it, she said.

“I can tell my mood based on the ones I’m drawn to,” she said.

She started her first piece last August and finished her 12th in February. The project began after something really difficult happened that made her question her values, her priorities, and who she is, she said.

“I needed protection from that thing that cracked me to the core,” she said.

Her first piece was a protective motorcycle jacket lined with a warm, worn sweatshirt and painted as Huff hugged her.

Her final piece, the nude dress with the spikes, represents freedom, knowing who she is and choosing herself, she said.

The project helped her get through her difficult time, she said.

Famulari doesn’t plan to sell the pieces, but they will be on display during a fashion show May 4 at the Plains Art Museum’s Spring Gala.

She will also create custom leather artwork for clients.

Courtney Valen of Fargo, an NDSU student in the landscape architecture program, was one of Famulari’s students.

She said Famulari was challenging but taught her a lot at the same time.

Valen also interned with Famulari and said working with the artist has inspired her to think outside the box and made her realize that she can do anything she wants to do and doesn’t have to work for a traditional firm.

“She helped me have the confidence to find my own path and confidence in myself that whatever my talents are, I can do whatever I want with them,” Valen said.

Famulari said she’s known since she was a child that she wanted to be an artist. She grew up in New York City and lived in California and New Mexico for a while. She moved to Fargo five years ago to teach at NDSU and because she wanted a challenge, she said.

“The culture is very different,” she said. “In some ways it’s very lovely. In some ways it’s just different. I got what I wanted. I hadn’t done snow sculptures before I got here.”

People both praise and ridicule Famulari for her work.

“It’s an acquired taste,” Huff said. “You really have to be open-minded and really know yourself when you look at her artwork. She doesn’t try to put in a box or make it for everyone. She lets her art take on a life of its own and if you like it, you like it, if you don’t you don’t. It takes a lot of confidence to be like that and she definitely has it.”

When she paints her snow, people drive by to admire it, but there are those who don’t like it, she said.

And after she accidentally torched a cake during a Food Network Challenge, online commenters mocked her for her creation while others heralded her bravery.

During the competition, the other contestants made beautiful fondant cakes.

Famulari, who is certified in pastry arts, wanted to create something people would look at for more than a few seconds, even if they didn’t like it. So she created a cake made in all the forms of sugar and decorated it with bright berries and basil leaves. She built it to be vertical (like walls) instead of in horizontal layers. She then put candles, which were shots of Rum 151, all over the cake because it produced a blue flame when lit and she wanted blue on the cake, she said.

“Hindsight’s fantastic,” she said. “There’s sugar dripping down in all these places and then there’s a candle right there. By the time I lit the 16th candle, four of them had caught a portion of the cake on fire. I’m laughing my ass off and suddenly somebody comes out with a fire extinguisher.”

Famulari said she didn’t win, but she was the first person in Food Network Challenge history to require a fire extinguisher and that episode was the show’s most-watched episode.

“When you’re just you your entire life, you don’t see how different it is,” she said. “I don’t know to not be me.”

Famulari is working on an upcoming series called Stevania, parts of which will be featured in the Plains Art Museum Spring Gala.

She is also working on another green line with an updated irrigation system and a camouflage series on how people see spaces.

“My work is food, fashion and landscape or a combination thereof,” Famulari said. “All of my work is about creating a space for an experience to happen.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526.