- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Mary and Genevieve Shimek are elementary school students who anticipate what’s on their lunch bags more than what’s in them.

Most school days since kindergarten, the 8-year-old twin sisters walk across West Sixth Street, which separates their Millcreek Township home and the Tracy Elementary School, with their afternoon meals in traditional brown paper bags.

However, they rarely do so before their mother uses them as 4-by-8-inch canvases.

Melissa Shimek, 44, normally brainstorms her artistic subjects the night before. Come morning, the Villa Maria Academy graduate goes about creating her latest works alongside a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola while employing one of her numerous black Sharpies.

“The bag themes revolve around the girls’ interests and life experiences,” Shimek said. “They often reflect their recent trips, books, school lessons or conversations.”

Shimek, whose bag collection numbers well into the hundreds, isn’t restrictive when it comes to her caricatures.

A casual browse through several stacks of past drawings revealed depictions that ranged from historical (a 1920s flapper and John F. Kennedy) to pop cultural (Pee-wee Herman and the Muppets).

“Kids don’t say too much about them,” Mary Shimek said of the bags, “but my teachers will say, ‘Your mom is very talented.’”

Genevieve Shimek has heard feedback about them from her peers.

“Some of my friends say, ‘You’re a great drawer,’” she said, “but I’ll say, ‘No, that’s my mom’s drawing.’ That feels good.”

The public can view the work that Shimek’s daughters and her husband, Matthew, are familiar with, come August. That’s when her illustrated bags will be displayed at Blasco Memorial Library as part of its “Back to School” exhibit.

“I’ve tried to incorporate what they’re learning (into the drawings) as a way of encouragement,” said Melissa Shimek, whose father, Patrick Sullivan, was a graphic artist at Kim Kraft Inc. “One day it could be (an astronomy theme), the next day chemistry and the next day reading. It’s just something to keep them motivated.”

Shimek’s talent has rubbed off on her daughters. Each draws on her own and both are already competent in the basics of animation on their home computer.

After attending Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Shimek earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Pennsylvania State University in 1994. But it wasn’t until after graduation that her prowess with pens and markers truly emerged.

Shimek moved to Chicago and worked at Dusty Groove, a store recognized for its collection of rare and obscure albums. While there, she freelanced as an animator and illustrator for an alternative magazine in Chicago, plus U.S. Rocker, a Cleveland-based music publication.

It’s something Shimek continues to do for local and national musical acts since she moved back to Erie in 2001.

Shimek said her favorite artists are pen-and-ink illustrator Edward Gorey, and cult cartoonists Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar. However, many of her bag drawings share traits with the Japanese animé called kawaii (“cute”).

“It’s the influence my daughters seem to enjoy,” Shimek said.

Shimek knows Mary and Genevieve will outgrow such lunch bags and her unique hobby will likely cease.

When that happens, she plans to have a California friend archive and bind her collective work.

There have been suggestions that Shimek market her drawings, but she remains uncomfortable with that notion.

“I’ve had friends say they’d buy (copies) of these to pack their own kids’ lunches,” she said. “I’ve been apprehensive about that because I’m not doing this for profit. I’m doing this for my daughters. I’d like to think, ‘Draw something yourself on a brown paper bag.’ If you want to share something like this with your child, here’s a Sharpie.”





Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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