By Chrissy Cifuentes

For Stephanie Collins and her two daughters Dawn Folse and Torri Cannon, expressing their artistic sides are much more than an occasional hobby. It is a time of self-expression, renewal, and family bonding. Stephanie Collins, started embracing her artistic side at a very young age, and her curious daughters quickly took notice. “I can remember being a little girl watching my mom paint,” said Dawn Folse. “As long as I can remember, she would be creating and that propelled me into wanting to do art for myself.” As children, the girls would gather around their mother and watch in awe as she finished projects with ease. “She would always help us with anything artsy in school. It would be such a breeze for her,” stated Torri Cannon. “I thought it was normal for everyone’s mother to be an artist!”

This dynamic mother-daughter trio certainly has a talent for bringing the Louisiana coastal culture to life.  Fish, crabs, and pelicans are just some of the many creatures displayed on their works. Each member of the bunch has their own unique style. Some pieces are realistic while others have a cartoonish feel. Many canvases are covered with bright colors while others are more subdued. “You can tell we both learned from our mother, but we each have our own way of expressing ourselves,” said Dawn. “It is a family affair, and we always try to make time to come together and paint.” 

As the sisters grew, their interest in the arts continually increased. Soon, the ladies utilized their talents not only for fun, but also for business. They titled their art business 40 Oysters, and the reason behind its name is truly keeping family tradition alive. “Our grandmother would make her delicious gumbo for us, and we would always ask her how she did it,” said Dawn. “One day she told us that she uses exactly 40 oysters and then it clicked. It was perfect name to describe our art. Also, we chose that name to honor her.” 

The ladies travel to various craft fairs across southeast, Louisiana in order to sell and display their coastal themed creations. According to them, the only materials which are purchased are the paints. “Mostly everything we use as canvas is natural, and we gather it ourselves,” said Dawn. “Whether it is driftwood or cypress knees, we make use of it!” 

Both sisters proclaim that the most interesting pieces of art from their mother is her cypress knee Santa Clauses. The festive Saint Nicks all derive from the famous Louisiana tree stumps, and most of the time, they are straight from her own backyard. “There is a very interesting technique to creating the cypress Santa,” said mother of the clan, Stephanie Collins. “You can’t just pick out a stump and start painting. There is a process you have to follow.” Collins’ imagination takes flight every time she sees a new fresh knee to paint. “She can just look at a cypress knee and already have the face imagined,” said Torri. “She has everything already placed in her mind before she starts painting.” 

Things have certainly changed since the beginning of 40 Oysters. Schedules are busier and the daughters of the family have tasks of their own; however, there is a constant agreement. Time needs to be made for creation and family memories. “When we get together, it is our time to catch up with each other,” said Dawn. “We make those moments our own. We need it.” For the matriarch of the family, Stephanie Collins, the time spent together is priceless. “I will always love doing my art for myself, but there is nothing like being with my daughters and watching them express themselves in their own way,” she said. “I can teach them my way, but their personalities shine perfectly within their own works of art.”