June 17, 2021

In the Artist's Studio: Kaleen Zerbe of Farm & Foundry

In the Artist's Studio:  Kaleen Zerbe of Farm & Foundry

When you start to study artists, especially those that focus on Halloween, you cannot help but find Kaleen of Farm & Foundry.  Living in the country, Kaleen loves being a wife and mother of three beautiful daughters.  After working in a dentist office for 10 years, she decided to stretch herself and take her own advice of “Do what you love” and spend more time with her creative side.  As you will find...she loves her some Halloween displays!


Tell me a little bit about your work and how you got into selling your one-of-a-kind folk art:

Her creative artistry is building a character from the ground up using old fashioned Papier Mache.  There are no molds involved, just a balloon…anchored to a plant holder, as she creates the initial form.  I am sure we all remember doing Papier Mache at some point…ripping up old newspaper, using a glue to apply and building your layers.  Once the shape takes place (and the balloon has been popped), it is then a matter of artistry.  For a character to take shape, there is several rounds of sanding, sculpting and carving that is completed.  It is this part where the character comes to life and Kaleen believes the real artistry comes to play.

Kaleen loves using ‘old’ colors by way of milk paint.  Milk paint comes in the form of a powder and comes in various earth pigments.  When you study the color of Halloween orange, there are ranges from ‘too bright’ on the blow molds to ‘just right’ in the primitive finds:  buckets, brooms and wooden bowls.  Kaleen’s preference is the vintage palette, and you will find her characters all look old, but have the sturdy composition to last through many generations. 

Tried and true to my questions, I had to know her favorite holiday growing up:

While there were not any wild traditions in Kaleen’s past, she did note that her grandmother let her start painting at the ripe ‘ole age of 3.  She would get to use her young talent on small, wooden decorations (see below):

What I did find interesting was that Kaleen had Freddie Krueger for her 3rd birthday cake.  SAY WHAT?  Ok, so maybe not the gory side of Freddie, but a kid-safe version.  That would be so cool and definitely one for the Halloween inspired memories.  I could not tell you my third birthday cake.  Guess it was not as memorable.

How did you get started into making these wonderful creations? 

Kaleen’s favorite Halloween items are the vintage lanterns.  Her Etsy journey began about 6 years ago, when deciding on WHAT she loved, she determined she would rather create them herself.  Wa-La!  That is where the magic begins, the creation of her Halloween characters that hold a vintage style, both in texture and in appearance.  Over the past year, she has really started to focus her time and talents to Halloween since that's where her heart is in her artistic journey.

She was also asked on many occasions to do artistry work using her talent around foliage and her handwriting.  She would be asked to make signs for weddings or events.  You can see some of her gorgeous work on her Etsy store.

What do you think you are most know for?

Having daughters can be helpful to a degree, especially when they know social media more than you do!  This is the case with Kaleen when her daughters direct her in ‘socializing’ more 😉.  While she feels her ghost is what makes her stand apart from the others, she also states that all her Halloween pieces are popular.


Where do you get your Inspiration for your creations?

Kaleen loves all things vintage including collectors books, Halloween lanterns, Johanna Parker Design, Bethany Lowe Designs.  She loves the way they embellish and how they bring Halloween to life.  She loves all the ‘old’ and was even lucky to get an old Halloween post card from 1902 (that was mailed in 1908) from Pinegrove, PA which is where she is from!


If you love what you do and it appears you do...what do you do to ‘get away from work?

Kaleen and family are in a great location for being such a fan of vintage Halloween.  She isn’t too far from Shippensburg, PA.  Know what is in Shippensburg?  I didn’t, but I soon found out that is the Beistle company.  If you aren’t aware, the Beistle company has been creating Halloween decorations that started about 1900.  I’m sure if you aren’t familiar with the name Beistle, you may remember seeing some of the old (or new) paper decorations where the tissue is honeycombed, or the skeleton cutouts:


Since Kaleen, her sister and her mother tend to be horror buffs, they tend to travel around and visit towns like Beistle.  Another fun fact is that these three ladies went to where Lizzie Borden is from and stayed at her old house (three times!!)  Do you know the story about Lizzie?  I remember the old rhyme that was made up that we used for jumping rope:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Too gruesome?  Ok, we will move on.  But just know that Kaleen has also visited Camp Crystal Lake (the home of Jason Voorhees) where she met Adrienne King (the heroine on Friday the 13th)!  How cool is that???

What do you think about when you are painting?

Kaleen’s main passion around her art is to make sure she is creating something that can be used in Holiday Displays through many generations.  She said her thought process is about simpler times and wants to ensure that it looks like it has a story.  She loves working with muted tones and believes that distressing is one of the most important parts of the process, so she spends a lot of her time here.

When do you feel most satisfied?

Kaleen’s satisfaction comes from reading her reviews.  She loves the feedback, and it makes her feel happy when she can share her art.  Every person’s comments mean something to her because she knows it is ‘pure honesty’. 

Where do you see your journey go from here?

When you are a one-person team that is self-taught and where quality is of the utmost importance, what Kaleen sees in her journey is just an evolution of growth.  She wants to learn and grow her characters and her business by making sure that what she creates is loved. 

I have to say that every artist I have talked to genuinely cares about their creations.  They really love what they do, and it shows.  They want to make sure that what they create is not just a ‘thing’ that is passed around from person to person, but rather something that is treasured for years to come.  Kaleen is no different.  She wants her ghost or cat lanterns (or whatever you decide to treat yourself) to be loved each Halloween season. 

While Farm & Foundry is not currently at Holiday Pizzazz, we don't want to lose sight of the fact that she is a very talented artist.  These blogs are meant to highlight artists and how they create, how they are inspired and how they put these amazing characters into our hands!  You may one day find some of Kaleen's work in our store, but for now you can find her on Etsy!