By the time the McLarens’ Bracken County cabin is finished, it will feature four custom mosaic projects, all created by the artists at InsideOut Studio in Hamilton.
At InsideOut, adult artists with disabilities learn and practice artistic techniques. The studio sells finished pieces, then pays the artist 50 percent of the profits. But InsideOut takes commissioned pieces, too, which is how the McLarens learned about the studio.
“We like stained glass. We like mosaics, but the price of some of the mosaics we had looked at were just out of our range,” says Ginny McLaren, who lives mostly in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. The Bracken County cabin is more of a getaway. When the couple learned about InsideOut, they made a trip to the studio and quickly realized that the studio’s artists could provide exactly what the McLarens wanted.
So far, the couple has commissioned four projects for the cabin.
The Three Little Pigs
First came the mosaic in the grandkids’ room, inspired by the McLarens’ grandson, Oliver, who loves the big bad wolf.
Tim McLaren instructed that he wanted a mural—specifically in the shape of a triangle, to fit the space near the ceiling of the second-floor, loft bedroom—of the Three Little Pigs. And that’s about all the guidance he provided.
“I give their artists free rein,” Tim says. He told Inside out, “I just want the big bad wolf and the three little pigs [and the] brick, straw, and stick houses. They do a fantastic job of turning that into reality.”
The finished piece depicts a cheerful wolf on a walk to visit the three worried pigs and their homes. On the ceiling adjacent to the mural, Tim painted a collection of rainbows and clouds, that bear the grandkids’ names.
Rolling on the River
If the first mural was for the grandkids, the second was decidedly Tim’s. He’s a fan of the Delta Queen steamboat and Belle of Cincinnati riverboat, so he had the InsideOut artists add their designs of the boats to the outdoor portion of the chimney.
The McLarens constructed other details, like faux stone rockwork to represent the Ohio River, so it looks like the two boats are passing each other.
“We managed to put some stuff together above the boats to make it look like the sky and hillsides of Clermont County,” Tim says. “The back of chimney is supposed to look like the view you can see from the cabin.”
The Fireplace Mural
The third piece the McLarens ordered from InsideOut is the crown jewel. This is the one with the history—and the heft.
The project started 14 years ago. Tim wanted the fireplace to tell a story, in mosaic form. He calls it the Tree of Life.
“The whole cabin itself, we think, needs to be somewhat of a testimony for Christianity. There’s always good and evil, always temptation,” Tim says, and he wanted animals to represent these ideas. “I just gave [the artists] free reign to put in whatever they want. A cicada’s in there,” to represent summer 2021, when InsideOut finished the mural.
There’s also a deer and a bunny. An owl in a tree. A snake and some insects. The mural is built around work Tim previously completed on the fireplace, when he hung copper to form the tree’s branches and leaves. He estimates the completed piece is about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Relaxing with the Characters
The final commissioned pieces will be set at the base of a series of pillars under the back porch. Tim created a seating space on the patio and wanted to incorporate some children’s imagery in the space.
There’s Little Miss Muffet and the spider “who sat down beside her,” plus Huck Finn to fit in with the river theme from the chimney.
Eventually, the McLarens hope to move permanently to their vacation cabin. Ginny is retired, and when Tim retires, they plan to live in Bracken County full-time—and maybe open their home to the public.
“One of the dreams is for it to be a bed and breakfast someday,” Tim says. “That might only be a dream, or it might be a reality.”