From hand-painted textiles to brightly-hued murals, Ashley Alford-Dollar is making a colorful splash in Northeast Louisiana.
Monroe artist Ashley Alford-Dollar grew up in Baton Rouge, but at 19, she left Louisiana to pursue her dreams in New York. She had always wanted to leave home after high school but wasn’t sure where she would land until she discovered the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). On a senior trip with a couple of friends, Ashley happened onto FIT while exploring New York, and it was truly eye opening. She had always loved fabrics and patterns and textures, but she had never imagined there was a place where she could actually study textile design. FIT was that place, and it satisfied her parents, as well.
Ashley’s mom, Brenda Alford, always encouraged her daughter’s creative side and was creative herself. But at the same time, her parents wanted Ashley to have a plan. They wanted her to know what she would do for a living when she finished college. According to Ashley, textile design is a very specific field, but it offers a range of practical opportunities. “With textile design, there are a lot of things you can do that you wouldn’t normally think about,” she said. Someone designs the patterns on our bags, our clothes, our bedding, our curtains, and many more of the things we use every day. Ashley not only designs patterns for these types of things. She also paints everything from murals and canvases to curtains and pillows. “I think sometimes textiles get put in a separate category,” she said, “but they really are art, and a lot of time and effort goes into creating them.” Ashley doesn’t draw a line between textiles and fine art. “Even a canvas is a piece of textile,” she said.
Although Ashley didn’t consider textile design as a career option until her senior year of high school, she had been preparing for it unknowingly for years. As a child, she loved to draw, paint, and make things. Like most kids, her mind was full of imagination, and her mom was always supportive, often joining her. The two of them would transform found objects that were given to Ashley by her school principal into works of art.
When Ashley got a little older, she started to become interested in henna tattoos. “It’s quite an art form,” she said. While she was initially drawn to them for aesthetic reasons, she found herself compelled to learn everything she could about them—from the way the henna paste is mixed to the cultural significance and meaning of the designs. She learned that henna tattoos are part of an ancient Indian tradition more than 5,000 years old. Although the practice has made its way into mainstream culture, it continues to be used to mark celebratory occasions such as Indian weddings and births. The tattoos, which are temporary, can be applied almost anywhere on the body, but the hands and feet are the most spiritually significant. Traditional henna designs include paisley patterns, flowers, foliage, and various animals, each carrying a different meaning.
When Ashley was in high school, she thought henna tattoos were “the coolest thing ever.” After educating herself and practicing them, she became skilled enough to offer the tattoos as a service to others. On weekends, she would set up booths at local and regional festivals or on beaches during vacation, and when she was in college, she supported herself by doing tattoos at corporate events and parties. She also used her knowledge and experience with henna to inspire a project she created for a competition in her rug design class in college. The theme of the project was “Eye on Indigenous,” and Ashley’s henna-inspired design performed well in the competition. Afterward, her work was kept as an example to other students.
Today, Ashley rarely does henna tattoos, but they continue to inspire her work. In many ways, the rug design class and the projects she created in it were pivotal to her success as a designer. Her professor for that class became her mentor and friend and helped Ashley get started professionally. In fact, the two continue to keep in touch.
After graduating from FIT, Ashley worked designing patterns for John Robshaw Textiles whose high-end linens and other items are heavily influenced by his travels in Asia, especially India. The job was a good fit for Ashley, and she gained a lot of experience before transitioning to rug design at Momeni rugs. At Momeni, Ashley was involved in every step of the process from design to manufacturing, but after 10 years in New York and 5 years commuting from Brooklyn to New Jersey for work, Ashley said, “I just got burnt out. I felt like that chapter was closing—like the glamour had worn away.”
At that time, Ashley’s mom was living on the Northshore of New Orleans, and it seemed like a great fit. It was a lively, creative city, but not as busy as New York. Fortunately, Momeni allowed Ashley to work remotely, which made the move easier, but working remotely was not ideal, and the arrangement only lasted about a year before Ashley struck out on her own. She had already been doing a lot of commissions and freelance work, especially for interior designers, so the transition to being fully self-employed wasn’t hard. It also made her recent move to Monroe easier. However, according to Ashley, the one thing that is sometimes hard about this type of work is that you’re essentially creating designs for other people to put their name on. She said it’s cool to see her designs in stores, but she can’t say, “That’s my design.”
At the same time, Ashley enjoys the work she does and acknowledges that this type of arrangement is common in her industry. Plus, she’s learned something from every experience. In fact, she thrives on collaboration. When she works with clients, she likes to get a sense of their space, who they are, what their needs are, and what their tastes are. For example, she recently designed some custom wallpaper for the The Eli, which is located upstairs from Restaurant Cotton in Monroe. At the initial meeting, she learned that the owner wanted her to create something in keeping with the old, rustic feel of the building but with a refined, Victorian vibe. After meeting with him and seeing the space, she was able to combine his wishes with regional elements, such as cotton and magnolias, to achieve a look he was pleased with.
Through a similar process, she designed a custom wall mural for Snaggle Dental, a pediatric dental office in West Monroe. Although these clients were very different, Ashley said, “I pride myself on being able to do a lot of different styles.” Because her experience is diverse, she’s become skilled at meeting her clients’ unique needs—no matter how different they are. For this reason, she said it’s hard to see a personal style in her work. She believes other people could probably look at her work and see similarities, but one of her goals for the future is to set herself apart more. “I want to get better at defining my personal style,” she said. “I want to lead with that more and have people be open to that.”
Ashley’s custom wall murals and wallpaper are digitally printed by a manufacturer in Chicago. According to Ashley the paper is soft, thick, and durable with a bit of a vinyl feel. It’s perfect for virtually any space. But in addition to creating digital designs for homes and businesses, Ashley is also happy to design and paint by hand if her client is looking for something handmade. For example, she recently met with Pat Costanza of Monroe to create a piece of art for her new home. When Ashley walked into the space, the walls were white, literally a blank canvas, but Pat gave her some colors to work with, Ashley created a mood board, and they discussed elements of existing art pieces that Pat liked. Afterward, Ashley was able to create something that worked for Pat. The end result was a large, fluid abstract piece filled with purples, taupes, and metallics and finished with a coat of gloss resin.
Another project Ashley is especially proud of is a set of hand-painted drapes and coordinating art pieces she made for a client’s home in New Orleans. When the drapes were complete, Ashley had painted approximately 60 yards of fabric, but the end result was, in her words, “show stopping.” For clients and interior designers who are looking for high-end, custom-made looks, Ashley is their person.
At the same time, Ashley loves to create bright, funky, pop-art inspired pieces, and she would love to create more work for children’s spaces. Being head of product development at Nûby in Monroe, Ashley works with children in mind on a daily basis, so carrying that inspiration over into her creative endeavors would be an easy transition. The murals at the end of Art Alley in Monroe are fun examples of her work in this bright and playful style.
When Ashley first moved to the area, she wanted to add a touch of color to the Alley and enlisted the help of her husband Steven to execute her designs. It was a fun project for the two of them, and she believes the murals, which are uplifting for all ages, have infused new life and energy into the Alley. “I love seeing people enjoy them so much,” she said. Since creating them, she’s seen girls take homecoming pictures there, and women take birthday pictures there. They give locals a reason to come to Art Alley, and the possibilities to enjoy them are endless. Living nearby, Ashley said, “It’s so nice to be down here to witness things like this. I think it gives people a sense of community.”
Even though Ashley takes her work at Nûby seriously and does a phenomenal job, it’s the creative work that she does for herself and her clients that truly fulfills her. “I don’t know what else I would do,” she said. “If I didn’t have to work, I would still make art. It’s something that is so ingrained in who I am.” With more than 15 years of design experience under her belt, Ashley has worked with a lot of clients, and she’s become very adept at working with trends. “I definitely let trends influence my work,” she said. “It’s essential to follow trends. They’re here whether you like it or not.” But the nice thing, according to Ashley, is that there will always be enough trends happening at any given moment that everyone can find something to suit his or her taste. Fortunately, Ashley is equipped to help clients discover where their taste and trends intersect. “I feel I’m very keen at spotting trends,” she said, “and I’m proud of it.”
In the end, she synthesizes ideas from multiple places and puts a unique spin on whatever trend she is responding to. “I think you’re always going to be influenced by something,” she said, “but that’s okay. It’s always going to be yours when it comes out in the end.”
In addition to learning a lot about business and design along the way, Ashley has also learned a lot about herself and about life. She’s learned to make joy a priority. “I would say that every project I have ever taken on is because I thought that I would enjoy it,” she said. “I would describe myself as a feel-good artist. If I like the sound of an idea, project, or challenge, I will take it on because I love the process of creating. Whether it’s canvas, textiles, wallpaper, or murals, I feel good when I am creating, and that makes me happy.”
For Ashley, another key to being happy is enjoying the journey. It’s easy to become obsessed with getting to the next big thing in life—whether it’s graduation, a job, kids, or something else. But Ashley said, “It’s about enjoying the process to get to those big landmarks of life and not letting those landmarks define your life.” She strives to approach life with a focus on the journey, although she admits that doing so is sometimes easier said than done.