Set designer follows his passion

Rike’s recognized his artist bent.Trotwood grad goes with “happy accidents.”

Chris Newman’s love of art has been his compass on a journey he never imagined while growing up in Trotwood.

Newman, now of Miamisburg, knew he loved art while he was at Trotwood-Madison High School.

These days he is active with CPAM (Children’s Performing Arts of Miamisburg) as a set designer/builder. His work there has led to his new and latest adventure as resident set designer/builder for the Dayton Playhouse.

He also shares his talent with other area theaters and is actively working on a set for the Dayton Theatre Guild’s upcoming production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House.”

“One of my (high school) teachers told me I would be going to the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD),” he said. Newman, whose parents were not college graduates, hadn’t really considered college. “My folks had good jobs with GM (General Motors). My dad only went to school through the eighth grade, and then he worked and served in Korea. Art school wasn’t on my mind, to be honest.”

But, because he knew he was destined to follow his passion, Newman did head to Columbus. “One of my first jobs was illustration, because I’d taken a lettering course at CCAD. I worked at Rike’s. They put me on the 11th floor and told me to string lights on all the Christmas trees. I did it, and I did a good job. They saw that I had an artistic bent,” said Newman. Before he knew it, they had him doing store windows and displays.

He moved from the downtown store to the now-closed Salem Mall in Trotwood, where he began his career in display. “The department manager would describe the look they were going for and I would create it.” He would take old boxes and paint them to look like granite. That is when Newman first dabbled in faux painting, a skill that would serve him well years later.

“I like to draw my ideas first. My managers saw my drawings, and before you know it I was the furniture department’s floor coordinator,” he said. Again, his talent at creating gorgeous spaces would prove helpful down the road.

After several corporate changes at Rike’s, which had become Lazarus, Newman left. It was 1996. “I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ ” The father of three daughters put his faux-painting skills to work, which led him to Homearama. “I ended up more than doubling my salary doing staging, painting, stenciling and more for Homearama,” said Newman. “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”

These “happy accidents” kept Newman’s journey moving forward and interesting.

A friend asked Newman to organize a party for his father’s 50th birthday. “This led to a lot of event planning, which is fun,” Newman said. He spent several years as an interior designer with an emphasis on faux painting. He remembers one homeowner who hired him to do one room. “I ended up working at her home for one year. I created a mural for a large wall in her foyer,” he said.

When his daughter was cast in Miamisburg High School’s production of “Cinderella,” Newman wound up creating and building the entire set.

Newman calls himself his own worst critic but also says, “I get to go to work every day and play. I’d say there is one line from (the musical) ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ that sums up what art means to me. … I made a hat where there was never a hat. It sums up the joy I get from art and the joy I give others.”

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