Eugenia Almeida of Knoxville, Tennessee, may not be typical of the people who work with concrete, but this mother of five and grandmother of four has never cared about doing things the typical way. She does what she loves, and what she loves is color, texture, and concrete.
"When you think of concrete, you think of men," she said. "But I'm a woman, I'm Hispanic, and I'm 53. I just love working with concrete. Wherever my imagination takes me, whatever I see, I can do it in concrete."
Originally from Argentina, Almeida has lived in Knoxville for 20 years, where she started a business doing painting, faux finishes, and other decorative work for homes and businesses. She's worked on floors, ceilings, walls, cabinets, doors, and furniture, always with a creative style unique to her.
"I love working with textures, and I love color. Because of my Hispanic origins I like strong colors that make you feel emotions."
Almeida grew up surrounded by artwork and color. Her father, Eugenio Wade, is a well-known portrait artist in Argentina and is known in East Tennessee for volunteering his time to paint the mural in a rainforest exhibit at the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge. Her mother is also an artist - a still-life painter and ceramist.
Almeida didn't do much artwork herself until she came to the United States when her husband, Raul Almeida, got his Ph.D. in veterinary microbiology at Iowa State University. When he took a job at the University of Tennessee, they moved to Knoxville and she began her business, first helping out friends with painting, then doing professional faux finish projects and other creative decorating projects.
Four years ago she went to an International Decorative Artisans League convention and met Cindee Lundin, a trainer and technical consultant for Architectural Enhancements in Minnesota.
Concrete artist Eugenia Almeida and Rick Robillard, CEO of Timber Tops, outside the lobby of the corporate suites where Eugenia and her crew have completed extensive work both inside and out, including 200 linear feet of flooring textured and colored with an acid wash in a terrazzo-style pattern. Renovations are still in progress on one end of the complex, which includes a kitchen with a custom AurastoneTM countertop and a Mount LeConte backsplash. Left: Detail of relief vine work on a concrete steam shower for a private residence.
"I loved what she was doing with concrete," said Almeida, who decided she wanted to try working with concrete and attended trainings at Architectural Enhancements. She experimented with different colors, products, techniques, textures, and tools - whatever she thought might bring her imaginative ideas to life. The end product may look like old wood, stone, trees, marble, granite, or something completely different.
One of her early projects was covering a metal door with a thin layer of concrete and using her skills to make it look like an old wooden door. She even added Italian-type hardware, all done in concrete. She did a similar door at a music store and was adding the finishing touches by carving into the concrete when a customer approached her, wanting to know why she was cutting into the beautiful wood. She had to convince him it was concrete, not wood.
It was about this time that she met Rick Robillard, CEO/CFO of Timber Tops, a luxury cabin rental company in Sevierville, Tenn. From the minute he saw her work, he was taken by the high quality and unconventional style.
"I was immediately attracted to her out-ofthe-box thinking and her creativity," he said. "She was doing things like taking a Wal-Mart bag and painting with it. It was amazing."
Since then, Almeida has done many projects for Timber Tops - at their office building, their rental cabins, and the personal residences of people connected with the company. She's created concrete walkways stained with swirling colors reminiscent of the Smoky Mountains in autumn, covered posts to make them look like wooden timbers, and made old countertops look like boldly colored granite.
Currently, Almeida is working on a kitchen counter project in the Timber Tops office building that includes a backsplash formed to look like one of the area's most famous mountains.
"I told her we should mix it up and do something creative there," Robillard said. "When she asked me what I was thinking, I said `Well, we're in the mountains, why don't we do that?'So I sent her a photo of my favorite Jim Gray painting of Mt. LeConte and she took it from there."
The result is a creamy gold countertop with speckles of brown and gray, and a backsplash that looks like a mountain vista streaked by morning sunrays.
At a private residence in East Tennessee, Almeida created a rainforest scene in the bathroom and steam shower using concrete and Venetian plaster. The bathroom was designed by Maria Bustamante from Ecuador, who worked with her on the project.
"It looks like a tree is growing right through the shower," said Robillard, "and the walls look like you are in a rainforest. It's a soothing and calm (space)."
Almeida said she loves working with Robillard because they know each other well and trust each other. That trust allows her free reign to try new things and be spontaneous in her work. Robillard agrees.
"We stay in touch and collaborate constantly, so we have gained a trust for each other," he said. "Sometimes we know what the other is thinking about a project without even having to say it. I do think it's a unique relationship - kind of rare."
Almeida continues to take workshops to learn more about concrete. A Buddy Rhodes workshop she attended at Braxton-Bragg helped her learn how to pour concrete. She uses waterbased and mineral-based acids and pigments to create different colors and whatever tools she can get her hands on to carve designs into the still-damp concrete - wooden sticks, stamps, plastic bags, tissue paper, paintbrushes. For many years she used her drill to mix the concrete, but recently she acquired a Flex small batch mixer from Braxton-Bragg, which has made that part of the job much easier.
Almeida's only advertising is by word of mouth, Facebook, and a web site for her business, called A New Hue, which a friend helped her create two years ago (). Yet she stays busy working, leaving time to travel back to Argentina at least once a year to visit family.
"I am working and I am busy, so I am blessed. I love concrete; it is so beautiful to work with. I'm always trying something new."
Eugenia Almeida will be a featured artist at the 2011 World of Concrete show next spring in Las Vegas, Nevada.