As you may have seen on Instagram, last week I set up a window display at a popular hotel here in Edmonton. It's part of an amazing project called Green Window City, which invited artists to pair up with businesses in a busy shopping and restaurant district. The goal of the project is to reclaim otherwise wasted materials to make art, and to celebrate Pride Week here in Edmonton. Nineteen installations went up last week, and I feel so lucky to have made one of them.
People who see my heart sculptures are often amazed that I make them entirely out of paper. When we think of paper mache, we usually think of children mucking around with newspaper and balloons, though the truth is that people have been making sturdy, beautiful objects out of paper mache for centuries - probably for as long as there has been paper. Here are some of the ways that paper mache has been used that I find most interesting:
Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, religious dictates made it hard for medical schools to find bodies to use for dissection so models had to be made to teach students about anatomy. Many of these were painstakingly made with paper mache. If you haven't seen these models, I highly recommend taking a look (if you're not too squeamish!). They are truly beautiful. You can find a good selection here.
The Victorians started out by copying lacquered paper mache boxes and screens from Japan and China, and then they started making furniture. Henry Clay invented a process in the late 1700s that made a heat-resistant paper product as hard as wood.
Paper and lacquer were used to add decorative elements to samurai helmets and armour in Japan.
Masks are probably one of the most common uses for the medium. This one is from the Japanese Noh theatre and was made in the early 20th century. I found plenty of adorable animal masks for sale on Etsy as well.
Making puppets has always been on my list of things to do. Perhaps I'll add one to my paper mache repertoire!
Personally, I love the medium for its versatility, and the fact that materials are cheap and readily available. And then there's the goopy feeling of dipping the paper in the glue and shaping something with my fingers. Sigh... It's no wonder that I've been using it as my go-to construction medium for years. Recently, I searched through my photo archives for examples of other things I've made with paper mache, to show you a few fun examples. (I apologize for the terrible quality of some of these photos!)
A friend of mine was really into radio when we were in university so I made her this sculpture using real radio parts, paper mache, and collage. She was the first recipient of one of my hearts and I also made her a paper mache fish as a house-warming gift... She's probably hoping I don't make her any more bizarre objects.
I made this ornament for my mom for Christmas one year when I was a student and trying to save money by making all my gifts. Her Rottweiler, Tara, had passed away that year so I wanted to give her something to remember her by.
This was another project from an ambitious Christmas. I made two of these, one for my mom and one for my aunt, with different patterns. They were inspired by my trip to (surprise!) New Mexico and the amazing art that I saw there. I think I should probably make more of these. A cross-section of a heart would look amazing in one of these box frames.
My 2008 birthday had a gangster theme and I used the old paper mache over a balloon trick to make a piñata and painted a face on it. I still haven't decided if this was funny or twisted. If it's the latter, please don't judge me...
My most ambitious paper mache project was the set design for the play The Love of the Nightingale in university. I made two six by six foot triangles and had them mounted on castors so the actors could roll them around the stage to create the various settings of the play. It was an enormous amount of work and even with the help of friends, actors, and anyone else I could drag into it, I spent many a late night in that shop.
Look how much fun I'm having, covering that giant frame bit by bit, by bit.
How do you feel about paper mache? Fun? Gross? The best way to make things every? Leave a comment!
With one of my biggest shows of the year coming up in two days (it's the spring Royal Bison for all those of you local to Edmonton - check it out!) I thought I would share the process behind my new heart sculptures. I was first inspired to make these hearts when I visited the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. This was actually one of the most interesting places my brother and I went on our two month road trip around the States and I highly recommend it. The focus of the museum is on the history of medicine and "medical oddities". Along with plenty of information, the small building is crammed with human body parts in jars and models of body parts. Definitely not for the faint of heart, you could spend hours looking at all the beautiful and grotesque items on display. And we did. My favourites were the intricate models that had been made to teach about different organs like the heart or the lungs. Not having 3-D printers, these were painstakingly made with super fine layers of paper mache and painted by hand. They were breath-taking. Something in me clicked that day and I left with a desire to turn the shapes from the human body into artwork.
That fall I made my first heart for a friend. Using 3-D images online as a guide, I balled up newspaper to make the meaty part, then used toilet paper tubes to form the various passageways, holding it all together with masking tape. I covered the whole thing in paper mache, then collaged and painted it, using cut paper to form the veins. I gave it to my friend on her birthday, not sure if she would love it or think it was super weird. She loved it, and still has it 5 years later. A few years later I made one for my boyfriend on our first Valentines Day. He suggested that I make them for my I Heart Edmonton line and I was really excited about the idea. I decided to close that line of art before I got around to making the hearts but the idea stuck and now I finally have some for sale.
The main ingredients for these have stayed the same: balled-up newspaper, toilet paper tubes, and masking tape. To get the finish I collage pieces of maps alternating with beige tissue paper and paint, adding several layers to create depth. I was inspired to use the tissue paper when I looked down at my hand one day and saw the translucent skin stretching over the veins. I finish it by painting on the veins and covering it in a protective varnish.
You can purchase these hearts at the Royal Bison this weekend, and online in the near future. Sign up for email updates to find out more.
If you live in Edmonton and want to learn more about how I make my art, I will be teaching two workshops this month. Sign up on the right for details.