2014 Bonus Issue
Makers in Love with Unusual Mediums
Mate Bonus Issue, September 2014 Published by the American Craft Council craftcouncil.org
From the Editor Uncommon choices.
Born Again Nearly 20 years ago, a Goodwill-bound typewriter landed in Jeremy Mayer’s hands – and launched his uncommon career, constructing delicate insects, animals, and even life-sized human forms from discarded typewriter components. Julie K. Hanus has the story.
Natural Talent Nature often inspires artists; less commonly, it is their canvas. Danielle Maestretti talks to Susanna Bauer about her delicate creations of fallen leaves, sticks, and stones, embellished with natural fibers and thread.
30 Peace, Love, and Topiary Decades ago, a man named Pearl Fryar twisted, clipped, and pruned his first topiary into shape. Today, his wondrous 3-acre garden draws thousands, including tourists, art students, and curious passersby, to his home. Diane Daniel pays him a visit.
Hand I (typewriter) photo: Josh Miller / Trans-Plant (foliage) photo: Simon Cook
erial On the cover: Nathan Sawaya X-Ray (detail), plastic bricks, 4.5 x 2 x .8 ft
Spira (nails) photo: Luc Demers / Skulls (Lego) detail photo: Courtesy of brickartist.com
Point of Departure John Bisbee has spent 30 years working with nails, forming them into increasingly fantastic (and lately, increasingly large) works. Danielle Maestretti talks to the ever-evolving artist.
Brick by Brick Nathan Sawaya pairs the timeless art of sculpture with a decidedly modern material: Legos. Danielle Maestretti talks to the artist about specializing in the playful plastic bricks.
Limitless Possibilities Ann Weber scavenges the cardboard she uses for her towering sculptures straight off the street â€“ in her Bay Area hometown, in China, in Rome. Joyce Lovelace catches up with the indomitable artist and her whirlwind career.
Coloring Outside the Lines Christian Faur combines high technology with humble materials, using computergenerated digital maps to arrange hand-cast crayons into amazing pixelated images. Joyce Lovelace talks to the artist about his amazing photorealistic portraits.
Latex Dreams With ordinary latex balloons, Jason Hackenwerth breathes life into extraordinary sculptures, each one a metaphor for a whole thatâ€™s greater than its parts, each one in this world for a limited time only. Gini Sikes talks to the artist about his curious and fleeting creations.
You and Me Together (cardboard) photo: M. Lee Fatherree / The Wind, The Wind (crayon) detail photo: Christian Faur
Dance of the Honey Bee (balloon) photo: Jason Hackenwerth / Earrings photo: Hazel J. Studstill / Creature photo: Mercedes Schmitt
& more 110
Intimate Apparel Erica Spitzer Rasmussen is a storyteller, but her medium isn’t language. Instead, the artist uses unorthodox and personally significant materials – dried apricots, human hair, buffalo fur – to convey her individual tales. Mason Riddle relays the story of her art.
Animated Surfaces Lindsay Pichaske’s creatures blur boundaries, slipping between species and wearing skins of the most unexpected materials. How is it, then, that they seem so real? Julie K. Hanus has the answer.
Coast to Coast How wide is the world of uncommon materials? Browse the work of 20 more artists, who have forged fresh paths – from antlers and coconut shell to zip-ties and Velcro.
from the editor
Erica Spitzer Rasmussen Jacket Pilosic, 1999, tea-stained tea bags, animal and human hair, waxed linen, velvet, flax, 21 x 57 x 3 in. 06 american craft / materials 2014
those artists who, by virtue of alone and learning to trust your their materials, are creative outown idiosyncratic drive, your liers – the rarest of the rare. own sometimes-faint inner Some, such as John Bisbee, rely voice. It means figuring out how on one very specific material – in to make a living without artistic his case, nails – whose potential, role models to base your career after years of practice, he knows on. It takes a kind of primal selfintimately (page 40). Other artreliance that few teachers or ists, such as Erica Spitzer Rasinsurance agents – or any of us, mussen, use a whole array of for that matter – know. offbeat stuff (page 110). “I don’t And sometimes all of that use standard art-store materials,” existential independence makes she says; “mine are very perfor great art. “People with a sonal and unusual” – among horticulture background don’t them, human hair, tea bags, sundo what I do,” says Pearl Fryar, dried tomatoes, matches, and who makes a kind of otherbottle caps. worldly topiary (page 30). “I What does it take to be this broke the rules because I didn’t sort of unconventional artist? know the rules.” It requires finding your own Jason Hackenwerth relished way and learning what your his independence, making a materials will and won’t do by strategic decision to use baltrial and error, without the benloons as his material (page 94). efit of a clear method, estab“I started creating objects and lished guidance, or credentials. paintings not that different It means forming your own from a thousand others,” he work identity, with the knowrecalls of his early days as an ledge that there aren’t many like artist. “I needed to find material you. It often means working to make my work stand out.”
For Christian Faur, using crayons as his medium is part of the joy of his unusual vocation (page 78). “I have a lot of fun using materials in ways that either subvert or enhance their communicative powers,” he says. “I love playing. I feel like a kid.” Whatever drives these artists, we think they enrich life far more than their small number might imply. As Hackenwerth puts it, “Art is similar to flowers, which bloom in the most inhospitable places and attract other life forms that didn’t exist there before. . . . Artists often have no money and work under tough conditions and yet help life flourish.” And we’re glad they do.
Monica Moses Editor in Chief
Jacket photo: Petronella Ytsma
by one estimate, there are as many full-time craft artists in the United States as there are people in the town of Gillette, Wyoming. Never heard of Gillette? Well, no wonder; like the universe of craft artists, it has a relatively small population. According to the Craft Organization Development Association, between 30,000 and 50,000 artists are earning their living making craft in this country. By contrast, there are about 443,400 insurance agents in the United States – 10 times the number of craft artists. And there are 3.7 million K-12 teachers – 100 times as many. Being an artist is an uncommon choice. And while most craft artists work in one of five mediums – clay, glass, fiber, metal, or wood – some take a less traveled path, working with unorthodox materials. This bonus digital edition of American Craft is devoted to
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Typewriters materials 2014 / american craft 09
With discarded typewriter parts, Jeremy Mayer creates fantastic anatomical sculpture.
story by Julie K. Hanus
portraits by Mark Tuschman nude iv (delilah) is a striking beauty: a 6-foot woman, casually reclining, with a hint of a smile in her assertive gaze. Her personality is palpable, and her maker, Jeremy Mayer, wouldn’t have it any other way. He spent more than 1,400 hours assembling Delilah out of typewriter parts, meticulously manipulating them until he spotted life in her orbital metal eyes. “I feel like the parts do that for me,” says Mayer, who has been building typewriter sculpture for nearly 20 years, ever since a Goodwill-bound Olivetti landed in his hands. Instead of dropping it off, he disassembled it. Over the years, the Californiabased artist has come to see typewriters as a natural material, like wood or stone. People mimicked nature when designing them, he explains. And when you take them apart you’re left with an
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Jeremy Mayerâ€™s craft is decidedly labor-intensive: 2014â€™s Nude VI (Theia) took 1,100 hours to make.
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Thereâ€™s so much vitality here, itâ€™s strangely easy to forget these figures began their lives as machines.
Bust IV (detail), 2010, typewriter parts, 16 x 14 x 10 in.
elemental assortment of metals, rubber, plastic, and wood. In his hands, those elements become arresting anatomical sculptures. Mayer doesn’t weld, solder, or glue; he crafts his figures exclusively with materials and mechanisms native to the machines. He made the decision early on. “I didn’t want to see wired-on, extraneous materials,” he says. “I wanted a cleanness of assembly.” He also didn’t want to strip away scratches and dirt — almost literally, the human fingerprints — to prepare pieces for those other modes of construction. Those blemishes draw people in, he says. Like names
Nude IV (Delilah), 2009, typewriter parts, 36 x 32 x 66 in.
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“I didn’t want wired-on, extraneous materials. I wanted a cleanness of assembly.”
For Nude VI (Theia), the artist created his vision of the Greek goddess of sight and light.
Hand II (Kate’s Hand), 2010, typewriter parts, 11 x 6 x 5 in.
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Kate’s Hand photo: Jeremy Mayer
carved into a tree, they’re the proof that someone was there— using a typewriter, putting their hands on it. As he has honed his unusual craft, two anatomy books have been his constant, grease-stained companions. Mayer has assembled busts, body parts, and full human figures, as well as various animals and insects. Cat X recoils in an exaggerated hiss. Deer III stands on spindly legs with a brightly cocked head. There’s so much vitality it’s strangely easy to forget that his creatures began their lives as machines. Mayer finds the distinction irrelevant. Everything in the world, natural or human-made, is part of one closed system, he argues. This ethos perhaps is the most futuristic element of his art, never mind the aesthetic. “There are a lot of things we’ve created that are just sitting around inert,” he says. Not all of it can be buried, not all recycled. In our collective detritus, Mayer sees an opportunity — even a mandate — for reinvention. This is our chance to “take everything
Biological or mechanical – it makes no difference to Mayer. It’s all one closed system.
Joe’s Hand photo: Josh Miller
Hand III (Joe’s Hand), 2010, typewriter parts, 14 x 4 x 4 in.
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In our detritus, Mayer sees an opportunity – a mandate – for reinvention.
Swallow I, 2013, typewriter parts, 6 x 8 x 1 in.
we have, pick it all apart, choose the best parts, and reassemble it,” he says. He’s not alone in his views. His work has been widely and well received, attracting attention from mainstream publications such as Wired and Make and the website BoingBoing, and has been shown at Device Gallery in San Diego and 5 Claude Lane in San Francisco. Last year, Mayer took part in the first “Salon des Indomptables” in Paris, sponsored by a tourist boat company, and is returning to Paris next spring for a permanent installation on one of the boats. “We’re going to make a lot more junk, and there’s going to be a lot more junk art,” Mayer says. “I think people are going to have a lot to say about it, and more people need to think about it.”
jeremymayer.com Julie K. Hanus is American Craft’s senior editor.
Sculpture photos (2): Jeremy Mayer
Portrait of Marvyn A. Pelzner, 2013, typewriter parts, 16 x 8 x 15 in.
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Foliage materials 2014 / american craft 021
While exploring the coast of Cornwall with her 4-year old son, Susanna Bauer often discovers new materials (and inspirations) for her art.
Susanna Bauerâ€™s tiny sculptures bring refinement to organic matter.
Navigation, 2013, magnolia leaf, cotton yarn, 8.6 x 3.9 in.
portraits by Adam Gibbard
story by Danielle Maestretti
left: Connection, 2012, oak leaves, cotton yarn, 8.3 x 6.5 in. right: Double, 2013, magnolia leaf, cotton yarn, 11.4 x 8.3 in.
nature is often a source of inspiration for artists, but it’s rarely a canvas. In Susanna Bauer’s imaginative, yet patient hands, seemingly ordinary stones, branches, and leaves are starting points for small but potent sculptures. Bauer’s organic objects, expanded and embellished with delicate fibers, find an impossible balance between fragility and strength, defying our 024 american craft / materials 2014
expectations of what natural materials are capable of. Where Bauer lives, along the gorgeous coastline of Cornwall, England, there is no shortage of source material. The climate is mild and damp; unusual flora and rich green landscapes abound. She often spots new supplies while out on walks or playing in the woods with her 4-year-old son. “It feels as if the materials find me,” she says.
left: Bauer inspects a batch of magnolia leaves that hang from a clothesline in her studio.
Artwork photos (4): Simon Cook
Family Tree, 2012, wood, pine seeds, cotton yarn, 11.4 x 5.7 in. dia.
“Sometimes just a particular view of leaves touching each other can trigger a piece of work.” Promising materials make their way back to her studio, where leaves hang from a clothesline, awaiting deployment. Working with tiny, discarded objects is nothing new for Bauer; even as a girl, she says, “I constructed little landscapes in matchboxes with tweezers.
I’ve always loved miniature; I’ve always had a love for the very peculiar, the very small things.” For 18 years, Bauer’s job was in modelmaking, which helped her learn new techniques and hone the crafts she pursued in her free time. It was a stressful work environment with lots of deadlines and chemicals in the fast-paced surroundings of London; as she transitioned to a quieter rural life
Link, 2014, magnolia leaves, cotton yarn, wood, 25.5 x 18.5 x 13.3 in.
Cone Tree, 2013, magnolia leaves, cotton yarn, wood, 13.5 x 10.4 x 2.7 in.
in Cornwall over the past decade, her work developed accordingly. Recently, Bauer’s focus has been on leaves, which she painstakingly collects, cleans, and dries before switching into creative gear. Her favorite is the humble magnolia leaf, in large part because of its classic leaf shape, simple
structure, and strong veins. “I’ve worked with maple and oak,” she says, “but the shape of those leaves is busy; the edging is quite distinct, so I feel like there isn’t really much that I can do to it.” Because of their size, magnolia leaves are also well suited to the compelling, delightfully improbable three-dimensional
Photos: Simon Cook
right: Awakening, 2014, magnolia leaves, cotton yarn, wood, 65.6 x 33.6 x 4.2 in.
â€œSometimes just a particular view of leaves touching each other can trigger a piece of work.â€?
A detail of Awakening reveals a web of delicately crocheted yarn.
forms that Bauer coaxes from them: cubes, cones, rolls, and drums. As the shape grows more complex, the whole piece becomes more fragile, a tension that brings energy and mystery to each work. Equally impressive is the life that Bauer restores to her materials. A carefully crocheted, rippled corner puts a flutter back materials 2014 / american craft 027
right: Bauer says she has always loved “the very peculiar” and the very small – a passion that once fueled her former career as a modelmaker.
left: 1, 2, 3, 2013, magnolia leaves, cotton yarn, 11 x 17.7 in.
into a fallen leaf. Two leaves are joined with stitching or tightening crochet, seeming to tug at one another from their respective branches. Leaves bear elegant battle scars, where some parts have been removed and others transplanted. One of her favorite recent works, Awakening, takes on somewhat grander scale. The piece, which was featured in a solo exhibition of her work in Trento, Italy, lovingly recreates an entire tree branch, adorned by leaves with buoyant stitched auras. “It holds a strong message about endurance, hope, and resilience,” she says, the power of her small work writ large. susannabauer.com A frequent contributor to American Craft, Danielle Maestretti is based in Oakland, California.
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Artwork photos (2): Simon Cook
below: Drum Tree, 2013, magnolia leaves, cotton yarn, wood, 16.7 x 14.9 x 2.75 in.
Leaves bear elegant battle scars, where some parts have been removed and others transplanted.
Topiary A man named Pearl answers his doubters with an extraordinary garden. story by Diane Daniel photography by Brownie Harris
“I broke the rules, because I didn’t know the rules.”
driving up broad acres road in sleepy Bishopville, South Carolina, you can’t mistake Pearl Fryar’s house. Before you reach the brick ranch, fantastical shapes rise from the earth like a row of genies wafting out of their bottles, deep green bodies arching and corkscrewing in a multitude of directions. The house itself is tightly circled by swooping shrubs, some multitiered, others squat, resembling oversized mushrooms. 032 american craft / materials 2014
For more than 30 years, the self-taught topiary artist has transformed his 3-acre lot into a living sculpture park. The garden also is home to what he calls his “junk art,” fountains and sculptures Fryar assembles from found objects. On a sunny Saturday morning, Fryar is laying down a mosaic of bricks and stones to create a walkway to an important addition – a public restroom.
“To get a sign on the interstate, you have to have one,” Fryar explains, as he stands up and brushes the dirt off his black jeans. Lee County and a local business financed the restroom, along with signposts on the highway through town. Well before anything pointed the way here, folks started coming and now number 10,000 to 15,000 a year, Fryar estimates. Maybe they read about him in newspaper
overleaf: It took Pearl Fryar 20 years to coax these Hollywood junipers into their distinctive shapes.
below: Fryar shaped this 20-foot Leyland cypress “fishbone tree” over 10 years.
left: A gas-powered hedge trimmer is Fryar’s tool of choice. He wields it for hours at a time in the South Carolina heat.
and magazine articles or saw his 20-foot-high Heart Within a Heart juniper topiary, which was moved in 1996 to the grounds of the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. Or maybe they saw the 2006 documentary A Man Named Pearl, which aired in 2012 on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The garden, about 25 miles off Interstate 95, is a popular stop on the route between Florida and the Northeast, and today’s
visitors include both travelers and locals. He talks with all of them, asking where they’re from and leading ad hoc tours, where he holds forth on horticulture, art, and self-improvement with a can-do zeal. The artist, 74, stands 6 foot 2, and, aside from a slight stoop, has the physique of a fit 50-year-old. He has pruned, trimmed, tied, twisted, and forced some 500 plants into submission since his first topiary in 1981.
He worked alone until a couple of years ago, when he got a part-time helper for chores. Fryar’s more organic forms conjure Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, while the angular designs resemble cubist Picassos. He eschews the wire frames used to form most grand-scale topiary and is known for abstract designs using all manner of trees “not fit” for ornamental shaping, including dogwoods and live oaks. materials 2014 / american craft 033
left: This island graces Fryarâ€™s driveway. He trims the hedge, made of Yaupon hollies, once a month.
A juniper with a faint heart shape as part of its abstract design. Love is a theme throughÂout the garden.
“I start off with a vision, and sometimes it takes me seven years to get there,” Fryar says to the couples trailing him. “People with a horticulture background don’t do what I do. I broke the rules, because I didn’t know the rules. It’s hard work,” he hastens to add in what seems a non sequitur, “that determines success.” The flora alone make a trip here worthwhile, but Fryar’s background elevates the man to mythical heights. The son of a North Carolina sharecropper, Fryar made it through college, studying math and chemistry, with the help of a benevolent landowner.
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He later worked in can factories in New York City and Atlanta before being transferred to Bishopville. There, a friend relates in the documentary, he tried to buy a home in a white neighborhood but was told that “black people don’t keep up their yards.” It was an indictment that fueled his desire to keep not only a well-groomed yard, but an exceptional one. Ask him about the incident, and Fryar will decline to elaborate. “I don’t like to talk about color or negativity,” he says flatly. Instead, he preaches the power of potential and determination. A few years ago, using money he’s made from speaking
engagements and appearances, he started awarding community college scholarships to industrious but average students who don’t typically meet academic requirements for assistance and who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Jean Grosser, an art professor at nearby Coker College, regularly takes students to Fryar’s garden to study form. “At first, mostly horticulturists were interested in Pearl, but he’s now recognized as a visual artist,” says Grosser, who is also secretary of the nonprofit Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden Inc., formed to preserve the garden. During field trips, Grosser notes, Fryar
makes as much of an impression as his topiaries do. “He’s an electric personality; students really admire him.” Fryar ends today’s tour, which has doubled in size, by crossing a small footbridge onto a lawn with the words Love, Peace, and Goodwill etched into the grass and accented with pine straw. “I want people to go away with that message,” he says, “and maybe feel differently than when they got here.” pearlfryar.com Diane Daniel is a writer who lives in Florida and the Netherlands.
top left: Planted in the early 1980s, this hedge separates Fryar’s property from his neighbor’s. top right: The white pine in the center of this photo started life as a Christmas tree. Fryar has been shaping it since the 1980s. left: Fryar regularly trims the foliage of plants like this juniper to keep them looking dense and smooth.
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“At first, mostly horticulturists were interested in Pearl, but he’s now recognized as a visual artist.” jean grosser professor of art
The branches and leaves of this squaredoff oak tree are so dense that Fryar can stand on top of it.
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Nails materials 2014 / american craft 041
Point of Departure Though he says heâ€™s easily bored, John Bisbee finds nails endlessly fascinating. story by Danielle Maestretti photography by Irvin Serrano
Bisbee plumbs the depths of his unusual medium with the enthusiasm of a budding artist
preceding page: John Bisbee crafts elegant forms out of a surprisingly humble material. above: Chica, a rescue dog, hangs out amid sculptural pieces in Bisbee’s workshop.
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“only nails, always different.” This is John Bisbee’s mantra, after 30 years of working with nails to create sculptures that are industrial, elegant, and strikingly diverse. The sculptor, 49, continues to plumb the depths of his medium with the enthusiasm of a budding artist, and he’s nowhere near exhausting its possibilities. As a college student, Bisbee quite by accident stumbled
upon the material that would become his life’s work. Having previously explored ceramics and glass, Bisbee was “bored and disillusioned,” he says, and had shifted into making “really bad found-object sculptures.” Scavenging in an abandoned house for materials, Bisbee kicked a bucket of rusty nails, and found that the nails had rusted together to maintain the bucket shape. “I was, like,
‘This is way better than the crap I’m making.’ ” Bisbee didn’t necessarily expect to be working with nails decades later, but as long as there are new discoveries to make, he’ll keep hammering away. “I’m not allowed to repeat myself for any significant length of time,” he says. “It always has to be fresh and wow me on some level, because I get bored very easily. If I’m not chasing some
t, and he’s nowhere near exhausting its possibilities.
new configuration or verb, I get depressed.” In keeping with this dynamic philosophy, over the years Bisbee has shifted incrementally into larger nails and larger sculptures. For the past decade, his work has focused on 12-inch standard spikes known as “bright common,” the largest commercially available. Bisbee has wrought wonderfully versatile pieces from these spikes:
above: Wafer, another rescue dog, looks on as Bisbee works. left: Bisbee bent these nails for photographer Ervin Serrano as a gift.
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Grove and Spira photos: Luc Demers / Pelt photo: Andy Duback
He doesn’t sketch – “I tried drawing as a little boy and found it humiliating,” h
above: Grove (detail), 1999, 12-inch steel spikes, dimensions variable right: Pelt, 2014, 12-inch steel spikes, 12 x 60 ft.
delicate geometric compositions that seem to dance and twirl across the wall; precisely straight, flat spikes that appear perfectly welded together, as if by machine; organic forms that evoke plants and flowers on a grand, industrial scale. So far, nothing that he’s set out to do has eluded him. “A nail,
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he explains – preferring to “work things out at the table.”
like a line, can and will do almost anything,” he explains. “What can’t you draw with a line? The nail is just my line.” Of course, turning his lines into an actual structure can take some serious tinkering – and welding, and hammering, and bending. He doesn’t sketch – “I tried drawing as a little boy, and
found it humiliating,” he explains – preferring to “work things out at the table.” “Everything I’m working on feels like I don’t quite know if I can get it,” Bisbee says. “That’s the challenge; that’s the shit that keeps you humming.” These days, Bisbee is grateful to have a small crew to help with
Spira, 2008, 12-inch steel spikes, 32 in. dia. x .75 in.
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â€œI think it looks like a huge, friendly hedgehog,â€? says Bisbee of Seed (2014), a monolithic work that weighs nearly 2 tons.
“I have to believe everything I these experiments: “my team of handsome athletes,” as he calls them, “who have really blown things open” by handling much of the tedious fabrication work. Many were students of his at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where Bisbee is an artist in residence. “Having help has allowed me to become the explorer, the researcher again, rather than finding that one idea and then spending half a year
chasing just that down,” he says. “It’s fun – I get to take a lot of chances and get better.” Three decades of these explorations have resulted in a still-growing collection of starts, fidgets, and twists that illustrate Bisbee’s ideas at various stages of realization. In 2000, he showed this library of sorts as “Field” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. The pieces continue to above: A detail of the coiled nails Bisbee used in Hearsay (2014). right: Bisbee relaxes with a harmonica and guitar next to Pillars (2008). At 30, he decided he wanted to be a rock star, but the plan didn’t work out. left: In 2008, the Portland Museum of Art hosted Bisbee’s exhibition “Bright Common Spikes.”
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make is going to be the best thing I’ve ever made, or I couldn’t really do it.” grow in size and number as his work evolves, and Bisbee suggests that perhaps he’ll show the expanded “Field” again in another 20 years. He is always looking ahead – to his next inspiration, his next breakthrough, his next great work. “I have to believe everything I make is going to be the best thing I’ve ever made, or I couldn’t really do it,” he says. “And it’s not always the truth –
I might hit on every third one, but then you have to make one and two to get to three.” Bisbee thinks part of the appeal of his work lies in its accessibility. “My work is easy, in the sense that it’s well made, and it’s comprised of an item that everyone at least has some relationship to, if not a rather elaborate relationship,” he says. “People almost always feel empowered to have an expres-
sion or an opinion or a story.” Earlier this year, the Shelburne Museum in Vermont showed “New Blooms,” a collection of floral and plantinspired pieces. And already, Bisbee is working on the logistics of a few new ideas for largescale (even by his standards) installations, which are “just barely eluding me,” he says. “You’d think that you would sort of choke off your options and
potential, the more you keep excavating a single item,” he says, “but I find it’s the opposite – it explodes. There are so many amazing tangents that I haven’t had time to take; so many great insights that are buried years back, so it’s ever expanding, this mundane object. I’m quite happy saying now that I will only work with nails.” johnbisbee.com
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to gr a
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Legos materials 2014 / american craft 053
Nathan Sawaya makes nuanced sculpture out of a kids’ building material.
story by Danielle
nathan sawaya wants to bring out the artist in all of us, and he’s doing it by pairing the classic art of sculpture with a decidedly modern material: Legos. In Sawaya’s grown-up hands, the much-beloved bright plastic bricks take on fascinating forms, snapped into intricate representations of everyday objects, large-scale portraits, pop-culture references, and surprisingly expressive human bodies. They are playful, of course, but also awe-inspiring in a way that’s
uniquely relatable: Sawaya has created beautiful, exciting, ambitious work out of material we’ve all played with, material that stands at the ready, at this very moment, in many of our own homes. This accessibility is by design. Since 2007, Sawaya’s striking Lego sculptures have toured five continents as part
of his “Art of the Brick” traveling shows. “One of the great things that happens at these exhibitions is that families come in who have never been to an art museum before,” he says. “Normally, when people go to a museum and see a marble statue, they can be impressed, but they don’t have a slab of marble at home to chip away at. But people have Lego bricks, and I get emails from families who go home [after the exhibition] and start creating with their Lego bricks.” right: Nathan Sawaya used to tinker with Legos as a hobby. Now, building sculpture with the plastic bricks is a full-time passion.
Courtesy of brickartist.com
right: X-Ray, plastic bricks 4.5 x 2.1 x .8 ft.
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portraits by Douglas
“I don’t think I see the world in rectangles,” Sawaya says. “I’ll look at someone, especially someone with unique features, and think, ‘I know exactly how I would reproduce them in Lego.’ ” right: Stairway,
plastic bricks, 3.1 x 3.3 x 1.25 ft.
That’s how all of this started for Sawaya: About 10 years ago, he was a corporate lawyer, seeking a creative outlet at the end of the day. He dabbled in writing, drawing, painting, and sculpting, eventually completing a series of sculptures made out of candy. “I was using these tiny pieces to create these larger forms, and one day I just thought, ‘Could I
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create large-scale sculptures using Lego?’ ” He dug out all of his old bricks, and challenged himself to re-create various objects in his apartment. First came small projects – an apple, a baseball, learning how to fashion a curve from interlocking square pieces – then, over time, he experimented with scale, creating larger, more complex structures. These days, he’s long past his supply of childhood bricks, and, while he buys all of the Legos he uses – “just like everyone else,” he says – he does have a nice relationship with the company and gets a good deal for buying such enormous quantities. For example, more than 80,000 bricks make up his largest sculpture to date, a 20-foot-long hanging skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Because the sculptures are transported from his studios in New York and Los Angeles, Sawaya uses glue to keep each individual brick in its rightful place during shipping. (“I learned that the hard way,” he explains.) As his exhibitions travel, so do some lively emissaries: a small crew of 15-inch figures Sawaya calls the Hugmen. Essentially, they’re Sawaya’s form of street art – bright, cheery Lego people he scatters about town; they hug door
Some 10 years ago, Sawaya was a corporate lawyer, seeking a creative outlet.
Stairway photo: Courtesy of brickartist.com
In Sawayaâ€™s hands, the bright plastic bricks become surprisingly expressive human bodies.
Sawaya says kids like Yellow â€œbecause there are guts spilling out.â€? Photo: Courtesy of brickartist.com
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Sawaya uses glue to keep each individual brick in its place during shipping.
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Courtesy of brickartist.com
Cracked, plastic bricks, 2.7 x 2.75 x 1.25 ft.
handles, bike racks, sign posts, and park benches. “I wanted to leave something fun behind for people to smile at,” he says. In April, he ramped up the concept in recognition of Earth Day, installing three larger-
than-life tree-hugging Hugman sculptures in a New York City park. Sawaya’s human forms are particularly intriguing. Most often rendered in a single, searing color, features and expressions are defined only by expert bricklaying; as a result, faces and bodies appear pixelated, raw, stripped to their most basic elements. Yellow, which depicts a blazing bust of a man tearing himself open, is one of Sawaya’s most popular pieces. “That one really resonates with folks – I get a lot of email about that one,” he says. “It’s about opening oneself up to the world, giving everything you’ve got, until all that’s left is your guts spilling out,” he says. “I think kids like it because there are guts spilling out.” Young visitors are often inspired by Sawaya’s work in unexpected ways. “A lot of kids talk to me about Minecraft,” he
says, a popular computer game that’s based on blocks. “I’ve had kids actually send me reproductions of my own art that they’ve built in Minecraft – it’s surreal, and inspiring.” To that end, Sawaya recently launched the nonprofit organization Art Revolution, which aims to bolster art education and encourage more kids to get in touch with their creative sides. Thinking back to his years as a lawyer and the importance of his creative pursuits, he discusses recent studies that suggest, in a nutshell, “that art makes you smarter, and art makes you happier – it’s something we all need to do a little bit more of.” brickartist.com artrevolution.org
above: Grey (detail), plastic bricks, 3.75 x 3.75 x 1.25 ft.
Grey and Red photos: Courtesy of brickartist.com
right: Before he moved to large works, Sawaya pefected his signature style with miniatures. A small version of Yellow can be spotted in the lower-left corner of this bookshelf.
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Rendered in a single, searing color, Sawayaâ€™s human forms appear pixelated, raw, stripped to their most basic elements.
Red, plastic bricks, 4.1 x 2 x 2.2 ft.
“Art makes you smarter, and art makes you happier – it’s something we all need to do a little bit more of.”
Sawaya poses between Grasp, a wry sculpture that stands more than 5 and 1/2 feet tall, and Hand Holding Brick.
Michael Flippo, dreamstime.com
Cardboard materials 2014 / american craft 067
Almost 16 and 15 and 1/2 photos (left): M. Lee Fatherree / Laocoon photo: Davide Franceschini
Limitless Possibilities story by Joyce Lovelace
For Ann Weber, over more than 20 years of ups and downs, cardboard has proven the perfect material.
Ann Weber stands with Laocoon, one of several new sculptures made during her stint as a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome.
“i’m interested in relationships,” says Ann Weber. “Why they work, why they don’t work. All the emotions that come and go throughout life. Balancing acts – art, life, family. How far can you go before it all collapses?” Weber explores these big ideas in her sculptures, biomorphic forms that have towered as high as 16 feet. In the The Wedding Party (2009), she captured the complex dynamics of a marriage ceremony; a 7-foot Bridezilla and her even more imposing mother dominate the tableau of familiar figures. A comment on gender roles, Prose & Kahn (2010) depicts a voluptuous, three-bellied pregnant woman looming over a slightly cowed man. Her approach to art is “psychological,” Weber says, “neither abstract nor representational but something in between.” Amazingly, though their textured surfaces suggest wood or leather, Weber’s works are made entirely of cardboard – plain, ordinary stuff she scavenges from wherever, cuts and staples to build shapes, then shellacs. Plentiful, pliable, and lightweight, it’s been her sole medium for 20-plus years, and still offers “limitless possibilities.” In 2011, grand possibilities seemed to await Weber beyond her studio as well. Besides a successful show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (which attracted the attention of the L.A. Times), she had a residency at the American Academy in Rome lined up for later that year. “Then life comes and bites you,” she says, with a sense of rueful humor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Rome residency was put on hold. And yet Weber forged ahead with two solo shows, including one in her hometown of Evansville, Indiana. Those shows, the promise 070 american craft / materials 2014
Weber’s cardboard sculptures explore the pleasures and perils of relationships.
Tiny Dancer, 2006, cardboard, staples, shellac, 9 x 4.25 x 3.2 ft.
The artist stands in the midst of her 2006 sculpture Strange Fruit.
Angel, 2014, found cardboard, staples, 4.25 x 2.6 x .7 ft.
Angel photo: Davide Franceschini / Other photos (3): M. Lee Fatherree
Curiouser and Curiouser (detail), 2008, cardboard, staples, shellac, 4.5 to 6.1 ft. high
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of Rome, and her support system — “this huge circle of people around me” — kept her going. In December 2012, her treatment over, Weber went to Rome for her residency. There, she created a new series of work, Personages, drawing upon the people who helped her through her health crisis. Watch Over Me (2013) is a quartet of complementary forms, each one nestling into the negative space of another. “These personal things become universal,” she reflects. “It’s not just about me, it’s about the connectedness that we all have with our community.” While in Rome, Weber also found new inspiration in her material, far more colorful in Italy than in the United States. She scavenged it straight off the streets, just as she does in the States, only “dressed to the nines as people do in Rome.” Her dumpster-diving attracted the attention of a young filmmaker, and his short piece, Ann Weber in Rome, led to a residency in 2013 at the International School of Beijing, where she worked with more than 700 schoolchildren to create a 30-foot-long cardboard sculpture. To tell her stories, Weber continues to rely on “the most basic, universal forms in life – cylinder and sphere, male and female,” an affinity she connects
In 2013, Weber created Personages (Watch Over Me) as part of a series of homages to the power of interpersonal connection and love. Photo: M. Lee Fatherree, courtesy of Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, Weber forged ahead with two solo shows.
Prose & Kahn, 2010, found cardboard, staples, polyurethane, 8 x 2 x 1.8 ft. (left), 7.25 x 1.8 x 1.6 ft. (right)
Weber’s Personages series draws upon people who helped her though her health crisis.
to her early career as a potter. Years ago, Weber had a successful business in New York producing porcelain dinnerware for high-end stores; in 1985, she left it behind to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts with Viola Frey, whose monumental clay figures she’d admired at the Whitney museum. Besides inspiring her to go big, “Viola taught me how to be
and think like an artist,” Weber says. “She always said, ‘You’re a beginning artist for the first 10 years out of school.’ That gave me a lot of freedom. After graduation, I couldn’t deal with clay anymore. It was too much process, too heavy. So I started experimenting with different materials – plaster and chicken wire, old bottles, burlap.” In 1991 she moved into a new studio and, once unpacked, found herself eyeing stacks of flattened boxes. If architect Frank Gehry could make innovative furniture out of cardboard, she figured, why couldn’t she make sculpture? “It was a eureka moment,” she says. This past March, Weber returned to Rome for a second residency, completing six large sculptures there in a few weeks. (“I was on fire.”) She drew inspiration from the sculpture
Prose photo: Kim Harrington / Out photo: Davide Franceschini
Out the Window, 2014, found cardboard, staples, 10 to 65 in. high
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Her approach is “neither abstract nor representational but something in between.”
all around, especially by Bernini, particularly the drapery — “so extreme as to be almost abstract, like it had this spiritual quality.” She hasn’t slowed down since returning to the States, with a recent residency at the Lux Art Institute near San Diego, several group exhibitions this year, and a solo show at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in 2015. “It’s been one big deal after another,” she marvels. At the time, her diagnosis felt, quite naturally, like a huge blow, but it also spurred her to focus even more intently on her work – and her life. Though she knows it may sound odd, it was, she says, “maybe something that was the best thing that happened to me.”
Pluto, 2014, found cardboard, staples, 5.2 x 3.9 x 1 ft. Turvy, 2009, found cardboard, staples, polyurethane, 3.3 x 2.2 x 3.1 ft.
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Turvy and Wedding photos : M. Lee Fatherree / Pluto photo: Davide Franceschini
annwebersculpture.com Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor. Judy Arginteanu contributed to this story.
The Wedding Party, 2009, found cardboard, staples, polyurethane, 10 in. to 8 ft. high
From the humble wax crayon, Christian Faur creates sophisticated photorealistic portraits.
Coloring Outside the Lines
Joyce Lovelace photography by
previous page: A Series of Melodies, 2011-12. Each 1.2-footsquare panel is a different take on a photo of Faur’s daughter. Faur also crafted the wooden crayon box (inset).
below: Umbilical Sky (2007), a 1.6-foot square of hand-cast crayons, is based on a photograph Faur took. Embedded in the image are lines of text, written in his color alphabet (page 84).
one of the small thrills of growing up in the pre-computer era was a brand-new box of crayons, especially that coveted 64-count deluxe set. Opening it for the first time was a sensory experience: that waxy fragrance, the glorious sight of all those perfect, lustrous tips lined up in rows like a rainbow choir, with poetic names like Sea Green, Carnation Pink, Periwinkle, Burnt Sienna. It always made you a little sad, though; in order to color pictures, you had to ruin your crayons. No wonder today’s kids just download a coloring book app.
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But then there’s the art of Christian Faur. A self-taught maker with a background in physics and expertise in new media, Faur captures the interplay of art, science, and technology in amazing photorealistic portraits, each composed of nothing more than wax crayons – thousands of them. Using a technique he originated, he colors wax and casts it, then stacks the crayons one by one atop each other in rows, following a map he has generated on a computer, so that their tips become the “pixels” of an image. (He melts the back of the whole thing to stabilize it
left: Viewers can decode lines of text embedded in The Dance (2006) by using the color alphabet key in the lower left-hand corner.
Small crayon box (previous page) photo: Mark LaFavor / Artwork photos: Christian Faur
The Faur Alphabet of Color Faur assigned each letter of the alphabet a different color (below) and uses the resulting color alphabet to embed text in his work. thequickbrownfoxjumpsoverthelazydog (2009, left) is part of his Pangrams series, riffing on sentences that use every letter at least once.
A B C D E F G H I
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J K L M
Photos (2) : Christian Faur
Colorful lines of text run across House of Rain (2007), also based on a photograph Faur took. They spell out the title of the work and its anagrams. Line 12 reads: â€œNourish a foe.â€?
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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Land Surveyors Series
in the frame.) In this way, he creates the ultimate box of crayons, existing in the aggregate as art while remaining compelling little objects in their own right. A Faur crayon piece looks something like a pointillist painting or a grainy photo, depending, of course, on how far away you are standing. Come close, and the image dissolves into what he calls “random crayon data.” “I love the idea of communicating in a way that’s not through language, but through materials,” Faur says. “And I have a lot of fun using materials in 086 american craft / materials 2014
ways that either subvert or enhance their communicative powers. I love playing. I feel like a kid.” Faur was born in 1968 in New York City and moved throughout his childhood, from Chicago to Los Angeles to Sacramento. Making art was his constant, “the thing I always kept for myself.” After serving in the Army, he earned a degree in physics from California State University, Northridge, then taught physics and math at an L.A. middle school while exhibiting his oil paintings on the side.
In 2000 he and his wife, Gabriele Dillmann, settled in Granville, Ohio, where today they are on the faculty at Denison University – she as a professor of German language and literature, he as director of collaborative technologies in the arts. In 2008 he finished an MFA in visual art and new media through the Transart Institute, a program based in Austria and New York. It was Christmastime in 2005 when Faur was building a wooden crayon box as a gift for his daughter that inspiration struck. He was painting with
Photos: Christian Faur
Faur based The Land Surveyors (above) and his WPA Portraits (this page and opposite) on Depression-era black-andwhite photographs. He used more than 150 shades, aiming to restore to the images “the lost color of their time”; color film was available in the 1930s, but cost prohibited its use.
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Process photos (3): Melissa Farlow
encaustics then, and had come to enjoy the versatility and properties of wax, “this fantastic surface quality that’s neither glossy or varnishy or highly polished, nor matte or dull.” But handling those crayons, observing how their tips absorbed light and conveyed dimension and texture when piled en masse, spurred his imagination. He’s been playing with crayons ever since, to the delight of viewers both close to home – with three solo shows at Columbus’ Sherrie Gallerie since 2007 – and in the high-profile setting of New York City, where his works have sold briskly at Kim Foster Gallery. Represented by the London-based Mauger Modern Art gallery, his work was shown at the Houston Fine Art Fair last year. There’s an undeniable wow factor to the technical skill involved, from creating a perfect digital map to mixing precise pigments and arranging all the cast crayons. A small work about 1 foot square might take him four days, a larger, multipanel piece (up to 3 by 8 feet) several months. As for his material, the artist good-naturedly
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left: Faur’s crayons don’t come from a box; he makes them himself by pouring melted wax into reusable molds. A typical work, about 1 foot square, uses more than 2,000 crayons.
above: Faur’s crayonmaking process begins in rice cookers, where he melts and tints the wax. It gives him freedom to combine and mix colors, as a painter does.
A small work – about 1 foot square – takes Faur about four days to make.
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variety of shades and patterns, achieving a spectrum of moods, from wistful to melancholy to slightly fierce. Another series, The Land Surveyors, presents stark archival portraits from the Depression that resonate all too powerfully these days. Faur has always drawn on his dual interests – art and science – to bring density and dimension to his creative work. His early paintings were informed by poetry and literature (T. S. Eliot, Kafka) and embedded with mathematical elements (numbers, symbols, prime knots). Working with crayons, he’s found, has opened up new
avenues of experimentation: trying different ways of “weaving” them to get certain effects or intensify colors; exploring the phenomenon of color blindness; even creating his own color alphabet. Another fruitful area of inquiry has been the idea of the pixel. “How does our brain bring this discrete data point and melt it together to form imagery?” At his university job, Faur is steeped in electronic media, which he sometimes references directly in his art. In 2012’s Parrish, five panels show a little boy’s happy face progressively disappearing into
what looks like TV static – a comment, maybe, on the overwhelming digital noise that surrounds today’s young people. Faur, for his part, stays grounded in real stuff – crayons, and occasionally other media such as shredded paper, in works that can be highly conceptual. “For me, working with the object, the material form, is still super-important,” he says. “The idea is great, but it needs physical manifestation.” christianfaur.com Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.
Photos: Christian Faur
acknowledges the novelty appeal, though his approach is wholly serious. These sophisticated pieces delight (and trick) the eye, challenge the mind, and touch the heart. “I’m captivated by people’s faces, their expressions. It’s something I love re-creating, reinterpreting,” Faur says. His subjects are hauntingly familiar. His Forgotten Children – blurry faces based on playmates Faur recalls only vaguely – read like faded photographs, memories we can’t fully retrieve. In A Series of Melodies, he takes an image of his daughter and renders it in a
Parrish (2012) digitally disintegrates in 20 percent increments, panel by panel (each 1.2 feet square), mirroring the way our memories fade over time.
Faur wonders about pixels â€“ how the brain takes discrete data points and forms imagery.
Yves Klein Blue Boy, 2010, hand-cast encaustic crayons, 1.2 x 1.2 ft.
“I’m captivated by people’s faces, their expressions. It’s something I love re-creating, reinterpreting.”
Photos: Christian Faur
The Jacket, 2009, hand-cast encaustic crayons, 4.1 x 2.5 ft.
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Balloons materials 2014 / american craft 095
Latex Drea With ordinary balloons as his material, Jason Hackenwerth makes uncommon, if ephemeral, statements.
The centerpiece of the 2012 show “Contextual Flux,” created by Hackenwerth with the help of University of Minnesota students at the Weisman Art Museum. Photo: Mark LaFavor
story by Gini Sikes photography by
Mark LaFavor and John Midgley
left: A view of the Trinity Project (2012), an installation Hackenwerth created for the opening of a new building at his alma mater, Webster University, in St. Louis. bottom left: Posy (2011), installed at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
drop acid or read horror master H.P. Lovecraft, and you’ll have some idea what it’s like to encounter Jason Hackenwerth’s gargantuan floating sculptures for the first time. Iridescent protoplasmic blobs and swarms of protruding tentacles loom high above, creating an atmosphere of disconcerting strangeness. But unlike bad trips or aliens, these monstrous creations don’t horrify – they amaze. Especially once you realize what you’re looking at: balloons. Thousands of the long, skinny kind ordinarily twisted into poodles are instead woven into works of protean grandeur. “A balloon is a benign object that anyone can afford, but 098 american craft / materials 2014
connected they transcend their individuality to become something greater, larger than life,” the 44-year-old artist says. “It’s a metaphor for what we’re capable of as a species when we unite.” Hackenwerth has metamorphosed the mundane into the marvelous at big-name arts festivals and museums around the world, including the Edinburgh International Science Festival in Scotland, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Jang Heung Art Park in Seoul, Art Basel in Miami Beach, the Great Hall of Dinosaurs at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, as well as atop an
ancient lava flow in Oregon. He made a 33,000-balloon sculpture in Abu Dhabi. Such alchemy is not easy. For a 2011 oceanic environmental campaign, Hackenwerth transformed the atrium of the London department store Selfridges into a colossal coral reef jellyfish colony. He and six assistants labored 10 hours for each of 11 days to inflate and twist 35,000 balloons. Limited workspace at the 2011 Hong Kong Art Fair required him, working with four assistants and a half-dozen volunteers, to produce a sculpture in five separate sections over one week – and then to squeeze each inflated structure
Beach photo: Sean Gilligan / Other photos (2): Jason Hackenwerth
right: Hackenwerth created Beach Trumpet (2008) in photographer Sean Gilligan’s garage in Portland, Oregon, and then trekked to this remote beach for a photo shoot.
No amount of sweat, no degree of bulk, can ward off the inevitable when balloons are involved.
In 2o13, Hackenwerth was comissioned to create Dance of the Honey Bee for Dig the City, an annual urban gardening festival in Manchester, England. Photo: Jason Hackenwerth
For one installation, Hackenwerth and six assistants worked 11 10-hour days to inflate and twist 35,000 balloons.
Peaches photo: Sean Gilligan / Tempest photo: Mahmood Fazal
through double doors to install in the convention center’s huge entryway in a single evening. Assembled, the enormous cantilevered form stretched 50 feet, undulating in the air. Yet no amount of sweat, no degree of bulk, can ward off the inevitable. With time, each monumental creation slowly loses air, drooping and wilting until what once filled a museum shrivels down to a blob about the size of a Pomeranian. Sometimes the piece lives only a night or two, as for TED talks in 2007 and 2009, or for a museum gala. On those occasions, Hackenwerth gives the gift of life and then takes it away, slashing and popping his own work. “My art isn’t collectible, but that’s fine,” he says. In fact, its fleeting life span only underscores its rarity and generates a sense of urgency to see it while it’s up. Hackenwerth began his career conventionally enough in 2003, when he arrived in New York City with a BFA from Webster University in his native St. Louis and an
left: Peaches and Cream (2012) was commissioned by the New York Times to use as a logo for T Magazine.
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above: A foam kinetic sculpture from The Tempest, a 2012 installation by Hackenwerth at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, South Carolina.
MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. (In late 2013, seeking a change of pace, he and his wife moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.) “I started creating objects and paintings not that different from a thousand others,” he recalls. “I needed to find material to make my work stand out.” Over years of struggle for recognition and money, he shelved groceries, waited tables, sold cars, and when seriously short of cash, grudgingly fell back on a talent he inherited from his mother, who entertained children by twisting balloon animals. In New York he ultimately graduated to gallery jobs, but the pitiful pay and dismal subway commute weighed heavily on his spirits, until an idea floated into his head – rather like a balloon. He began to experiment with manipulating balloons into fantastical forms. Then, at four o’clock one morning in the summer of 2004, he headed underground to affix to gritty subway walls brilliant clusters of neon green and orange that
Hackenwerth started as a painter but knew he needed to find a stand-out material.
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Photos (2): Jason Hackenwerth
left: 10,000 balloons were used in Pisces (2013), a 40-foot installation at the National Museum of Scotland.
below: One of several window displays Hackenwerth created for Bergdorf Goodman in 2010.
Song of the Silken Mermaid (2013) at the cavernous Skybox Event center at 2424 Studios in Philadelphia.
“My art isn’t collectible,” Hackenwerth says, “but that’s fine.”
waved like exotic flowers or sea creatures when trains whizzed past. Hackenwerth waited unnoticed for the platform to fill and watched as people stopped, riders snapped photos, and would-be vandals left the balloons unpopped. The phantasmagoric creations remained until deflating – perhaps a month, as long as a typical gallery show. Within a year of his impromptu subterranean art exhibition, Hackenwerth’s balloon sculptures hovered over crowds at galleries and art fairs. And as the size of the spaces grew ever grander, so did his virtuosity. He developed a knitting technique to link an almost infinite number of balloons. Working with a hundred or so, he fashioned wearable art resembling griffins and sea anemones. Weaving several thousand, he suspended a giant cantilevered mobile from the ceiling of the Guggenheim’s Peter B. Lewis Theater for performances of Peter and the Wolf. Each sculpture begins as a sketch based on an organic, bulbous shape Hackenwerth has drawn since childhood. “Everything on the planet evolves from this form in some way,” he says. “It comes down to the arc that my wrist makes when I draw; the curve of that line is universal.” By the time Hackenwerth is constructing on-site, he has already spent hours, eyes closed, ruminating on the space, often beginning with photos or video, although he prefers contemplating in situ. The construction process demands strenuous crawling and bending, not to mention lugging 80-pound boxes of deflated latex. He also hauls a balloon-inflating machine, although he insists
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tures [requires] a variety of different machines and pumps to inflate balloons depending on the balloons I’ll be using. I also use safety gear [including] safety glasses if I am inflating with my mouth. ... I have incurred and successfully deflected some eye injuries. Art is hard!”
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Photos (12): John Midgley
In the Studio with Jason Hackenwerth “My first and most important tool is my body. Making this work is strenuous. It takes endurance. I try to meditate and stretch daily, and exercise regularly. I find this helps my mind make the transition from thinking to allowing. ... Making the latex sculp-
human lungs are more efficient. The machine “can’t blow up the skinny balloons, so if I want a hundred on the spot I do it with my face. It’s sheer determination.” The physical demands keep Hackenwerth surprisingly fit; strangers occasionally mistake him for soccer superstar David Beckham. He even has his own “pre-game” ritual, donning protective glasses, inserting earplugs (three out of every 100 balloons pop spontaneously), wrapping a bandanna around his head and silk tape around his fingers. “You twist a thousand balloons, after an hour the latex will wear the skin off your fingertips.” In 2012, a conference called PopTech invited Hackenwerth to Iceland, a country in economic crisis, asking him to speak about resilience – a quality both nations and artists need to survive. “Art is similar to flowers, which bloom in the most inhospitable places and attract other life forms that didn’t exist there before,” he says. “Artists often have no money and work under tough conditions and yet help life flourish – look how artists changed Soho or Chelsea. How long will it be before they transform Detroit into somewhere amazing – with ordinary materials and connectedness?” jasonhackenwerth.com Gini Sikes is an author, TV producer, and journalist based in Los Angeles. materials 2014 / american craft 109
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& more materials 2014 / american craft 111
Each of Erica Spitzer Rasmussen’s sculptural garments – from ethereal kimonos to provocative bustiers – is a personal tale made tangible. story by Mason Riddle
portraits by Steve Niedorf
Rasmussen’s narrative works are intimate expressions of universal experiences.
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erica spitzer rasmussen is a teller of stories – but her medium isn’t language. Her vehicle of choice is the female body and the clothes that women wear. To tell her tales, the Twin Cities-based artist constructs dresses, kimonos, bustiers, and collars from fabric or cast handmade paper, often lacing pieces together with linen or silk thread, jute, or flax. She then embellishes the surfaces with unorthodox materials such as human hair, tea bags, animal fur, and sundried tomatoes.
“I don’t use standard art-store materials,” she says. “Mine are very personal and unusual.” As personal as her stories: Rasmussen’s narrative works aren’t fictional tales, after all, but intimate expressions that give physical form to abstract, universal subjects including ancestry, illness, pregnancy, and death. Silent Harvest (2011) is an armless dress form, hips to neck. Built from cast paper painted gold and sheathed in dehydrated apricots, the figure has an opening in the front,
above: Three Corsets of Talis, 2002, cotton, acrylics, gold leaf, camel hair, horse hair, jute, bottle caps, dehydrated fish, waxed linen thread, dehydrated cherry tomatoes, shellac, various metals, human hair, 22 x 13 x 10 in. each Photos: Petronella Ytsma
previous page: Erica Spitzer Rasmussen in her studio near St. Paul, Minnesota.
Spoiler, 2009, cotton, acrylics, shell, plastic, brass, waxed linen thread, human hair, 25 x 18 x 10 in.
revealing a Star of David in the dark interior, where the heart should be. She began the piece after a 2010 visit to Vienna with her father and son. A side trip took them to the picturesque Austrian village of Spitz, known for its apricot orchards, and the source of her maiden name. Because Austria was annexed by Germany during World War II, not a trace of her Jewish past was to be found, not even in the cemetery, where only Christian names marked the graves. “I’m giving my vanished ancestors a voice again,” she says. “Silent Harvest is a marker, a memorial to my family.” Born in Iowa and raised in Minneapolis, Rasmussen lives with her husband, who’s a painter, and their 9-year-old son just outside St. Paul. Her studio is in the basement of their home.
Her cache of raw materials includes dried fish skins, rusty bottle caps, buffalo fur, and watermelon seeds.
Photos: Petronella Ytsma
left: Victim of Circumstance (2012), made with silk suture thread and surgical needles, explores the damage women do to their feet by squashing them into fashionable high heels.
above: Dirty Little Secret (2000) represents the illegal early 20thcentury practice of X-ray hair removal, which resulted in cancer diagnoses for many women.
top: Hot and Heavy, 2012, cotton, flax, tissue paper, Elmer’s glue, cotton thread, poodle fur, 54 x 60 x 3 in. bottom: Object of Desire, 2012, cotton, tissue paper, acrylics, metal, matte medium, human hair, 17 x 27 x 4 in.
On shelves, in drawers, and in boxes is her cache of meticulously archived raw materials: dried fish skins, rusty bottle caps, silk suture thread, tomato paste, buffalo fur, watermelon seeds. Though modest in size, the well-lit workspace is convenient. “The commute is very easy,” she jokes. Yet travel is central to her practice, as demonstrated by her trip to Austria, where she did a residency at Vienna’s PapierWespe. In the past decade alone, Rasmussen has traveled to Puerto Rico, throughout Western Europe, Mexico, and Canada, and around the United States to research materials, clothing styles, and cultural practices, as well as to exhibit her work. Travel also enriches her 17-year teaching career at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where she is an associate professor, teaching art appreciation,
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bookbinding, and papermaking. In Minneapolis, she teaches youths and adults at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Ostensibly, Rasmussen’s sculptures are wearable art, yet few pieces actually can be worn because of the fragility of materials and construction. She plans to wear A Coat for Two Occasions (2000), however, for her cremation. Made from joss paper, flax, cotton thread, rayon, walnut stain, and acrylics, the silver-gold kimono’s title refers to the Chinese funeral ritual of burning sheets of joss to propitiously send off the deceased into the afterlife. By wearing the kimono after her own death, Rasmussen figures she’ll relieve attendees of the task. “I’m trying to bring a little humor and beauty to the inevitable,” she says, admitting her fear of dying. “Besides, you have to wear something.”
Rasmussen has traveled extensively to research materials and cultural practices.
Photos: Petronella Ytsma
top: Rasmussen plans to wear A Coat for Two Occasions (2000), covered with joss paper, at her funeral and cremation. The Chinese burn sheets of joss ceremonially at funerals to ensure an auspicious afterlife. bottom: Garment of Fortune, 2010, 2,200 cookie fortunes, Rit dye, Chinese inks, acrylics, commercial papers, cotton thread, orange pekoe tea, 29 x 56 x 2 in.
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Photos: Petronella Ytsma
left: Choker (2010), made of kozo, organza, elm seeds, and decongestants, reflects Rasmussenâ€™s struggles with seasonal allergies.
above: Rasmussen made Book of Desires (2007) as her mother endured her second round of cancer. Black pages contain her motherâ€™s hair, lost to chemotherapy. White pages of examination table paper carry wishes for her recovery.
Making art is a cathartic experience that allows Rasmussen to explore ideas about lifeâ€™s travails.
above: Rasmussen poses with Seeds of Knowledge, a pair of seed pod-shaped books she made after finding inspiration in a Carl Sagan quote about books. She used the vintage typewriter to print Sagan’s words – plus notable quotes from other authors – inside the books.
below: As part of her installation Set, Rasmussen labeled wax-sealed bottles (containing hair from humans and animals) with intentionally curious names such as niko, mutt, and head.
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Photos: Steve Niedorf
above: Rasmussen holds up the Fun Foam stencil she used to make the leafshaped pages of Seeds of Knowledge.
below: Rasmussen has amassed a myriad of vintage buttons from both friends and flea markets over the years.
She often relies on humor to balance the seriousness of her work. One of her nowsignature cast-paper bustiers, Red Hot (2005) celebrates the conception of her son after she struggled with years of infertility. Humble it is not. The glistening gold bustier is covered in red-tipped matchsticks that project from its surface like quills of a porcupine. Dangling from each side of the pelvic area – on fishing lures – are two orbs with tassels, also exploding with matchsticks. (One can guess which part of the artist’s anatomy they represent.) Alluring yet thorny, Red Hot is an unabashed metaphor for the heated act of procreation. The more recent Patch and Repair (2010) is a ’50s-style dropwaist dress with a box-pleated skirt made of examination table paper painted black and covered with polka-dots; on closer
inspection, the dots reveal themselves as spot bandages. The dress is a re-creation of her mother’s warning on her 40th birthday: “After 40, dear, it’s all patch and repair.” For Rasmussen, making art is a cathartic experience that allows her to explore ideas about life and its inevitable travails. And though her aesthetic is hers alone, her practice links her to the millennia-old tradition of people making objects to cope with the unpredictable milestones from birth to death. The tactile, visceral nature of her materials simply magnifies the human need to tell stories. “The best work causes people to think and feel,” says the artist, holding a bag of apricots. “That’s what I try to do.” ericaspitzerrasmussen.com Mason Riddle is a writer in St. Paul, Minnesota. materials 2014 / american craft 123
Photos: Petronella Ytsma
All Eyes on Me, 2012, cotton, jute, wood, acrylics, human hair, teddy bear eyeballs, 22 x 16 x 9.5 in.
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Red Hot celebrates the conception of Rasmussenâ€™s son after years of infertility.
Red Hot, 2005, cotton, acrylics, gold leaf, wax, metal, rubber, matchsticks, 25 x 12 x 11 in.
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When Lindsay Pichaske was younger, she was fascinated by apes and other primates: â€œI wanted to be Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.â€?
Animated Surfaces Lindsay Pichaske relies on materials such as feathers, sequins, and sunflower seeds to create extraordinarily lifelike creatures.
Julie K. Hanus portraits by
The Matriarch, 2012, low-fire ceramic, sticks, paint, resin, steel, found base, 5 x 2.5 x 2.3 ft.
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the surfaces of lindsay Pichaske’s creatures undulate with unusual materials. Swirling sunflower seeds form a nubby elephant hide; tens of thousands of pearlescent sequins glisten on a primate’s face. These artificial, even alien skins should, by a certain natural logic, render Pichaske’s sculptures strange, fantastical – mark them as not of this world. The surprise is that these lovingly applied surfaces lend the artist’s work an intoxicating familiarity; they draw you in, pull you closer. And before you know it, these creatures, with their carefully sculpted faces and gleaming eyes, feel real. Pichaske, 33, began experimenting with surfaces in graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she earned her MFA in ceramics. She’d visited the cadaver lab – “just one or two times,” she clarifies with a small laugh. “I was drawn to the way that they would peel back the skin – not to get too morbid – and the muscle striations were the most gorgeous patterns.” After one visit, she returned to her studio, where she had a few potato-like sculptures sitting around, experiments in how basic a form she could make that still had some kind of lifelike presence. She began wrapping one in pink embroidery floss, recreating musculature. “It just came to life,” she recalls. “There was something about those stripes and the string, and just holding it in my hand and wrapping. I just loved the act of doing it.” Her work today, of course, has grown into a far more complex undertaking. Darwin’s Muse
Photos: Lindsay Pichaske
Pichaske’s creatures, with their lovingly applied surfaces, have an intoxicating familiarity.
Where You End and I Begin (detail, 2012) is made with low-fire ceramic and rooster feathers.
A trip or two to the cadaver lab helped Pichaske understand musculature.
(2012) is a 2-foot head based on a great ape, his pale skin made luminous with 26,190 sequins. Pichaske created him – meet the primate’s level gaze, and it’s impossible to remember he’s technically an “it,” an object – during a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation
for the Ceramic Arts. She was standing on cinder blocks, painstakingly applying sequins and adhesive, her neck aching from the weight of a heavy respirator, when a visitor walked past, surveyed the scene, and asked the perhaps obvious question: Why?
“I realized it was almost like when you’re braiding someone’s hair – or brushing an animal’s fur,” says Pichaske, who lives near Annapolis, Maryland, and started teaching ceramics at the College of Southern Maryland this fall. “You discover new parts of
their body that you wouldn’t otherwise know about.” In covering her creations with hyper-detailed skins, Pichaske pulls in her viewers, invites them to participate in an intimate knowledge. “It’s wanting people to look all the way around an object. Behind an
Pichaske begins with an idea of color, surface, and form â€“ the exact species might evolve along the way.
above: Pichaske spends much of her time sculpting faces (and hands). Pictured here is a detail of Plume (2014).
ear, the hidden parts. You discover a little bit more about the creature that way.” Pichaske’s connection with her creatures begins in the sculpting process. Lately, she says, she’s been starting with maquettes, an inch or two in scale. “It’s almost like a poem, a brainstorm, before I start.” With a rough idea of color, covering, and form, she often allows the exact species to evolve along the way; sometimes the result blends two or more. That said, she notes, she’s always been interested in great apes and other primates. Growing up, “I wanted to be Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall,”
Pichaske says. As an undergraduate, she came within one class of a biology major – but ultimately chose art. It was a junioryear class in figure sculpting in Italy that got her hooked on clay, she says: the way the malleable material mimics body and flesh, how handling it is as much about feeling as seeing. She spends the most time sculpting faces and hands. “It’s when the piece comes to life,” she explains. They’re also the parts that will remain uncovered – emotive hotspots. It’s not entirely surprising to learn that, post undergrad, Pichaske took a concentration in figure sculpting at Penland School of Crafts
Pecking Order photo: Lindsay Pichaske / Other photos (2): Robert Severi
left: To transform a sculpture from wet clay to lifelike masterpiece, Pichaske relies on a kitchen sink of tools and supplies, ranging from “all sorts of glues” to a porcupine quill, used to sculpt eyes.
Pecking Order (2011), is covered in sunflower seeds with beet-dyed sections that signify body parts vulnerable to poachers.
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right: The Ghost of Snow, 2013, low-fire ceramic, monofilament, paint, putty epoxy, resin, wax, 19 x 13 x 17 in.
Muse photo: Robert MacInnis / Ghost photo: Sean Scheidt
above: More than 26,000 sequins cover the largerthan-life Darwinâ€™s Muse (2012).
Hyper-detailed skins invite viewers to participate in an intimate knowledge.
Thaw photo: Sean Scheidt / Foil photo: Matthew Weedman
The Long Thaw, 2013, low-fire ceramic, hand-dyed artificial flower petals, paint, resin, 2.9 x 2.1 x .8 ft.
with Cristina Córdova [“The Body Eloquent,” Feb./Mar. 2012], or that she worked as Córdova’s assistant for a year. “It was huge,” Pichaske says. “Learning how to articulate gesture and elicit emotion through this material with her – and then actually working for her, learning how to be an artist.” Pichaske, a 2013 NCECA Emerging Artist, had her first solo show, at Foster/White Gallery in Seattle, that year;
a second solo show, at Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, followed this spring, with pieces including a deer with elongated legs and a pelt of chicken feathers, and a snow monkey covered in silky, translucent monofilament. “Materials give the figure its identity,” Pichaske says. She’ll often spend weeks searching for ones that match the idea she had in mind at the maquette stage, experimenting with
them to see what patterns and “rules” they make for themselves in use. “They have to undergo some sort of transformation in order for me to fall in love with them,” she says. “The way sequins can turn into scales or the way sticks can become fur.” The way a sculpture can become a being.
Flower petals, sequins, sticks: “Materials give the figure its identity,” Pichaske says.
lindsaypichaske.com Julie K. Hanus is American Craft’s senior editor.
Aristotle’s Foil, 2010, low-fire ceramic, artificial flower petals, paint, 16 x 36 x 36 in.
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Coast to Coast In every corner of the nation,
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artists are making the most of unexpected materials
In Sayaka Ganz’s breath taking sculptures, thrownaway plastic objects are reborn as vital, spirited animals in motion. Ganz, who lives and teaches in Indiana, ingeniously makes use of discarded kitchen uten sils, broken clothes hangers, and other everyday goods that seem to have outlived their usefulness. Her pieces are unexpectedly kinetic, given their inflexible sources. sayakaganz.com
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Stacey Lee Webber
Forgotten pennies are given new life by Philadelphia artist Stacey Lee Webber, who sees dynamic potential in seemingly mundane coins. Webber’s meticulous metal work transforms these ordinary materials into sophisticated sculptures, which bear the recognizable faces and numbers that jingle in our own pockets. staceyleewebber.com
Yong Joo Kim
Velcro isn’t typically associated with high fashion, but Yong Joo Kim’s work with the fabric fastener – spiraling, undulating, stunningly symmetrical pieces made entirely of this humble material – challenges that assumption. This Providence, Rhode Island, artist’s compel ling, elegant jewelry suggests that, given a sufficiently adven turous vision, any material can be made beautiful. yongjookim.com
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Somewhere in Arizona, rainbows of crayons are meeting an unexpected fate: They’re being carved into bright, whimsical sculptures by Pete Goldlust. Where most of us see an elementary tool for coloring within the lines, Goldlust sees a waxy jumping-off point. petegoldlust.com
Velcro photo: Daniel Gagnon / Crayon photo: Pete Goldlust / Coin photo: Joseph Leroux
Bryant Holsenbeck’s foundobject animal sculptures are riveting and lifelike, almost unnervingly so. Holsenbeck cobbles together each creature using roots and sticks (from her Durham, North Carolina, gar den), paper pulp, and castoff ephemera such as bits of plastic found along the beach. The crit ters serve as provocative medi tations on disposability and our relationship with nature. bryantholsenbeck.com
Bird sculpture photo: C. Timothy Barkley / Chair photo: BRC Designs
Benjamin Rollins Caldwell
Bottle caps, plastic trophy figurines, piano parts, playing cards: Benjamin Rollins Caldwell has designed bold furniture incorporating all of these reclaimed items (and many others). We’re particu larly captivated by the South Carolina innovator’s Chain Rocker, which is made of recy cled bicycle tires and chains; it’s an elegant spin on a stan dard rocking chair. brcdesigns.com
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You may need a double take to guess Gerald Arrington’s medium: The Northern California artist’s meditative, nature-inspired works look like lovingly collected river stones, but they’re actually ceramic. Arrington’s tech nique lends the appearance of time, infusing each piece with a rich, organic history. arringtondesign.com
All manner of discarded objects find their way into Chicago-area artist Karen Gubitz’s contemplative fiber sculptures, from clothespins and rubber bands to tree wrap and sea grass. Nature is Gubitz’s primary source of inspiration, and no matter what her source material is, the finished work recalls the natural world’s humbling array of processes, patterns, and forms. wovenearth.com
Brian Jewett’s sculptural baskets employ hundreds upon hundreds of repurposed plastic cable ties, strategically arranged in playful formations that often appear soft and inviting, almost fuzzy. The Massachusetts artist’s ethe real works are engaging and resourceful, exploring the full potential of materials we con sider wholly disposable. brianjewett.com
Woven Earth photo: Nicholas Sinadinos / Chair photo: Agnes Starczewski
Two Guys Bow Ties
Bow ties just got a lot less stuffy, thanks to Adam Teague and Tim Paslay. The designer duo, who head up Two Guys Bow Ties in Tulsa, Oklahoma, laser-etch lively patterns onto distinctive hardwoods and add a pop of fabric to create supermodern accessories with a clas sic handcrafted appeal. woodenbowties.com
Margot Geist, geistlight.com
Driftwood contains no shortage of inspiration for Nina Morrow, who explores an impressive range of designs with vibrant, soulful jewelry crafted in her Santa Fe studio. In Morrow’s gifted hands, a piece of driftwood might become a set of beads, a surprisingly colorful canvas, or, more broadly, a site of creative contemplation. ninamorrow.com
Bowtie photo: Two Guys Bow Tie Co. / S2BH photo: Steve Buetow
As a Chicago designer and builder focused on sustainable construction, Blake Sloane knows a lot about environ mentally conscious sourcing. Sloane’s charismatic chairs are revived from damaged or broken frames, with vintage leather pieces, such as belts, carefully woven together to form the seat. blakesloane.com
Twin Cities architects Steve Buetow and Scott Helmes craft the S2BH line of hip, modern tableware, made from scrap and recy cled Corian, more common ly used for countertops. Their functional art, durable and lightweight, is embold ened by vivid colors, bright patterns, and all-around unique style; it’s clearly something new, but feels familiar, too. s2bh.com
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Hazel J. Studstill
New York artist Patrizia Iacino employs some of the most unlikely, unglamorous materials in her eco-conscious jewelry, from recycled contact lens cases to bottle and milk caps. The result is quirky and fun, with a clear message about overconsumption. Her SAL designs, made from the rubber bands sold with vegetables, are especially groovy. globalcoolo.com
Nine & Twenty
Courtesy of the artist
Plumbing components unleash their artistic potential in Nine & Twenty’s cool line of fixtures, helmed by designer, tinkerer, and “regular guy from Pittsburgh” Nathan Bell. Pipes repurposed as handsome hooks, handles, racks, lamps, and other accessories gleam in their water-free surround ings, serving a modern, indus trial aesthetic. www.nineand20.com
Don’t tell Bambi, but we’re really digging Eric Silva’s work with reclaimed shed antlers, which he incorporates, with other eco-conscious materials, into his simple, strong jewelry.
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Los Angeles-based Silva hand-carves the antlers into a surprising range of shapes and configurations, giving it different forms while paying homage to its source. ericsilvajewelry.com
Caffeine has its place for many artists, but it’s more important to New York’s Vilma Silveira Farrell than most – she uses recycled coffee filters to craft intrigu ing, watercolor-esque works on canvas and wire-formed lampshades. Farrell cleans, dries, and dyes the filters, channeling their warm, autumnal tones into lively configurations. etsy.com/shop/Lampada
Vilma Silveira Farrell
Plumbing photo: Jason Furda, DivineMayhem Studios / Earrings photo: Hazel J. Studstill / Pencil sculpture photo: Sloan Howard, sthphoto.com / Seed necklace photo: Jim Tynan
Atlanta-based jewelry artist Hazel J. Studstill has adopted a more sustainable form of leather – tanned carp skins – in her vibrant, eye-catching Koi collection. Studstill’s fishleather pieces are rendered in bright, unexpected hues and color combinations, and their unique texture adds a rich marbled effect, reminiscent of luxe handmade paper. hjdesigns.com
Dalton M. Ghetti
On the tips of found pencils, Dalton M. Ghetti creates unbelievably tiny, detailed, awe-inspiring sculptures: the worldâ€™s smallest mailbox, a Lilliputian Elvis, a nearmicroscopic (yet shockingly perfect) star. From his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ghetti molds each pencil tip one speck of graphite at a time, his subject unfolding over the course of months or years. daltonmghetti.com
Based in New Jersey, Ayala Naphtali uses unlikely natural materials such as coconut shell, seeds, and seed pods to create colorful, lightweight jewelry that feels integral, rooted to the earth. Each piece is composed of carefully curatÂ ed elements, vividly dyed and arranged not so differently from how they might appear in the wild. ayalajewelry.com
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Nathan Sawaya Green (detail), plastic bricks, 5.8 x 2.25 x 1.25 ft.
Green photo: Courtesy of brickartist.com
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