I was invited to join you tonight and to tell you about my art and how I came to be a papercutter. Fortunately for you, that will include only the last 9 years of my life, not my whole life. Nine years ago, In 2003 my son Matt left home to go to the University of Delaware. At the end of the previos year, my husband, Bill, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and now my only child had left home. I very much wanted to find something productive that I could do so that I wouldn't spend my days thinking about how bleak the coming years would be. I knew I would have to find something that I could do at home so I could continue to care for Bill and I wasn't having much success in finding that something. Then one day, I was paging through a copy of an old McCall's needlework magazine and I came across a wooden duck. Now comes the part that I call the Twilight Zone. I had the idea to make something like that duck out of paper. I don't know where that idea came from but it wasn't from my universe. I had never been good in art classes in school and I never would have believed it had someone told me that I was on course to one day become a papercut artist. To this day I don't know why I did it, but I took some wrapping paper and created Gertrude, my first bird (Show Gertrude's picture) and then created a garden of flowers for her to hang out in.
You can tell from this first panel that I didn't know what I was doing. The bird is cut from wrapping paper, the picture is assembled on foam core board and I used seam binding for a frame for the picture. I just knew I had really enjoyed making that picture. It had taken me the whole month of October to make Gertrude and her garden and I spent November making a companion piece that turned out to be Francine's Garden. The next couple of pictures were 16 x 20s instead of 20 x 30 panels, but they were pretty much along the same lines, just different birds and different flowers. And I can't tell you where the ideas came from for the flowers and birds, because I don't know.
At some point then I found a book that had patterns in it which you could trace and then cut out. These were traditional symmetrical designs and, although I tried my hand at cutting them, I was dissatisfied with the end result because they felt outdated and they weren't coming from me. They were someone else's pictures. I started to draw my own symmetrical pictures. This may seem contrary to what I said before about not having any artistic abilities, but I heard an interview on the radio that helps to explain what might have happened to me. Film director Ang Lee was asked if he didn't find daunting the challenges involved in making a movie based on the book, The Life of Pi. He replied that he was so involved in the project that he didn't think about the challenges inherent in filming a boy and a tiger on a life boat in the middle of the ocean. That's sort of what happened to me. I was drawing pictures before I remembered that I couldn't draw. It was necessary in order to get the picture I wanted. (Show Storks or Feeding Water Birds) This is an example of my cuttings at this point. And then thanks to my son, I branched out a bit more. He challenged me to make something that wasn't symmetrical. (Show Hawk or Serenity) Here is an example of that early work and this is another (Show His Majesty) and I show this to you because it also reflects my interest in borders which is something I still enjoy drawing even now for my pictures. Sometimes I get a volunteer border like I did when I cut my jeweled hummingbirds and used the cut off edge for the border of a second piece. (Show jeweled hummers and Feathers and flowers0
Another expansion in my art happened when I wondered what it would look like if I backed a cutting with colored paper. (Show Tulip Rising) I liked the result and now I often employ that method. It can even give a stained glass effect sometimes. (Bordered flowers?) I also found a book on Polish paper cutting and experimented more with layering papers on top of other papers. (Show Sheepish Mola) I chose this example because it is a more recent work that shows both symmetrical cutting, the color backing and also the layering of pieces.
For the first four years I worked in my own little world and never had the opportunity to interact with other papercutters until the spring of 2009 when I was able to attend a weekend gathering of papercutters in western PA. I was afraid to show my work at first because I saw the work of others who came to the conference and their work was so beautiful. I had visions of doors closing with me on the outside looking in. I was greatly relieved when they let me stay and even had kind words of praise for me and encouraged me to continue in my own style.
After all that praise and encouragement, I floated back home on Cloud 9 at the end of the weekend, but I was quickly grounded when I learned that my husband had died that day. I had felt all along that my art work was a gift given to me to help me through difficult years as a caregiver. It had been a wonderful gift because it was so therapeutic and empowering. After Bill died, I was pretty sure that the gift would be taken away as mysteriously as it had been given to me. At the end of 2005 my Dad had moved in with me after he had fallen and broken his neck. Although his mind was sharp, he had physical problems and for a few years I was caring for both my husband and my father. About two weeks after Bill's death, I finally worked up the courage to go back to my workroom and I was thrilled to once again be covered with snippets of paper and to have fingers made sticky from glue. Evidently the universe had decided that I still needed my therapy.
My Dad continues to live with me and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a father who, at the age of 95, continues to put puzzles together, unabashedly reads romance novels -especially those set in the Scottish Highlands - , watches sports on TV and draws house plans to correct the design problems of houses he sees printed in the paper.
While I'm still a caregiver and it isn't easy to get my work out into the world, I have had pieces in two shops
- both of which closed after my works were hung - not saying there was a connection, but one wonders about these things. I've had pieces in traveling exhibits, the most notable was probably at a restaurant connected with the Biltmore Estate. And I had this piece (show Serendipitree) accepted into a paper cutting exhibit at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art out in western PA. I show you this also because it demonstrates one of my favorite methods of creating a picture. Each of the elements is made separately and then all of the pieces are assembled to form the whole. I 'm a member of the Guild of American Papercutters - there are about 350 of us running around with scissors and leaving trails of paper behind us. We even have a National Museum of Papercutting now out in Somerset. It shares space with the Laurel Arts Society.
Recently, I've started working with painted backgrounds like this one where I've used wet and crumpled masa paper and acrylics for the background(show example) and in the future I'd like to explore the field of paper mosaics. (Show examples) This is as far as I've gotten with that, but I'm intrigued and plan to keep going. I am also trying to create more dimension in some of my work and "Who's a Pretty Bird" shows what mean by that. I made the first step in that direction when I began to back pieces with black paper and cut them out for a second time, a process that I call shadowing. The effect is to give more dimension to the pictures and it isn't present in my earliest pieces. As you can see in Pretty Bird I'm also working on giving more dimension to the individual pieces. My art is still exciting to me as well as good therapy. It is my personal source of renewable energy.
I'd like to thank Rod for asking me to come and share my work with you. I love to show people what you can do with paper. And I thank all of you for spending this time with me. If anyone has a question, I'll be happy to answer it and if you'd like to look at any of my pieces or at the photographs of more of my work your welcome to do so. This book is Papa Bear, this one is Momma Bear, this one is Baby Bear and this book has photos of a series of tiles that I played around with and they don't quite fit in with the rest of my work, so this book is called Goldilocks.