A Paper Mache Day With Emily

Emily with the form for her paper mache grapes.

I pulled the three-foot roll of chickenwire out of the trunk of my car and slung the tote bag with the wire cutters and fabric, cheese and apple sauce over my shoulder.

I was struck by a flash of memory, of going to another friend’s house and making art.

It was one of those conglomerate memories sparked by the sight of the wire hexagons and the phantom smell of wheat paste.

Even thirty years ago I was making trees.  This one, thick and clunky compared to Kathy’s delicate life-sized paper mache party dress. Somehow she made it look as if it were made of lace.

Later, after I’d moved upstate, we’d have weekends of quilt making at her house.  One time we unraveled a yellow knitted baby dress, crocheted it over two teacups and entered it in a juried art show.  It was a friendship born of art and lasted until we both changed so much, there was little left between us. Something we both agreed on as we each went our own way.

I was brought back to the present when Emily called a “hello” from inside the house.  She could see me walking up the path to her front door.

The house was filled with the smell of freshly baked bread.  Two loaves were cooling on a cutting board on the kitchen counter.

Then I got sidetracked looking at the nursery of small succulents on the windowsill.

There were tiny clay pots with thick leaves sprouting roots and smaller leaves.  Cuttings stuck in gravely soil, and “babies”  recently separated from the mother plant, all on the kitchen window.  In Emily’s studio, there were bigger succulents, the Orchids were in the dining room.

After that, we got to work outside on the deck, a view of the Vermont mountains through Quince and Pear trees in the yard.  Emily cutting and shaping cardboard and masking tape into small vegetables and fruit.  Me clipping chicken wire and molding it into the lamp I’ve drawn a hundred times.

We talked, as we worked, about the past week.  All the things we usually tell each other in our Zoom Studio Chats. It felt good to be using my hands to mold the chicken wire pinching and pushing it, pulling it, and twisting the ends to hold things together.

We went back and forth over how to make the lampshade stay on my lamp.  And Emily suggested I fill my lamp with aluminum foil to make it stronger and heavier so it wouldn’t fall over.

My lamp armature filled with foil

We had lunch around noon. Emily’s bread with cheese, vegetables and homemade bean dip.  Brownies and strong black tea for dessert.

Then Emily mixed flour, water, and a little bit of glue in a bowl.  We had already torn the paper into strips.  I dipped the first piece in and without thinking ran it between my ring and middle finger squeezing the excess paste back into the bowl.  It all came back to me as I smoothed the strips of paper around the chicken wire.

When I was done, there was nothing smooth about my lamp.  Also, without the lampshade,  it seemed to have turned into one of my dancing goddesses. But that wasn’t so unusual,  my lamps often took on a female form.

Maybe it came out of Emily’s and my discussion about Bellydancing,  how so many of our dance moves look like images from my Ancient Goddess Book.

Emily’s drying veggies and fruits

Our drying sculptures, placed on parchment paper, only suggested what we had in mind for them.  Emily’s peach, carrot, beet and grapes, looked like glazed crullers, good enough to eat.  And my dancing lamp was so much bigger than I intended it to be.

There’s still much to be done.

First, the paper mache has to completely dry, then Emily will paint her’s with gesso and later add color and some of her college eyes that she’s known for.

I’m planning on using matte medium and fabric on my lamp and shade.  Kind of painting it with fabric, the same way I’ve done in my fabric paintings.

My Lamp so far.  It’s still drying.

Although it hadn’t occurred to me, Emily wasn’t surprised when my lamp turned out bigger than I’d planned.  “It’s hard to make something small with chicken wire,” she said. “There’s all those big spaces.” She suggested I mold aluminum foil and cover it with masking tape if I wanted to make something smaller.

I’m still thinking about that. It hadn’t crossed my mind to use anything other than chickenwire, even when  Emily told me she was using cardboard and tape.  I couldn’t imagine it.

Although now, after crumpling the foil to fit inside my lamp, I can imagine shaping it into a smaller lamp.  And maybe even making a little end table to put it on.

But that will have to wait till I finish my first lamp. Big and bulky as she is, I have more to learn from her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Full Moon Fiber Art