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Chakaia Booker’s Art: Where the Rubber Meets the Road, Part 2

One of the surprising success stories in the world of recycling is that of discarded tires. Of the 303.2 million scrap tires generated in 2007 – that’s one for every person living in the United States – nearly 90 percent by weight were recycled, according to the most recent figures from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

More than half of all reclaimed tires in the U.S. are used to fuel factories. They can also be used to treat wastewater, or made into asphalt, playground equipment, carpet padding, shoes — and more tires.

In the hands of Chakaia Booker, they can also become remarkable sculptures. A preferred medium for this New York-based artist, she deconstructs used tires then cuts, shapes and folds them into massive and highly textured shapes with supports made from steel, wood and other materials, which are hidden from view.

Booker’s work first attracted international notice in 2000, when a 12.5′ x 21′ wall relief of shredded and rewoven automobile tires, inner tubes and cow milking pods titled “It’s So Hard to Be Green” was part of the Whitney Biennial. Since then her sculptures have become part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Akron Museum of Art and NASA, among others. She has participated in both group and solo exhibitions in museums and sculpture gardens throughout the US, Japan and the Netherlands. She has received the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2002 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005.

It's So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker

It’s So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker.

Detail: It's So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker

Detail: It’s So Hard to be Green by Chakaia Booker.

Working with tires requires special skills. “It takes a lot of body work,” she said when describing how she must first cut through the tires, which each weigh 15 to 20 lbs — and she goes through 1000s of them in her studio, an old laundry facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “The tires com from streets and landfills, from cars, vans and trucks.”

Many of her sculptures are exhibited out of doors. Recently, four of her sculptures have been displayed in the median of a major highway, New York Avenue, outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC from March 8, 2012-April, 2014. This unique installation is the result of the museum’s partnership with several public and private agencies to produce and maintain the exhibit for the enjoyment of both drivers and pedestrians. It is the museum’s second exhibit on this median which is the only public art space in the city featuring installations of contemporary works by women. Images from the Booker exhibit on New York Avenue are below.


Picture 1 of 3

Chakaia Booker, Gridlock, 2008; © Chakaia Booker, courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photo credit: Lee Stalsworth.

Booker, is also known for her creative wardrobe and wants her appearance to also be a work of art. She often wears a giant headpiece made from multicolored yarn layered into an oblong mound, colorful fabric or tire rubber that covers all her head but the shape of her face. She said, “When I get up each day, I begin with myself, as far as sculpting myself.” Her sense of unconventional style began early, and goes back to her childhood when she learned to sew and ignored the rules.

Photo of Chakaia Booker by Nelson Tejada.

Photo of Chakaia Booker by Nelson Tejada.

Her online bio is not up-to-date. But you can learn more by watching videos, such as this short talk given in 2008.

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New Exhibit says ENOUGH Violence

It seems that we hear news about new murderous attacks with guns daily. In fact, one in 20 U.S. students is directly impacted by violence — either as a victim or an offender.

To grapple with the problem, Pittsburgh’s Society for Contemporary Craft developed a new exhibit, ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out. Through 48 contemporary works by 14 artists from the U.S., Italy and Scotland, it explores how violence affects our lives and asks what we can do to combat it.

The artists, who work in clay, metals, fabric, photography, and found objects, focus on issues of violent crimes, gang violence, war, terrorism, and domestic abuse. Selecting crafts to explore a serious social problem is an unusual idea because most people associate these media with decorative and functional objects. The artists’ reaction to gun crimes expressed in these media provides us unusual and fresh ways to see the problem.

Loaded Menorah, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Loaded Menorah, 2013 by Boris Bally. 12″ wide by 37.5″ long x 11″ tall. Materials: altered hand-guns, gun barrels and silver.

This exhibit contains works by two artists who work with found materials. It contains three pieces by Rhode Island metalsmith Boris Bally, who has been interested in anti-violence art since the early 1990s. In 1997 he curated a show at Carnegie Mellon University that challenged artists to create sculptures out of decommissioned handguns obtained from buyback programs.

“Loaded Menorah” is made entirely of disabled weapons. In it, nine revolver barrels rising from a tangle of weapons have mouths finished in light polished silver cups to receive the Chanukah candles.

“I am reminded of the famous picture of George Harris sticking carnations into gun barrels during a 1967 anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon,” he said.

Brave lll: Necklace, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Brave lll: Necklace, 2013 by Boris Bally. 17″ x 15″ x 1.75″ 100 handgun triggers (steel) mounted on stainless cord. Silver. Gold.

Brave 4: Breast Plate, 2013 by Boris Bally.

Brave 4: Breast Plate, 2013 by Boris Bally. 26″ x 11.5″ x 2″ Gun-triggers, gun-bolts and gun-barrels (steel) and brass shells, mounted on stainless cord. Silver.

Minnesota fiber artist Beth Barron says her work is a monument to the human spirit and a “wish for wholeness.” She created “Implosion” from Band-Aids found in parks, playgrounds and sidewalks. For her, the found Band-Aids become an enigmatic metaphor: Do they represent pain or healing?

Implosion 1, 20009 by Beth Barron.

Implosion 1, 20009 by Beth Barron. 52″ diameter. Hand stitched found band-aids.

While working she said she has time to contemplate how we heal ourselves “…after personal or social devastation, whether our healed scars protect us in some new stronger way, and how fragile or resilient we will be once we have been wounded.”

It took about a year to complete “Implosion.” Barron hand-sewed each Band-Aid to a ground cloth, stiffened on the back with matte acrylic paint “to keep the knots from being untied.” She sometimes spent 10 hours a day working, although she sometimes skipped days before getting back to it.

The exhibit also includes a physical space in The Society’s Drop-In Studio for visitors to create their own personal talisman to take with them. A public Tumblr collection allows people to tell their own stories about their experiences with violence and participate in suggestions for creating a solution.

Visit the Society for Contemporary Craft’s website for more information about the exhibit, which closes March 22, 2014.

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Nick Bubash’s Many, Many Artistic Hats

Black and white photo of Nick Bubash

Nick Bubash in his studio. A few masks, collected on his travels, are displayed on the wall behind him. Photo by John Wyatt

Nick Bubash is a trained artist who works in many different media. He started young and took art classes on Saturdays when he was growing up in Pennsylvania. He studied art at Pennsylvania State University, but before graduating he moved to New York City.

By chance, he went to get his first tattoo from Thom DeVita, who also created assemblages and collages. Bubash, who immediately felt comfortable with the artist and his ideas, stayed in New York to learn the art of tattooing from DeVita from 1969-1974. He left to open his own tattoo shop in Pennsylvania.

With DeVita’s encouragement, he resumed formal art training in the 1980s. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts, where he graduated with highest honors and won prizes in for figurative sculpture, printmaking and a scholarship to study and travel in India.

Returning to the U.S., Bubash opened a tattoo studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a small two-story office building. Here he also creates assemblages from finds from travels to small markets in India, thrift stores, yard sales and pieces of his daughter’s broken toys. He also has a studio for painting and clay sculpting.

Bubash also tattoos almost every day of the week — a skill which draws on his extensive training and study to create the infinite variety of styles and ideas requested by his clients.

Self Portrait by Nick Bubash

“Self Portrait” by Nick Bubash. 3′ x 2.5′ Composed of shells, peacock feathers, porcupine quills, pearls, fur ad cow vertebrae mounted on paper. Bubash has created several self portraits because he said, “The model always shows up.”

Bubash is currently exhibiting 33 sculptural assemblages at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh through September 15, and two mixed media pieces and a drawing with watercolor in the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, through August 31. For the past 25 years, his work has been included in numerous permanent museum collections, including The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and private collections across the country.

Long Awaited Arrival by Nick Bubash

“Long Awaited Arrival.” Assemblage by Nick Bubash. 12″ x 18″ x 20″. The base is 18″ x 12″ wide. Bubash created the walnut base to fit his assemblage. The composition consists of marbles, porcupine quills, children’s blocks, an old wooden toy car, copper flowers. Bubash sculpted the torso. The elephant head is readymade from rubber; Bubash sculpted an addition to the trunk to make it longer.

To learn more about Nick Bubash, visit his website.

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Dumpster Artists

While a growing number of craftsmen are working with other people’s discards, Recology, a California resource recovery company, actually pays artists to turn trash into art.

<em>Crazy Quilt</em> by Remi Rubel.  1991. Built from bottlecaps and other metal objects

“Crazy Quilt” by Remi Rubel. 1991. Built from bottlecaps and other metal objects.

In 1990 Recology began a unique art and education program. The company selected artists to work full time for four months in a large, well-equipped studio next to its transfer station in San Francisco. The transfer station is located within a 46-acre property that includes several recycling facilities and the public disposal area (aka “the dump”). Most of San Francisco’s garbage  is temporarily stored at this site before moving on to a landfill elsewhere in California.
Recology changed its name from Norcal Waste Systems in 2009 to reflect its corporate culture and values. More than a private, employee-owned waste management company, the company wants to encourage people to reuse material, think about new ways to conserve resources, and support local, professional artists.

Mum - Sea Breeze 2012 by Karrie Hovey

“Mum — Sea Breeze” by Karrie Hovey. 2012. Made from books, latex paint, particle board, and a metal table ring.

Artists are selected by an advisory board of environmentalists, artists and curators; each recipient receives a $1,000 monthly grant to cover basic personal bills.

<em>Audrey Hepburn Dress</em> by Estelle Akamine. 1993. Made from foam sheets, plastic bags, six-pack holders

“Audrey Hepburn Dress” by Estelle Akamine. 1993. Made from foam sheets, plastic bags, six-pack holders.

At the end of each residency, the company holds a free public reception and exhibition of the artist’s work in the company’s studio. As visitors enter, they are confronted with a mountain of trash. They then see how imagination turns discards into meaningful objects. 
The artists roam the  public disposal area with shopping carts, collecting different types of trash. One may look for furniture, trinkets, photos and other personal objects, for found object collages, while another looks for raw materials such as wood, painted metal or wire for assemblage.

3711 x 13510 by Zachary Royer Scholz. 2010. Constructed from pine and paint

“3711 x 13510” by Zachary Royer Scholz. 2010. Constructed from pine and paint.

Some of the trash art is exhibited permanently in Recology’s three-acre sculpture garden atop a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The garden is located between the garbage and recycling facilities and the Little Hollywood neighborhood. Many pieces from the program are also exhibited in office buildings, schools and other public or private spaces in the city. The garden is a stop for students on one of the 160 tours held throughout the year. 

A new exhibit, “The Art of Recology” can now be seen in the United Terminal at the San Francisco International Airport. Celebrating the Recology San Francisco Artist in Residence program, it presents over 100 works by 45 artists, made during the time they worked in the studio at the Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Facility. It will be on public view through October 27. Below are images of art included in this exhibit.

Styrofoam Hummer H1 by Andrew Junge

“Styrofoam Hummer H1 (low mileage, always garaged)” by Andrew Junge. 2005. Constructed from styrofoam, lumber and steel.

Last Dive at the Farallones by Ethan Estess

“Last Dive at the Farallones: 100,000 marine mammals killed per year” by Ethan Estess. 2012. Created with wood, Styrofoam, wood flooring adhesive, super glue, screws, and rope.

To learn more, visit the Recology website.

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Chris Jordan Travels from Kenya to Midway to Sound the Environmental Alarm

Chris Jordan has been a busy guy this year.

As part of the 2011 Prix Pictet Commission that he won in March, the Seattle-based photographer spent 12 days in Kenya working with non-governmental organizations that support community-led conservation and sustainable community development programs. He called the photographs he made on that trip “Ushirikiano,” a Swahili word that means partnership, collaboration, or community of shared interest.

Turkana tribal elder with traditional spear and club, and his granddaughter

Turkana tribal elder with traditional spear and club, and his granddaughter, Nakuprat village, Nakuprat-Gotu Community Conservancy, Kenya, by Chris Jordan. 2011.

In his artist’s statement about the project, he wrote: “The challenges faced by the rural villagers of Kenya are like a microcosm for the rest of the world; like us, they are called on to join in new forms of collaboration if they wish to survive and thrive in these turbulent times.”

Jordan’s interest in threats to the global environment are truly global, taking him from the parched plains of Kenya to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He began documenting the world’s overconsumption in 2005 with his series “Intolerable Beauty” and “Running the Numbers,” in which he created striking images depicting the staggering amounts of garbage created every day in the United States.

Caps Seurat by Chris Jordan

In his homage to Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on The Island of La Grande Jatte,” Jordan painted 400,000 bottle caps to represent the average number of plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. every minute.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Jordan traveled to New Orleans to document the destruction on a personal scale, but he also saw that project as an extension of his work on over-consumerism, with the severity of the storm linked to global warming.

Jordan continues to explore these themes in a film called “Midway,” based on the photographic series that won him the Prix Pictet Commission, “Message from the Gyre.” The photos and the film document the impact of ocean-borne plastic on the albatross that nest on Midway Island.

“Midway: Message from the Gyre” by Chris Jordan.

The stark photos show the contents of dead birds’ stomachs: disposable lighters, combs, toothbrushes, bottle caps – detritus of the modern world that floats on the surface where they birds feed. The parents ingest these items, then feed them to their chicks. When the indigestible plastic eventually leaves no room for actual food, the chicks die.

Jordan says his purpose in making “Midway” is not so much to save the albatross as to help amplify the “urgent alarm signal they are sending us about the state of our world,” he told Outside Online in June.

“The birds on Midway are like messengers, the canary in the coal mine,” Jordan said. “When the canary dies, the miners don’t run over and try to save the canary — they receive the message that bird just gave its life delivering, and then act quickly to save themselves.”

The film raised $100,000 for production costs through Kickstarter in July. Jordan now anticipates a release date in late 2013 or early 2014.

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Entries for Ashes to Art Auction/Fundraiser Deadline – Sept. 30

This summer’s wildfires have charred more than a quarter-million acres in Colorado. An artist and photographer have launched a project to turn some of the blackened trees into art – and help local firefighters at the same time.

The Ashes to Art Project, the brainchild of artist Lori Joseph and local photographer Tim O’Hara, is providing artists across the country with charcoal from trees burned in the High Park Fire near Fort Collins in June and July.

The Ashes To Art Project poster

“It was Lori’s idea, and I knew people who had lost homes in the High Park Fire,” said O’Hara, a fourth-generation Coloradan with a studio in Fort Collins. “I called the Bureau of Land Management for permission, and gathered up a couple of loads of charcoal.”

Then they sent out a call on social media to arts groups, galleries and artists’ representatives. In less than a week, more than 60 artists from 22 states had asked for some charcoal. The original goal was to have two artists from each state submit works, but after the initial response, O’Hara and Joseph increased that to three per state.

There are no restrictions on how the charcoal can be used; works can be either two- or three-dimensional.

“The works don’t have be done 100 percent with charcoal,” O’Hara explained. “You can sign a watercolor with it if you want, but the work has to incorporated it somehow.”

The deadline to submit Ashes to Art works is Sept. 30. Then an online auction will be held Oct. 7 to 14, with the proceeds going to the volunteer Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District to repair and replace equipment used in fighting the fire.

O’Hara and Joseph also plan to photograph all the artwork for a book to sell, with those proceeds also going to the fire district.

For more information or to request charcoal for a work of art, contact TheAshesToArtProject@gmail.com, or call Joseph at 570-337-3010.

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Free-Range Pianos Play On As Art

Everybody loves a piano.  But what do you do with one when it comes to the end of its days? Sometimes the innards can be salvaged for spare parts, but most owners wind up paying movers to get a piano out of the house. Thousands go to the landfill every year.

In Fort Collins, Colorado, any playable upright 48 inches or taller can live a second life as a Piano About Town. Donated instruments get a complete professional tuneup and a stunning paint job and then are released onto the streets for anyone to play anytime they want.

Two of Fort Collins' brightly painted Pianos About town

Two of Fort Collins’ brightly painted Pianos About Town.

What started in 2010 as a holiday gift to the community from the local Bohemian Foundation – which also brings dozens of local and national musicians to play for free at the city’s birthday party every August – has grown into a collaboration that combines visual and performing arts with community engagement. The pianos attract everyone from students who want to practice to virtuosi who give impromptu concerts, casual noodlers to daily players.

A few performers.  Some play improv. Others bring sheet music

A few performers. Some play improv. Others bring sheet music.

A partnership with the foundation, the city’s Art in Public Places program and the Downtown Development Authority’s Art in Action initiative places a baker’s dozen of pianos each year in different locations, from historic Old Town Square to the Colorado State University campus, in alleyways and plazas.

Mural artists are selected through a juried process to transform the pianos into works of art — and they do it in public, under a tent in the Square, where they can interact with passersby and bring the creative process out into the open. Some actually invite people to play while they paint.

The entire program costs about $30,000 per year, according to Libby Colbert, Art in Public Places program manager. Most of the expense is for a full-time piano tuner and the movers who pick up the donated instruments and take the painted pianos to different locations about every two to three weeks between May and October. Artists receive a stipend of $650 to paint a piano, and Colbert sees their creative input as a key ingredient in the community caring for the instruments in the wild.

“Nearby businesses ‘adopt’ a piano and agree to cover it with the (attached) tarp if it rains,” she said. “But lots of times someone has already done it, if it looks like the weather is getting bad. And regular players are very good about letting us know if a piano needs repair; they call or Facebook me. We’ve only had one piano tagged with graffiti, and that was only minor.”

Unlike in New York or Los Angeles, where street pianos travel through on limited engagements, the Pianos About Town live in Fort Collins and are open 24/7; most move indoors for the winter, but one usually stays out by the skating rink in Old Town.

And when a piano finally comes to the end of its days of wandering about, it might be lucky enough to play a third act. The gallery in the Fort Collins Lincoln Center commissioned five local artists to create works from decommissioned pianos for a May 2012 exhibit called Rescue and Redemption.

Necklace and earrings made from a decommissioned piano

Necklace and earrings made from a decommissioned piano.

“The Art in Public Places people dismantled four pianos, and let the artists go shopping for materials,” explained Gallery Coordinator Jean Shoaff. “We invited artists who were already using recycled materials in their work and challenged them to create something new. They selected everything from wood from the shell to the actions and other internal parts, and made everything from jewelry to a large interactive piece.”

…Colbert said Art in Public Places kept the large back panels and some of the parts for spares, but the artists consumed the equivalent of two whole pianos for the exhibit.

Shoaff said comments from gallery visitors were overwhelmingly favorable, and it’s quite possible that she’ll do it again, inviting different artists to participate as more pianos come in from the streets.

To see the transformation of a 1929 upright into the first Piano About Town for 2012, go to artist Laurie Zuckerman’s blog.

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Kinetic Sculpture Races

Need an excuse to let your hair down and live imaginatively? Then the Kinetic Sculpture Races are for you. These are organized races of human-powered, handmade, one-of-a-kind amphibious “vehicles” custom built for each event. More than pretty faces, they must negotiate a multi-texture course that ends in a body of water.

The 1% dips into Chesapeake Bay

‘The 1%’ dips into Chesapeake Bay.

The original kinetics race began in Ferndale, California, in 1969. The annual World Grand Championship spans 42 miles in three days over Memorial Day Weekend in Humboldt County, California.

Baltimore, home of the largest race on the East Coast, held its fourteenth race on May 5. Thirty-four mobile sculptures from 28 teams had eight hours to cover 15 miles, mostly on pavement but also through mud and sand before navigating a dip into the Chesapeake Bay. Entrants can spend up to a year working on their vehicles, and must plan for possible contingencies along the route that could slow them down.

This race is hosted by the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), which presented the 2012 Grand Mediocre East Coast Championship award to the newest winner. The trophy consists of a plaque attached to bronzed tricycle handlebars. Winners enjoy it for a year and return it to AVAM before the next race.

One Percent breaking through the tape.

‘The 1%’ breaking through the tape for their mediocre first-place finish.

Humor and sly social commentary are part of any kinetics race. This year’s East Coast champs, from a College Park, Maryland, bicycle shop, built a sculpture resembling a gold Rolls Royce and called it The 1%, a comic look at the widening economic divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots.  Here is their official description of their entry:

“The car was built by NASA, on a secret underground moon unit base, funded by taxpayer dollars, graciously laundered by [a major bank],” the winners said in describing their craft. “It is cast of solid gold… Only wood from endangered rainforests was used for the interior cupholders. Seat cushions are made from Donald Trump hairpieces wrapped in baby seal skins.”

Three judges select the first-place winner, based on secret criteria known only to them. The race goes neither to the swift or to the slothful, however. The winner is one who finishes not first or last but in the middle of the race – hence the Grand Mediocre trophy.

All 1800 pounds of Loose Cannon ambling along the road in Baltimore

All 1800 pounds of ‘Loose Cannon’ ambling along the road in Baltimore.

Loose Cannon in the water, foam noodles covering the metal spokes of the wheels.

‘Loose Cannon’s foam noodles which sheath the spokes ensured the giant metal wheels would float. In addition to bearing the weight of the center platform and pilots, the float platform and aft inflatable bladders provided counter-rotational buoyancy.

The judges also present a People’s Choice Award. This year it went to Loose Cannon for a chariot with towering 11.5-foot-diameter wheels. This team has entered the race every year since 2007.

The winning vehicles are displayed at AVAM throughout the year until the next race.

Other cities that hold kinetic sculpture races include Port Townsend, Washington; Klamath Falls and Corvallis, Oregon, as part of the annual da Vinci Days Festival; Ventura and Clearlake, California, as part of their 4th of July celebration; Prescott Valley, Arizona; Boulder, Colorado (at a reservoir in nearby Longmont); Philadelphia, as part of the Trenton Avenue arts festival in the Kensington neighborhood; and Geraldton, Western Australia.

To see pictures of other East Coast Kinetics teams and learn more about this race, visit the official 2012 Race Report.

Kinetic Sculpture Race spectators

Many spectators dress up for the event, too.

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Period Pieces

Once upon a time, before most people could read, painting and sculpture were tools of common communication. Artworks told stories about popular themes: hunts, celebrity lives, deities and battles.

When more people could read, artists became more technically experimental, offered more personal interpretations, sometimes treating the medium as the message.

But a few, like Patty Grazini, a Seattle-based self-taught artist, continue to tell tales in an unusual way. She explains that her detailed, relatively small sculptures “recapture forgotten moments and scenes from history. ”

Her recent collection of 13 sculptures, each about a foot tall and crafted mostly from recycled paper, are character studies of people who committed crimes in New York City between 1885-1915. Fascinated by this period of social change, a time when people were both very wealthy and very poor, she browsed old issues of the New York Times online to discover interesting subjects. She selected ones whose crimes were unusual or perpetrated in an unusual way.

The body of each sculpture is fashioned from book pages and old paper over a frame of lollipop sticks and wrapping paper tubes. Flexible wire inside the arms allows them to be posed. None have human faces. Instead Grazini assigns each the head of a bird or animal she associates with the nature of each crime. The clothes, made from recycled paper, are not only accurate to fashion of the day but also help tell the criminal’s story.

Ludwig B. Goldhorn (above) was an accountant in an insurance agency.  In 1894 he embezzled money to pay his way on a butterfly expedition to South America. Grazini used pages from a logarithm book for his shirt. Butterflies, cut from postage stamps, flutter on his clothes. He stands beside a cage of butterflies; his hands are handcuffed behind his back. His head is that of a wild boar because, like the boars, Goldhorn was hard to control and large and clumsy. The artist liked the contrast of a clumsy human who risked all to study delicate butterflies.

When Mary Malloy (above) was arrested for shoplifting in 1898, $10,000 was discovered in her bustle — nobody ever said where she got it. Grazini gave her the head of a deer because the last place she lived was Deer Island. And like deer, Malloy didn’t stay in one place. After shoplifting in one state, she moved on to another. Her clothes are made with foreign currency.

Ada Turise was arrested at age 16 in 1884 as an underage opium smoker (it was legal in the United States to smoke opium when you were 18 until 1913). Turise, who lived in New York City’s Chinatown, has the head of a sheep because she was exposed to the drug in the opium dens in her neighborhood and joined her friends smoking. Her parents, who lived outside the city, said they couldn’t figure out how their daughter got into this habit. Grazini dressed her in marbled paper removed from the inside cover of a book, because it has a psychedelic feel, and gave her a headpiece resembling a costume from a Chinese opera.

Patty Grazini exhibits mostly on the West Coast. She mounts no more than one exhibit a year because it takes so long to create each piece.  A previous show consisted of 12 pairs of her take on 18th-century decorated shoes.  She decided on the theme after buying a genuine woman’s antique shoe mold in a thrift store.  She built the 9″ long shoes of white paper and painted each pair to reveal something about the times.

“Grey Shoes.” Grazini imagined Cupid as a girl who wore grey shoes. Nearby is Cupid’s arrow with a ring attached.

To see more of Grazini’s work, visit her website.

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Sculptures from Recycled Books Capture Edinburgh’s Literary Imagination

“Guerilla Art” conjures up visions of confrontational subway taggers or the latest surreptitious Banksy installation — an anonymous creative work that makes a public statement. The two sculptures that mysteriously appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2011 also fit that definition, in a witty and literary fashion.

The medium — repurposed books — was the message: “Support the literary arts.”

The festival works turned out to be part of a series of 10 intricately crafted from recycled hardbacks and snuck into libraries and museums in the Scottish capital throughout the spring and summer. The identity of the artist has yet to be revealed, although bestselling mystery author Ian Rankin has admitted that he aided and abetted the project in his hometown.

In March 2012, Rankin told Claudia Massie of the Spectator’s Arts Blog that he had never met the artist before she contacted him about her plan to raise awareness of the need to protect and consolidate the city’s artistic heritage.

“She proposed the leaving of one or two sculptures around the city when she visited with her partner,” Rankin said. “I met them both for the first time during that trip. Having thought it a success, she then decided to make some more sculptures to be distributed during further trips to Edinburgh.”

The literary invasion began with a delicate “poetree” found at the Scottish Poetry Library in March. An accompanying card, addressed to the library’s Twitter name, read: “It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree… We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books … a  book is so much more than pages full of words … This is for you, in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … a gesture (poetic maybe?)”

This paper tree sculpture appeared in the the Scottish Poetry Library. Alongside the tree were two golden egg halves, covered and filled with phrases from the poem, “A Trace of Wings” by Edwin Morgan.

In all, sculptures appeared at the book festival, in the poetry library, the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Central Lending Library, the Writers’ Museum, the National Museum of Scotland, and The Filmhouse cinema, “in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … and all things ‘magic.’” They are all still on display, if not in their original settings.

This sculpture, carved from a Rankin novel, was left in the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The attached card read, "“...A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas...Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story....”

Rankin’s connection to the plot was revealed in subtle ways: his face appears on one of the audience members at The Filmhouse, some of his books formed the basis of other works, and he was appearing at the book festival on the day the works were discovered there. He — or rather his Twitter handle @beathhigh — was thanked by the artist in the guest book of the poetry library, where the final sculpture was discovered in September. To see more of the paper sculptures that popped up in Scotland visit this site.

In December a new Twitter account called “a book for xmas” appeared, with tweets addressed to the sculptures’ recipients. The tweets read, “In support of books, words, ideas and wishing you a magical xmas” and a link to a video on Vimeo (below).

A Book For Xmas from a book for xmas on Vimeo.

That’s the 21st-century twist to this bookish tale of intrigue. All the notes on the sculptures were addressed to the institutions’ Twitter addresses.

And the last chapter has yet to be written: At the end of April 2012, three similar sculptures — one carved from an old encyclopedia — were discovered under equally puzzling circumstances in public libraries in London. Whether they were created by the same artist who set Edinburgh a-twitter last year, no one may ever know. But no one is trying too hard to find out, either.

“I think of it as a little gift, and we’re going to share it while it’s here,” according to a library spokeswoman. “It’s brightened everybody’s day.”

That’s a worthy statement for any work of art, anonymous or otherwise.

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