Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Carol Zeman

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s second interview is with Carol Zeman. Zeman retired from graphic design to pursue her interests in fiber art and papermaking. She creates structural forms using petioles (the part of the tree that holds the leaf on) and Japanese paper. She is based in Osage Beach, Missouri and has taken part in many exhibitions throughout the Midwest.

Carol Zeman. Floating. 2011. Handmade Kozo Paper, Petioles, Manzanita Root, 7”x8”.


Janna: Where did you grow up?
Carol: I had a very idyllic childhood in the small town of Jefferson City, Missouri, but haven’t lived there since I was 18. I have lived in Colorado, Tennessee and now reside in Osage Beach at Lake of the Ozarks. I’m still growing up.

Janna: With a background in graphic design, how did you come to start working with sculptural forms? 
Carol: I went back to MU Columbia in the early 90’s to finish my degree in art (I quit my junior year (1967) to marry). The graphic design industry was going to computers and I had just gotten laid off from my job at a printing company for trying to unionize, so I returned to school to learn electronic layout. I had to have a craft class to fill out graduation requirements, so I took a fibers class and fell in love with papermaking. Computers became coincidental. And that turned me to non-traditional baskets which led to the sculptural forms.

Janna: Could you describe the process of making the forms? 
Carol: I gather the petioles (the part of the tree that holds the leaf on – the ones I use are just very large ones) this time of year. In fact, I am doing that right now. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, similar to a mimosa but no flowers and the leaves are bigger. 

The green petioles are pliable when they first fall from the tree and I wrap them around forms using duct tape at first and then later replace the tape with tied strips of cotton, as the tape leaves marks. It takes several months for the petioles to dry and harden in the shape of the form, so I put them away in a closet and try to forget them.

Because kozo (made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree) is so strong and because of it’s shrinkability, it is the best paper to use for the walls. I use several layers of dry, torn (about an inch in size) pieces of paper and dab them with methyl cellulose onto the form with a stencil brush–mushing the fiber under and around the petioles until I have the desired effect. The work is then left to dry (a couple of days) and when it is, I break out the form, if necessary, and finally get to see what I’ve made.

Carol Zeman. The Winds of Change. 2011. Handmade Kozo Paper, Petioles, 4”x35”. This artwork was selected by "Fiber Focus 2011" juror Lia Cook to receive an Award of Excellence.

Janna: Congratulations on winning an Award of Excellence for your artwork The Winds of Change in the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. Could you tell me more about this specific piece?
Carol: The Winds of Change has been in my mind for a long time. It started with a small spiral I exhibited at “Fiber Focus 2009”, two years ago. I expanded the design to create the wind effect. I used a piece of 4-inch PVC, with applied silicone, as the form. It took me three days to accomplish and is the largest one I’ve done. It was very hard to get off the form–almost wrecked it—and then I had to put it back on to touch it up! The title and statement drove the work. I am environmentally and politically aware (I call myself a “passive subversive”) and really wanted to use my voice on this piece. I have always had an abiding—possibly idealistic—faith in mankind’s ingenuity to come up with the answers to the challenges of present day. Jung said (I quote loosely) “art is relating primordial images to the times.” That is what I was going for with this artwork.

Janna: Each of your pieces is accompanied by a poetic statement. Which comes first, the poetry or the object?
Carol: I have kept a drawing/writing journal for over 40 years and this is where the poetic statements usually come from. I published it once in 2005 for a solo show called “Pilgrim Flirting with the Universe” at the Wingspan Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky. I scanned all the drawings, coupled them with the writing and printed the whole thing as one piece on a 13”x60’ paper roll on my printer. It went all the way around the gallery, stopping and starting again for doors and windows—black and white with one spot of color. (The journal still grows to this day.)

To answer your query: it’s the old “What came first-the chicken or the egg?” question. One leads to the other.

Janna: What do your vessels contain? 
Carol: I found a fable in Omni Magazine many many years ago that went something like this: A farmer fell in love with a mermaid (for lack of a better word) and tried to talk her into marrying him. She finally said she would if he would promise not to look in her basket, as it was her most important possession. He promised, surprised that was all it took and they lived for many years together. One day, she was out in the fields and his curiosity got the best of him. He took a look into the basket. He laughed out loud when he saw that there was nothing in it and confronted her when she returned, wondering, incredulous, what all the fuss was about. She looked at him, sadly, and said “Things of the spirit cannot be seen.”

Janna: Could you tell me more about the concept of time in relation to your work?
Carol: I am fast approaching (some say I am there) my crone years, so there is a veiled sense of urgency in my life, along with a constantly growing respect for how precious time is. I did a piece last year which as of yet hasn’t been shown called In the Moment. The statement reads: "I have used 2,049,840,000 seconds. I probably have about 630,720,000 left. If you have read this statement, we have spent about 16 of them."

Time is all any of us really have–a gift. And I choose to spend it on my work.

I related totally with Marci McDade’s (keynote speaker at Innovations in Textiles 9 and former Editor, Fiberarts magazine) ending quote to her talk was by Louise Bourgeois: “I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.”

Janna: Who are some people who have inspired you?
Carol: The first art course I took was at a small women’s college in Kansas, my junior year. I was sooooooo excited, as I had been dabbling in art my whole short life. The nun made us copy the masters. I was really frustrated, as I wanted to do MY thing. I saw no value in what I thought at the time was stupid. But as I look back, I think it is of enormous value. I look at everything I can get my hands on and have looked at so much artwork for so many years, it is impossible to narrow it down to a few.

The first name that instantly popped into my head when I read your question was Bob Dylan. The second was Gandhi. And then an Einstein quote: “My sense of god is my sense of wonder of the universe.” Artwise—too many or all that have gone before.

Janna: What is one of your favorite memories?
Carol: I was in the Florida Keys several years ago with my sister. We drove down from Miami and along the way we kept seeing signs saying “Swim with the Dolphins” which sounded great—always wanted to do that but the dolphins that were available were in captivity, so we didn’t stop. Just didn’t seem right to keep them captive so tourists could swim with them.

We got to Key West and stayed in a charming B&B. I was chatting with the owner about the dolphins and she said she had a friend, Captain Bob, who had been following a pod in the Gulf for over ten years and he did charters. We signed up and went out in the ocean with him and his crew, which consisted of his Lab, Pisces and a college student who served as his first mate. We were out about 45 minutes when he slowed and although I didn’t see anything but the marvelous Caribbean, he said they were under us, were feeding and we would wait until they were done. As with any animal, they shouldn’t be bothered while feeding. After about 15 minutes, one of them surfaced, turned over on his back and flipped a fish in the air, catching it in his mouth and dove back under the water. Pisces was freaking out and was straining at his leash to get in the water with them. There were about 15-20 total. A few more started popping up and did tricks just as if they were trying to entertain us. Captain Bob could tell them apart by their dorsal fins, had them affectionately named and told about his experience with them over the years. He said he thought they were about done feeding and that we should get our snorkel and fins on and jump in the water.

My heart was POUNDING but my sister jumped right in with no fear at all, so I did too. And so did Pisces. Once I got in the water, I treaded water and waited, excitement taking over the trepidation. They were spectacular up close—HUGE and thankfully, friendly. They didn’t let you get too close but they would swim up about five feet in front of you, (grinning like they do), usually in pairs, “clicking”, dive under the water (so clear you could easily see them underneath you), coming back to the surface a few feet behind you, almost teasing you to touch them but not really letting it happen. They looked you right in the eye and seemed to love it when you laughed.

We swam with them for about 30 minutes until we were totally worn out and had to get back in the boat. Some of them actually waved a fin in goodbye. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in the wild—almost metaphysical.

Epilogue: I started a conversation with the captain on the way back to Key West, saying he should write a book about his pod of dolphins and that I was a writer and illustrator and could help him. But when he found out I was from a landlocked state, he blew me off.

"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

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