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Artist uses paper, lint to create


By Rebecca Bailey : The Herald-Sun
Nov 3, 2005 : 7:43 pm ET

CHAPEL HILL -- In fiber artist Anita Wolfenden's airy sunlit studio, sharing space with a large loom, tapestries, collages, cut and layered paper creations and garments fashioned from handmade paper, hangs a spherical nest-like object -- the organic matter woven into an intricate open pattern.

"It's a tumbleweed," said Wolfenden. I've had it forever, about 35 years." She and her husband were visiting friends in Kansas when the Swedish-born Wolfenden admired the tumbleweeds blowing across a field. Months later, back in North Carolina, she would find a box on her doorstep bearing the natural work of art.

Wolfenden's eye for the tumbleweed's beauty suggests her enduring interest in the play of light and dark on intricate and repeating patterns. Her Chapel Hill studio will be open to the public this Saturday and Sunday, as one of 65 studios featuring a wide array of media on the 11th annual Orange County Artists Guild Annual Open Studio Tour.

(The tour continues next weekend, Nov. 12 and 13, as well.)

"You can do so much with paper," said Wolfenden, who may crease, wrinkle, iron, sculpt and paint the paper she makes from dryer lint -- yes, dryer lint -- of various colors. "Paper is the most wonderful material."

But her experimentation with paper -- currently she is cutting thick watercolor paper into precise edges to create layered architectural forms -- grew out of what seemed, at the time, a misfortune that prevented her from weaving. "I injured my shoulder, and I couldn't warp my loom for a year," Wolfenden explained.

Turning to paper, she began to fashion collages, and in the late 1990s she took a workshop on making paper at Carrboro's ArtsCenter. "We took pieces of ordinary paper and put them in a blender," Wolfenden recalled. "It makes a gooey soup. At the end of the workshop, the teacher mentioned, 'oh, you can also use dryer lint,' and I thought, well that's interesting."

A soupy result

The process involves mixing lint with hot water and wallpaper glue, and pressing the soupy result onto a form that resembles a window screen in a wooden frame. "You can make your own," said Wolfenden. When the material is almost dry, she removes it carefully and irons it.

"It isn't pretty as paper goes," said Wolfenden, "but I have used it to make semi 3-D camisoles and corsets, matted and framed."

She also has used lint-derived paper to fashion small books sewn together with waxed linen thread; one book cover in her studio is a striking shade of blue. "My son Peter had bought new beach towels," said Wolfenden. "I dried them to get the blue lint."

Another good source of colorful lint is a new bedspread. "After nearly every show [of my work], someone sends a bedspread or a towel to get a particular color, " she said.

Her son, Wolfenden added, is "still good about sending his lint."

Working with the soft and fuzzy handmade paper, said Wolfenden, made her "long to do something with hard lines and sharp edges." A piece titled "Small Pink Snake," a curving series of precisely cut and folded segments of paper, mounted in a Lucite box, is one of her early creations with smooth white paper. To create the pink hue, the artist used acrylic paint; but it is reflected light that creates the soft glow between segments.

An unlikely place

For her abstract forms, Wolfenden found beauty in an unlikely place. "Electron microscope images of very osteoporotic bones were the real inspiration behind my first attempts at making boxes with layered paper inside," she said. Wolfenden mounts her compositions in cigar boxes which she buys from a collector; some she decorates while leaving others plain.

Lately, said Wolfenden, she has been working with larger forms, some plant-like, others architectural, which she mounts inside tall clear columns. And she is weaving as well: Visitors to her studio this weekend will see a tapestry in progress.

"I started it in late September," she said. "The basic inspiration was two trees with their branches interlocking, but I don't really know how it's going to come out."

For inspiration from the natural world, Wolfenden has only to walk out on the high balcony of her studio, which overlooks a wooded landscape. "It's like a new gift every day," she said.

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