~ The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on March 20, 2014.
A contingency of about 80 Floyd Countians and Gibby Waitzkin’s family attended her February 22nd opening of Continuum of Being at Piedmont Arts in Martinsville. “There were about 200 in all that attended,” said the fiber-artist about the show, where treasures of the garden and woods come to life as paper, sculpture, adornment and storytelling.
A visual poetic experience, the solo exhibit encompasses 2,500 square feet of space and is based around Waitzkin’s nature photography and her hand-made paper, created from plant fibers that she collects on her Floyd farm and beyond. Themes speak to the seasonal cycles of life from seed to fruition and to the interdependent relationship between humans and the natural environment.
Honey-colored paper cradles, archetypical arks carrying milkweed seed pods, an installation of maple bark pieces created from storm fallen trees, a branch where exhibit-goers leave handwritten messages are all part of the exhibit. Most of the displayed sculptures are two-sided, such as an egg-shaped piece that features a fern embedded photograph on one side and a shadow box holding river rocks and other found objects on the other. Searching, devotion and connection are some of the photograph subject matters that are depicted by models representing “every man and woman.”
The Pod Room, set off from the museum’s spacious main gallery, evokes a sense of other-world. The larger-than-life pieces displayed have been described by others as butterfly wings, angel wings, seed pods, cocoons, and even hoofed deer prints in the snow.
In the Pod Room exhibit description, Waitzkin writes about her exploration with macro photography in the context of handmade paper shapes as a way to focus on larger issues by zeroing in on simple forms. She also makes reference to the “butterfly effect,” an underlying theme of her life’s work that refers to the concept that “the smallest action can send reverberating waves throughout the ecosystem, transforming a seemingly innocuous action into a moment of great significance.”
Recently, Waitzkin took a small group of Floyd friends to the exhibit, where she talked about the art making process, the materials she uses and the conceptual ideas behind her work, one of which is the question of legacy. “We have this precious moment. How can we spend it being present? It’s important that we try to leave this earth in as good shape as we can,” said the mother/grandmother and founding member of SustainFloyd, a citizen group focused on fostering localized culture, economics and environmental resources.
Waitzkin’s work brings the age-old and the modern together. “It’s an ancient Asian way of making paper,” she said about her papermaking. “But I’m also using technology. My camera is digital and I use Photoshop to a put a layer of sepia on all my photographs. It gives them a softer more aged feel.”
She explained that some pieces start with a format that is built up with fiber and others are built from scratch. They are heavy when wet, but so light when dried that the pieces hanging on a cord from the gallery ceiling seem to spin around in mid air.
Waitzkin cooks collected plants in lye, soda ash or lime, which gives them a perfect PH balance, making her finished creations archival. She paints on her work with natural dyes, many of which come from plants. Every plant has a different color, as well as healing properties and symbolism, says Waitzkin, who described how a water lily makes green and that early harvested bamboo pulp is yellow. She seals her pieces with beeswax, which she decided on after being unhappy with how they appeared under glass.
Hidden treasures that embellish her pieces and convey a sense of wonder include bird nests, feathers, nuts, lichen, fungi, dried flowers, seed pods, a butterfly, a snake skin, a snail shell, a moth that died at her doorstep and more. “I have a show made out of things that people throw away,” Waitzkin said.
Exhibit guests were surprised to find the artist onsite and drew in closer to listen as Waitzkin shared the stories behind the creations in her unique body of work “This is the best show yet,” said volunteer museum hostess Cindy Clark, who remarked that nothing in nature was destroyed in the art making.
“It’s amazing,” said Jayn Avery, a Floyd potter who attended the exhibit. “There’s nobody else doing anything like this.” – Colleen Redman
Note: There is still time to see the admission-free Continuum of Being exhibit, which will run through April 19 at Piedmont Arts, 215 Starling Ave in Martinsville.