In the previous two blog posts, I’ve discussed how I personally work creatively in paper mâché. One of the blog posts concerned the tools and materials I use. While the other one dealt with how I personally go about creating a finished paper mâché piece.
While working the most recent paper mâché piece, I found my mind wandering back to the my own personal artistic insecurities regarding the medium in which I have chosen to work for the last few years. Some of the questions were untangled. But as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim once said, “Answers only breed more questions.”
I did a little online reading about the history of paper mâché. Wikipedia had a pretty good entry on paper mâché. You can find it here. Paper mâché has been used by many different cultures around the world. Some mummies from ancient Egypt had their outer casings made of paper mâché!
One of the historical points that I found very interesting was that paper mâché became popular in the 1700’s as an inexpensive substitute for plaster moulds that were traditionally used for gilt work in all kinds of decoration from coaches to churches to homes.
Most people are familiar with paper mâché. I lived in the New Mexico for almost twenty years. The tradition of working in paper mâché for important holidays like Dia de los Muertos, as well as religious decoration in churches was well known to me. I have already spoken of my love for the Lupita dolls in blog posts.
It is without doubt that the paper mâché traditions of Mexico have influenced my personal artistic style and expression.
What’s the difference?
Many of the people working in paper mâché, who are utilizing a vast cultural history, are making objects that are devised more for mass production.
The piñata maker that I drove by in Albuquerque several times a week was always making new piñatas. ALWAYS. Many were the same. You could see the rows of Sponge Bobs and Spider Mans and Princess Peaches hanging out underneath the awnings at the front of the business.
The Lupita dolls that I love so much, are created using a mould. This way, many, many dolls can be made utilizing a singular mould. Each doll is relatively similar to the ones made before and after it. (Of course, allowing for variances in the paint and decoration.)
The two aforementioned types of paper mâché art aren’t necessarily meant to last forever either. A piñata gets stuffed with all kinds of goodies and treats, then bashed open at a celebration. Lupita dolls will gradually be loved to death by any little person who plays with them on a regular basis.
I love Lupita dolls and piñatas, and admire the artistic efficacy that goes into their creation by those who are making them. But I need to recognize that what I create out of paper mâché and what they create out of paper mâché are inherently different.
One of these things is not like the other:
One biggest differences between my paper mâché artwork is that I don’t bash my finished artwork to bits with a stick until candy falls out it. (Pedro Martin, who writes a fabulous comic called Mexikid Stories has an hilarious story about piñatas called Holy Piñata. Read it here on Instagram. Remember! It’s in two parts!)
Another big difference is that the paper mâché artwork I create isn’t necessarily meant to be played with. Or perhaps, just not played with by a child. And when I say “played with” I mean, carefully moving the pieces. Maybe setting them up a little differently than I have. Perhaps sitting the large jointed doll in a different position. On a pillow. In a room where the dog and small children won’t be able to touch it. So yeah, with the door closed. Yeah.
I make one-of-a-kind pieces. I will not make a six-tiered cake doll with drawers and an aurora/halo of smaller dolls around it’s head. There will be one, and only one of these paper máché dolls ever made by me. This doesn’t make the piñata maker or the Lupita doll maker any less by comparison. Just different.
My objective is not to create many pieces that are either similar or the same so that I can sell them to as many customers as I can get. I want to express myself on a very personal level through the creation of my artwork.
Where knowledge and experience ends:
What I find curious is that while there are many, many, many people from throughout history that have worked in the medium of paper mâché, it’s still relegated to a folk art or a craft. Not an art form. Perhaps this harkens back to the 1700’s, when it was used as an inexpensive alternative to plaster or wood.
That seems to me to be part and parcel of the fact that most people, once they leave public school, never practice any kind of art themselves at any point after they graduate. The sum total of their artistic knowledge is book-ended with pre-school and high school graduation. Paper mâché is that messy stuff that a person may have worked with that one time in 2nd grade, or perhaps again in 8th grade. And that’s it.
So when I relay to someone that I’m an artist, and I work in paper mâché, their understanding of what type of artwork I create is somewhat limited.
So, now what?
Well, I don’t think it’s really that important for me to necessarily change around what I’m already doing. The understanding of what may be happening within the mind of the person I’m talking to is more important. This means that I have to be able to discuss my artwork in such a way that the people I’m talking to better understand what the difference is between the paper mâché rabbit they made in the 3rd grade and the pieces of artwork that I create.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again on Monday.