Art on paper

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

Juneau artists Paula Gregovich and Charles Buggs share a ripping and shredding approach to making art.

They work with paper, and both are attracted to it for the same reasons. It's everywhere, and it's virtually free. And for both artists, their final products are a far cry from the wood pulp product you're holding.

Buggs makes masks that look as if they've been carved out of wood. He recently published a booklet, ``The Art of the Paper Mask,'' that offers step-by step instructions on his technique.

Gregovich creates sculptures and wall hangings that look more like they're made from fabric than paper, and which incorporate feathers and natural fibers from native plants. She'll be showing artwork made from paper, as well as other media, in an exhibit opening Friday at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Gallery.

The exhibit will include a pair of paper sculptures. Using wireform, a type of screen, Gregovich and a friend ``cast'' their torsos. She said the life size forms will be covered with wet paper to create sculptures.

``I've got two rooms devoted to papermaking. It's pretty swampy,'' she said.

The swampiness of her studio is caused by the vats of slurry - paper pulp soaking in water - and the sheets of screened paper she has drying. Two fans blow to dry a giant scroll of thick, ox-blood red paper she's building for the show.

 

Basku mask: Charles Buggs holds an African-style mask he made on paper. Buggs has just published a book on paper-mask making.

MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

``It's like a red carpet. It will be a wall hanging,'' she said ``The dog actually did a little embossing with her paw.''

Gregovich, 30, works as a librarian's assistant at the Juneau Public Library and as a programmer for KTOO-FM. She said both her employers save colored scrap paper for her to use as raw material. She taught a papermaking class last month through community schools.

``Paper is really easy - all you really need to begin is junk mail and a kitchen blender. It's exciting. Like pottery, you never really know how it comes out until it dries,'' she said.

She said she likes to make decorative paper to have around for art purposes, but she prefers to build things that are a little more unusual.

``One time I made a dress out of paper, with wood and paper, and trash from the streets of Philadelphia. The bodice was handmade paper and really thin wood sewn and glued together,'' she said.

Another creation was an 8- by 8-foot piece of handmade paper stitched together like a quilt.

Gregovich grew up in Juneau, and went to college in Portland, Ore., Santa Cruz, Calif., and Philadelphia before graduating from the University of Alaska Southeast with an arts emphasis.

She also uses native plants to make paper, including yarrow, Japanese knotweed, seaweed, beach grass and iris leaves.

``Ferns make nice paper and so does fireweed. I made some cattail paper once,'' she said. ``You have boil it a long time with lye and beat it, not with a blender, but by hand.''

She said it's much easier to incorporate some paper pulp or other fibers as a matrix.

Buggs' approach is opposite in many ways to Gregovich's. He doesn't make paper, but uses paper as his raw material. Using brown paper bags and chipboard, the soft, heavy card-like paper used in packaging, he builds rigid and durable masks that look as if they were carved from wood.

``I've always been in love with masks. I tried to figure out a better way of doing it than the way I was taught in junior high,'' he said.

Buggs, 65, studied arts education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While he was there, an art instructor assigned a final project with the caveat that the materials couldn't cost more than $10.

``I had a part-time job in a mailroom, and I started fooling around with chipboard, and bells started going off in my head,'' he said.

Buggs makes a cardboard frame that looks something like a catcher's mask, then builds up layers using strips of paper and Elmer's glue. He sometimes uses wire to build horns, or adds hair. The masks are then painted.

He exhibited eight masks last October in a show with artist Patti Baumgartner at the arts council gallery, and hopes to have another one this year. His work will be in the display cases at the downtown library during April.

Buggs grew up in East Chicago, Ind. He taught art for five years at a junior high school in Washington, D.C., before he was offered a job as the assistant to the director of Capital Children's Museum in Washington, D.C.

Children have also been a big inspiration, he said.

``I've gotten a lot of ideas watching kids work,'' he said. ``They come up with unique solutions to problems that no adult would come up with.''

Buggs came to visit a friend in Anchorage in 1987 and fell in love with Alaska. He said he preferred a smaller town like Juneau over Anchorage, and moved to the capital city in 1989. He began working with Juneau Mental Health, a job he held until his recent retirement.

``I haven't left Alaska since I came. My friends were taking bets on how long I'd last, and they all lost,'' he said.

One of his first Alaska projects was a 6-foot-tall totem pole made from brown paper, cardboard and half of a Sonotube - a cardboard form used to make concrete columns.

Buggs' booklet, ``The Art of the Paper Mask,'' is available at most Juneau bookstores and arts and crafts stores.



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