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Helen Heibert’s “Mother Tree Project.”
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Paper trail
A group of events celebrates an ordinary product used in extraordinary ways to make art
By Janet Seitz Carlson

Five area visual arts groups are creating a paper trail for the community, bringing six weeks of programs and five exhibitions on the role that paper plays in art from Oct. 7 to Nov. 12.

"Partners on Paper" is a collaboration between the Illinois State Museum, the University of Illinois Springfield Visual Arts Gallery, Springfield Art Association, Prairie Art Alliance and Robert Morris Gallery.

The project includes artist-led workshops, lectures, demonstrations and hands-on activities targeting children and young adults as well as college and adult learners. 

Robert Sill, the Illinois State Museum's associate curator and assistant director of art, explains that the Illinois State Museum had planned its "On and Of Paper: Selections from the Illinois State Museum Collection" for its various locations. The 100-plus objects vary by subject, purpose, artist and process, and span approximately 200 years. All are either on paper or made of paper.

"Each object was carefully selected toward achieving a representation of the breadth and depth of these collections in terms of media, process, period and artists," says the state museum's Lockport gallery curator of art, Jennifer Jaskowiak. "My goal was to show our visitors an excellent example of the many types of art that utilize paper and, thereby, remark on its versatility and value."  

Sill adds, "Paper is such a big part of the history of art. We saw how important paper is to art and decided to take that theme and expand on it. This one broad umbrella had different levels of interaction and interest."

With Springfield on the Illinois State Museum's planned exhibit schedule, Sill sought "a more interesting way to display the theme than just the borders of our own museum" and reached out to Springfield community arts organizations to join in the theme "because it creates a synergy.  When you combine resources, you get something really special: interaction, a bigger event than what it can be."

And big it will be.

In addition to the other venues' plans, the University of Illinois Visual Arts Gallery is bringing in Portland, Ore., artist Helen Hiebert, who constructs installations, sculptures, films and artist books using handmade paper, thread and light. She exhibits, teaches and lectures about papermaking and lamp-making internationally and serves as an adjunct faculty member at Oregon College of Art and Craft. 

Her "Mother Tree Project" features a larger-than-life handmade paper dress with single strands of thread extending from the dress's bodice, cascading to the floor, then transforming by crocheted "roots" that pile up and fill the surrounding space as a tree's roots would fill the ground. 

Hiebert's transformation from dress to tree and root to soil symbolizes the mother as a provider and nurturer throughout human development. According to Hiebert's online statement, the sculpture serves as a symbol of the vulnerability, strength and sense of community she feels as a mother. 

The installation has traveled to various locations and has included events during which participants gather and crochet to add "roots" to the piece. Hiebert hopes to gather "roots" from around the globe.With Hiebert's work, "paper takes on a sculptural quality," says UIS Visual Arts Gallery Director Mike Miller. "This dress is an iconic sculptural form. It's meditative... 

"The tree/dress is vulnerable and strong - like paper," Miller continues. "It is constructed of natural materials, as are the crocheted elements. It is an unusual use of paper - a freestanding sculptural form - and invites an understanding of maternity and motherhood as community by having various women continuously contribute crocheted strands.

"For all of these reasons, I thought it was a nice complement to the other exhibitions in the group. It shows how artists can embody powerful universal themes in their work and invite the community to participate in the construction of the narrative."

Miller says the event will be cross-promoted with the UIS Women's Center. 

Students will participate in a workshop. Hiebert will give a lecture to the public, and her talk will be about papermaking experiences and women's experiences as it relates to the piece she's making, says Miller.

The Springfield Art Association also will present a national juried show of artist-made books. The Robert Morris Art Gallery will feature the art of paper-cutting expert Richard Shipps, known for extraordinary skills cutting intricate patterns for large-scale sculptural wall works. The Prairie Art Alliance will present examples of members' works made on or of paper at its Gallery II.

Each organization also will host lectures, workshops and demonstrations. 

The collaborative effort, Sill says, creates a sense of civic cultural togetherness, and the community benefits from a greater experience.  

To follow the paper trail, consult each organization's website or see the Partners on Paper Facebook page.



  • Oct. 7: Artist gallery talk by Richard Shipps. Robert Morris Gallery. The artist will discuss his work in the gallery.
  • Oct. 17: "The Art of the Book," by Betsy Dollar, executive director of the Springfield Art Association.  Held at Springfield Art Association. Dollar is a paper maker and expert on the subject of artist books. She will outline a brief history of the genre and discuss some of the artist books on display.
  • Oct. 20: Artist lecture by Helen Hiebert. University of Illinois Visual Arts Gallery. The artist will give a presentation on her installation "Mother Tree Project" and discuss her work.
  • Oct. 21: Curator gallery talk by Jennifer Jaskowiak. Illinois State Museum. Discussion of the exhibition "On and Of Paper" including description of its themes and how the show was organized.
  • Oct. 25: "Art Talks!" by Morgan Elser, sculpture/reusing paper; Pam Miller, paper pulp; Dennis Morris, paper pulp. Prairie Art Alliance Gallery II.


Workshops, demonstrations


  • October (date not yet set): Paper-making workshop by Betsy Dollar. Springfield Art Association. Hands on workshop where young artists participate in making their own paper.
  • Oct. 22: Papermaking workshop for college age and older by Helen Hiebert. Springfield Art Association. Students from UIS and older students from the Springfield Art Association will take part in a papermaking workshop taught by Hiebert.
  • Oct. 8: Pulp painting: A paper-making process, by Pam Miller. Prairie Art Alliance Gallery II. Students age 8-12 will learn paper pulp painting from this community artist.
  • Oct. 22: Paper-cutting demonstration by Richard Shipps. Robert Morris Gallery. The artist will demonstrate his paper-cutting techniques open to ages 12 and above.
  • Nov. 12: "Paper is Super!" Illinois State Museum. Origami demonstration by Fumika Brudnik; hands-on paper making with Morgan Elser; print making, painting, drawing stations staffed by art, education, and volunteer staff museum. Organized by the museum's education staff as part of the ongoing, hands-on educational series Super Saturdays for children 4-12.


Key dates


  • Oct. 3-Nov. 5: Helen Hiebert: "The Mother Tree Project"
  • Oct. 20: Artist's lecture in Brookens Auditorium, University of Illinois Springfield
  • Oct. 21: "Progressive Partners on Paper" opening and artist's reception
  • Oct. 22: Papermaking workshop at Springfield Art Association.



Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )

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