Found Objects Art Thrives in Connecticut
Perhaps it is because they’re closer to the ground, but little kids see things we grown-ups often miss: a rusted safety pin, a piece of a translucent seashell, a seed pod, the bleached-out bones of a songbird, or the discarded skin of a garden snake.
They bring these treasures home, turn them over and over in their hands and dream of the slithery predatory snake searching for a tiny mouse to eat. Perhaps a hawk killed the bird; and who lost the safety pin? What would grow from the seedpod?
Most of us outgrow the world of stories that live in bottle caps and broken sled runners.
Some of us, on the other hand, keep seeing these prizes with an imaginative eye.
“I’m always picking up things that were thrown away or lost and forgotten. Rusted garden tools, car parts, nails, and rotted boards from building sites,” says Lucy Krupenye. The backyard of her idyllic home seated by a brook in Wilton gives up the bones of small animals, rocks and twisted branches, stones rubbed smooth from the river, and pieces of old farm implements. These things become sculptures and wall hangings that pay homage to nature and spirit and people. A discarded violin case has a rusted hinge, the heel of an old shoe, and other articles of life’s detritus affixed inside: it’s a work of love for Krupenye’s father, who was a concert violinist.
While Krupenye’s art is a totemic embrace of spirit and the natural world, Kathryn Frund’s body of work poses questions about the relationship between the earth and humanity. Her “found objects” are more likely to be man-made – a reminder that things we manufacture cannot be simply discarded when we’ve decided we’re through with them.
Frund’s New Haven studio is in Erector Square, itself a study in re-purposing. If you’re of a certain age, you probably had an Erector Set. This is where it was made, in an industrial complex of 11 red brick buildings that now is home to local artists. Frund is one of over 100 who work there.
“This is the bag that oranges come in when you buy them at the grocery store,” she says, pulling at the orange plastic netting on a small collage. Affixed to the netting are boxes wrapped in string. A closer inspection reveals that the boxes are made of the paper rolls from a player piano. “It’s saying that we’re all tied together, all connected.”
She rescued the trappings of a photographer’s set for one installation, and the huge broken red plastic letters of a commercial sign for another. “I drove past this sign company every day for years,” she says. “I knew I had to re-purpose the things they threw in the trash.” The result is a powerful wall installation, floor to ceiling, 10’ tall x 18’ wide, and visually arresting.
In a neighboring studio, Barbara Harder operates a printing press much like the contraption invented by Johannes Gutenberg more than 500 years ago. She creates (somewhat ironically) copies of the Bible, one of which resides at the Yale University library.
Although the process has changed little since Gutenberg’s day, what is created on the press has become legend—diverse and beautiful. Harder, for example, uses leaves to make patterns on panels of sheer fabric. She creates bigger images with a stencil she made from a photograph of a tree she fell in love with in Japan. In a Paris flea market, she found an old crumbly book in Latin – a Bible Concordance – infested with page-devouring insects that had eaten holes near the binding.
“I had to put it in the freezer for months to kill the bugs,” she says. With the pages she creates collages rich with mystery and message. One assemblage is eight of those pages with splashes of red ink: the blood of Christ with the bold simplicity of a Japanese woodblock print.
“People give me things they find that they think I can make into art,” Harder says. “In things that others might think as trash, I see color, interesting texture and shape.”
Nancy Eisenfeld’s studio is steps away from Harder’s. Her otherworldly sculptures of vines, tree bark, and rusted metal hang from the ceiling and writhe up from the floor. “I want to surprise, to show nature’s force,” she says, “both benevolent and destructive, necessary and out of our control.” Her work is aggressive, fluid and unavoidable, almost demanding a response from the viewer.
The earth gives up her treasures, and the artists among us interpret them. Jody Silver of Stamford, for example, builds characters from the objects she finds, lively little people and animals, like wooden dolls: a haughty girl with pink hair, a barking dog, a quacking duck, a man with a naughty surprise. Her art has a child-like fancy. “I like to leave my audience smiling,” she says.
For Rex Walden, it’s a more serious interpretation—his work is a journey, measured and beautiful. “The sea is my muse,” he says from his Guilford home. It is obvious in even his most abstract work. Walden is intrigued by the markings on nautical charts. He likes what he calls their “graphic mystery” and incorporates them in almost all of his paintings. “It’s my ‘Where’s Waldo?’ moment, when someone finds the scrap of a map in a collage,” he says. Walden uses the keys of an adding machine, a button, a postage stamp, and often a stretch of a tape measure or a ruler to chart the imagination of his audience, and send the viewer on a journey of their own.
Whether it’s Frund’s message of our responsibility to our world, Walden’s invitation to journey with him, or Krupenye’s offering of a few moments of Zen, the art of found objects returns us all to the curiosity and imagination of the children we still are.