White Cliffs of Paper

White Cliffs of Paper


Steven Siegel, Like a rock, from a tree?, 2008, paper, Korea

Ah, paper: It accumulates, grows into unwieldy piles, and morphs into clutter and chaos in our homes and offices. It's one of the curses of contemporary life, decidedly not "paperless" despite the utopian promises of electronic communication.

In the hands of sculptor Steven Siegel, though, paper is not so unmanageable; indeed, it is fodder for arresting public art. The artist, described as "driven by a desire to create beauty from the detritus that human beings leave in their wake," capitalizes on paper's ephemeral nature to make environmental sculptures that look amazingly natural.

Beginning Sunday, May 15, Siegel and a team of volunteers will create a serpentine wall in the sculpture garden of the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, building a wooden frame to support tons - literally, tons - of paper. The wall is expected to stand about 10 feet high, 30 feet long, and 6 feet wide.

For his outdoor work, Siegel uses locally available biodegradable materials, often discarded newspapers. (His studio practice is another story.) Wausau Paper donated 24,000 pounds of paper for the Woodson project; a local recycling company donated another 4,000 pounds.

Unlike many artists, Siegel welcomes the decay of his structures; he likes to see not only how piles of paper fit into a natural setting but also how they weather over time. Siegel's sculptures may acquire the texture of tree bark or a cliff composed of layers of ancient rock. The wall to be created at Woodson is expected to last for a decade or so. In fact, because the wall is designed to deflect rain, the underlying frame is expected to degrade faster than the paper.

The New York-based artist has led public art projects in North America, Asia, and Europe. His two-week residency at the Wausau museum will include hands-on paper-sculpture workshops for participants as young as 5, in addition to the building of the wall.

Siegel is seeking volunteers with carpentry skills as well as teens and adults who can unbundle, fold, carry, stack, and stake paper. If you want to be part of this project, call the museum at 715-845-7010.