Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shoes as Art by Lesley Haas

The boundary between fashion and art is one that many artists find fascinating. Artist Lesley Haas explores that margin with her extraordinary paper creations. Lesley has an extensive exhibition history and her work is owned by such prestigious collections as the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, The Royal Library in The Hague, and The Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two of her paper dresses will be on display at the Smithsonian International Gallery in Washington in the Revealing Culture exhibition June 8 - August 29, 2010. The Opening Reception will be held on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8 pm. Lesley has created shoes using a material she calls vegetable papyrus and kindly agreed to an interview.

OFF BEET  Size 8 
Vegetable Papyrus - Sweet Potato, Red Beet 
by Lesley Haas, 2000

Ingrid: What is vegetable papyrus?
Lesley: Vegetable Papyrus is an extension of hand papermaking, Dr Ragab of the Papyrus Institute in  Cairo experimented by making papyrus from vegetables and was quite successful. A few artists caught on and started creating paper from this most fascinationg material. I've made shoes, wine goblets, ballet toe shoes, scrolls, etc from vegetable papyrus using red beet, pumpkin, sweet potato, red and white cabbage, carrots, sweet peas and more. When very fresh and newly made, these objects are beautifully transluscent in the sunlight. The red beets turn an exquiste magenta and the purple cabbage turns deep blue with turquoise and green streaks...quite the light show! But as these colors are fugitive and vegetable papyrus is kind of an expanding and changing artwork. After years    red beet will change to brownish red and carrots turn white, pumpking turns pale orange and sweet potato turns toward pale yellow. It is as fragile as glass and sensitive like any natural, organic material.

RED BEET SERIES Size 8 / Child Size 3
Vegetable Papyrus - Red Beet
by Lesley Haas, 1999

Ingrid: Are these shoes styled after a particular period?
Lesley: My interest in shoes is mostly reflected by the shoe fashions of the 12th -18th Century. I've had visits to the Shoe and Leather museum in  Offenbach outside Frankfurt, Germany, that has a  large shoe collection.  I particularly like ankle boots, and used my own as molds for my vegetable papyrus shoes. 

Ingrid: Why are you drawn to work with paper?
Lesley: After visiting an early papermaking exhibition at MOMA, I was smitten seeing paper used as an art medium and I've traveled the "Paper Road" ever since. The tactile and textured surfaces and rough deckled edges of paper attract me and I wanted to learn and become involved with this medium.  

Ingrid: What is the most challenging part of working with paper?
Lesley: A huge challenge to me has been finding an affordable studio where I can make handmade paper. Papermaking requires a space where it doesn't matter about getting wet! These days I am working dry, smaller and with alot of a recycled papers in a very confined space.

BAROQUE, Size 8 

Vegetable Papyrus -Pumpkin
by Lesley Haas, 2000

Ingrid: Where do you find your inspiration?
Lesley: Generally my inspirations comes from conversations with artist friends, sometimes its turning the pages of my mom's old fashion magazines and also the challenge of varied exhibition entries. When I have the opportunity to travel I see art is many forms and materials.

Ingrid:  What drives you to create?
Lesley: My drive to create is something that has been in me pressing emotionally and outwardly. It took a long time to break through in actual acheivement with a tangible result, whether by making my early handmade picture frames, that I made hundreds of at my first studio in Heidelberg, Germany and moving to finally making paper and onto creating my dress Raw Suffering of a Woman many years later.  When I opened my first studio, it was a relief to finally be able to get those creative energies released. I am a late bloomer. 

Vegetable Papyrus - Pumpkin, Red Beet
by Lesley Haas 2000

Ingrid: What is your earliest memory as an artist?
Lesley: Both in my elementary schoolyard on summer days drawing and coloring with broken crayons, I generally had my hands in some kind of art project. And hanging out incessantly in my high school art room. It took me quite a few years to break through a barrier I had when I younger to actually "create".

Ingrid: What artist living or dead would you most like to have a conversation with?  What question would you ask them?
Lesley: Alan Shields - I would ask him what prompted him to sew on paper?? !!  So many including me have followed suit and taken his lead to sew on paper. I once had a short opportunity to meet him in Baltimore, MD and mentioned how he was the first to sew on paper and he didn't even realize that he started that technique. He so unfortunately has since passed away.

Vegetable Papyrus- Red Beet
by Lesley Haas, 1999

Ingrid: Who is your best critic?
Lesley: My son.

Ingrid: What frame of mind do you have to be in to produce art?
Lesley: When I am truly inspired with an idea that I want to bring to fruition, I can move ahead and finish an artwork. I need peace of mind and time to put my ideas into motion. Sometimes it's a dealine that pushes me when I am not terribly inspired.

Ingrid: You feel happiest when?
Lesley: When I am with my son and when people buy my work. For me that is a true compliment!

Ingrid: People would be surprised to learn that?
Lesley: That I am my mother's caregiver...!

Ingrid: Do you have a mantra?
Lesley: Keep on keeping on...

Ingrid: What book are you currently reading?
Lesley: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Ingrid: What's next for you?
Lesley: Hopefully something new and exciting! Exciting is the operative word.

TOE SHOES Child's Size 3
Vegetable Papyrus - Red beet, Satin Ribbons
by Lesley Haas 1999 

To see more work by Lesley Haas, visit her website here