After finishing the paper mache foot I began to do research on finding the species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a list of 164 endangered plants and animals listed in California. This is a good list to use since we live here and might be in a position to do something to help the species in our own state. Then I went online to find photos of the species. Many groups and photographers were generous and interested in helping with this project. I contacted photographers from CalPhotos, California Native Plant Society, Bay Delta Fish and Wildlife Office, Center for Biological Diversity, Nature Conservancy, St. Mary’s College, and other sites and they generously contributed images.
The surface area of the big foot is about 6300 sq. in. If each picture is used 4 times that should cover the foot up to the waterline. The photos of the animals and plants were numbered in alphabetical order and zeroxed and a list was made of each species crediting the name of the photographer and the online source of the image. If anyone is interested in finding out why a particular species is in trouble, Wikipedia is a good source. Here is one story from that site that was hopeful. The El Segundo Blue Butterfly has seen diminishing numbers for many years and it is designated a federally endangered specie. It depends on the Coast Buckwheat plant for nourishment. This plant is also endangered because of coastal development and the invasive iceplant along the coast. Fortunately one area where it is still plentiful is LAX so governmental and environmental groups worked with the airport to make the El Segundo Blue Butterfly Habitat preserve and now both plant and butterfly have a home. Also many towns in southern california are removing ice plants and replanting the native buckwheat.
Footprints on the Floor
As part of the project each visitor will be invited to outline his or her two footprints on the floor. In each footprint a visitor can write a few words on how to reduce our environmental footprint or carbon footprint and thus help ameliorate the plight of these species. A long strip of paper on the floor will lead up to the Big Foot and on it I look forward to seeing it fill up with the footprints of individuals, friends, and families, all of us, as if we are walking together into the future. I’m hoping the project energizes people to get more involved in the environmental movement. We are all in this together—what we do today affects where we will be in the future.
Handprints on the Wall
In addition to the footprints people can leave their handprints on a scroll of paper placed along the long wall in the Kimball. Like the cave art that marked the presence ot our prgenitors 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, the handprints mark our presence here in 2015. Many prehistoric caves in Europe and the Americas are filled with beautiful paintings of animals and handprints. Those caves were like the first museums of art and here on the walls of our museum why not leave our handprints too. People can color them as they wish. Will they outline them like in the caves or use other ways to decorate them? It will be interesting to see how the roll of paper fills up with a parade of visitors. There will be extra sheets of paper for people to bring home a handprint as a momento. People today do have an impact on the world, one that will last thousands of years, just like those who made their handprints so long ago.
It took several months to build the big foot. First I had to decide how to build it. Styrofoam is easy and light weight, but toxic so that was out. So as a “greener” process I decided to use chicken wire and paper mache. I started with a two foot model. Chicken wire was stapled to a plywood board in the shape of a leg, arch and toes and then strips of newspaper were dipped into a flour and water paste. Big mistake! Some critters in the studio thought it was pastry and nibbled at the toes so I switched to white glue. I learned how to wait between coats to let it dry and how tearing the newsprint worked better than cutting it. Next I drew several large 6’ drawings of a right foot on my wall with top, sides and front views. On a 72”plywood board I outlined the footprint and a friend and I coiled up a piece of 6’ of chicken wire to make the leg support and stapled it down. More chicken wire was attached for the arch of the foot with crumpled newspaper holding it up and small coils of wire were added for the toes. The wire frame was reworked over and over to get the proportions of the muscle and bone structure and the five toes just right before any paper mache was applied. Even after many layers of glued newsprint were applied I often cut back to the wire to make darts or add bulges.
The foot was painted with a thin coating of acrylics and medium. I drew a waterline at about 4’ which is the expected sea level rise in the future if we continue on this path of fossil fuel use. Below the waterline will be a collage of photos of 164 California endangered species that are in trouble because of human causes like over development, over fishing, mining and grazing of land, and climate change. By having the public join me in making up this collage, I hope it will help advertise the hardship we are causing these species and I hope it doesn’t end up as a memorial to these species but it might.
Making art in my studio is a solitary occupation I have enjoyed for many years . The residency at the de Young presents a more social opportunity and I am up for trying something different. The Big Foot Project is a collaborative art piece. I’ll be using images of California’s endangered species, graciously lent by many photographers, and putting them in place on a big paper mache foot with the help of visitors to the studio. Visitors can also put up their handprints on the wall and footprints on the floor. I’m hoping this project will have a bigger audience and impact than my smaller ceramic pieces.
Why use a big foot ? I like it because it suggests we are trampling on the earth like oversized giants. It’s also a reference to the carbon footprint of the environmental movement. We use far too much of the earth’s resources. Our overuse of carbon as fuel results in high amounts of CO2 in the air which captures the heat of the sun producing acidification and thermal expansion of the sea, water rise and climate change on earth.
The inspiration for this project came from a ceramic foot I had done in 2010. It has waterlines suggesting the rise in sea level, and scratched into the dark water or oil stain are scenarios of human caused problems for life at sea. These graphics include overfishing, plastic refuse in the Pacific gyre, melting ice bergs, coral reef destruction, sea temperature rising.
Here is a photo of the ceramic big foot just before it’s fired in the kiln. The drawings on the surface of the clay are scratched into the blue underglaze with an exacto knife to expose the white clay beneath it. After it’s fired the underglaze becomes a darker blue.
We left Carlo Abruzzese’s studio in the City and headed up to Sausalito to visit Beverly Mayeri. Immediately upon entering the complex, we were amidst an eclectic gathering of artistic minds and works. A long row of old mailboxes greeted us and as we turned a corner, we entered a large room with a family of mannequins, numerous paintings, and plants. The sensation of arriving at an artistic hub was complete.
Once inside Mayeri’s studio, where she has made artwork for the past 15 years, figures and creatures in ceramic popped out from every view. Each face, carefully sculpted, exudes personality.
The artist put finishing touches on a piece before showing us the works in her kiln. Normally, the sculptures would rest quietly inside until completion, so it was a rare peek into her works-in-progress.
As she toured us around her studio, we began to notice that, not only had she represented people’s faces and heads, but that there were many feet, wholly unrelated to her Big Foot Project. Winged feet, checkered feet, small feet, large feet.
From shelves and piles, Mayeri pulled out impressive sculpture after sculpture, each piece deserving of its own story as the artist has given them all so much character.
One area of the studio was devoted to work inspired and evocative of the state of the environment and environmental concerns. Cats and a male figure emerging from a log and a turtle are just a few depictions of nature. The Big Foot, itself, is a larger-than-life statement on our carbon footprint and our impact on the earth.
While Abruzzese’s studio was reflective of his own meticulous, architectural works, Mayeri’s workspace is vibrant with colors and shapes and surprises that you see in her sculptures. It is always a delight to see the Artist Studio transform each month at the de Young museum and there is no doubt that each artist will imbue the space with their imagination, style, and perspective.