As if its violently vivid plumage and awkwardly splayed toes are not strange enough, this particular purple gallinule is not chasing wavelets on the Gulf. It’s perched on a broad studio table here on Lopez Island.
Local papier mache artist Terry Marshall sits surrounded by creatures, from black-capped chickadees to a loping wolf. “I’m just drawn to animals, especially birds,” she says. “They are incredible, miraculous.”
Marshall began on her path as an artist with watercolor, a medium she admits is difficult for her, but which she still loves. However, in 2003 she decided to take one of Polly Ham’s papier mache classes.
“I had seen the work produced by students of hers and figured she must be the best teacher in the world. I started working on a life-sized pelican but didn’t finish by the time the course ended, so I convinced her to let me come back. Seven years later, I’m still here.”
With that last statement, Marshall gestures around the room, which is in the studio Ham keeps in Lopez Village.
Picking up the wire frame which constitutes the “skeleton” of a small bird, Marshall continues. “That first piece, the pelican, seemed to almost make itself. I look at it now and sometimes think ‘Wow, who did that?’ I never imagined I’d be able to sculpt, but I fell in love with it.”
She also finds “one of the coolest things about papier mache is that everyone who’s been to elementary school has some understanding of it from having played around with it. Part of what I’m doing is showing people different things that can be done with it, its possibilities.”
To create one of her works, Marshall first finds a subject that draws her attention. “This wolf,” she says, holding up a small animal so lifelike it almost seems to pant, “started with me wondering why people have felt so threatened by them that they are still trying to exterminate them.”
After studying the subject in photos and creating sketches of it, Marshall begins establishing the form with a heavy wire She then layers the paper on, frequently practicing the stance of the creature herself so she can get a sense of its posture and the muscles being used.
When the form in papier mache is “pretty solid,” she
adds paper clay, working features into it with tools. The clay allows her to carve and sand details. This is followed by adding texture with such elements as string, celluclay, and tissue paper.
Usually eschewing paints when it is time to color the sculpture, Marshall tends to employ various colored papers. “Many people use acrylic paints for this, but I watched Polly Ham and Natalie Roush using colored paper and I wanted to do it that way, too. I generally don’t use paints for colors.”
The end result of this process is frequently different from what Marshall initially envisioned. “I have learned to trust what happens and to take myself out of it.”
One of the most interesting pieces Marshall has created was a piñata she was commissioned to make for a birthday party. “It was a moose for a child’s birthday. It was a great experience to put all that time and energy into something that I knew a child was going to bash to bits. I think of it as a great exercise in letting go.”
Marshall’s work has been in several library shows and is currently being featured at the LCCA in a group show entitled “A Few Creatures Great and Small” which runs through Nov. 9. She welcomes inquires about commissioned work and can be reached at 468-4340 or email@example.com.
The reverence Terry Marshall feels for her subjects is as real as the shape of a wing or the look in a wolf’s eye; from it emanates not only her great talent but also her immense respect for life.