Paper scenes

Published 11:00 pm Friday, November 23, 2012

Artist uses paper mache to bring life to art

For Richard Girdner, producing art is much like birthing a baby.

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He knows what his creation is going to be but he’s not sure what it’s going to look like.

Girdner of Troy is a sculptor of sorts. He works with Styrofoam, wallpaper paste and newspapers. His medium is paper mache.

“When I start working, I start with an idea of what my people are going to look like but the final results are never what I thought they would be,” Girdner said. “So, I look forward to seeing the outcome. I’m anxious to see what it will be. And, yes, in that way, it is like birthing a baby.”

Girdner said he has always enjoyed drawing but never considered himself “all that good at it.”

“I like drawing but I didn’t do any painting because I was not much of a color coordinator,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t get into paper mache until a few years ago. The windows at Sanbuck Insurance in downtown Troy are good showcase windows but they looked a little empty. So, I offered to make a couple of paper mache figures to try and dress them up.”

Girdner created a scene with a man looking over the shoulder of a lady.

“The lady was sitting in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace and she was looking at a picture album,” Girdner said. It was an interesting grouping, I thought.”

“I used wire to frame the people and it worked out all right but the wire was hard to work with,” he said. “People seemed the enjoy the scene. At least they stopped to look at it. People were curious about how the figures were made. So, I made a few others some musicians and other figures. I’ve always liked to make things and I like art, so paper mache was good hobby for me. So, I kept piddling around with it.”

The folks at the We Piddle Around Theater in Brundidge took notice of Girdner’s “piddling” and asked him to create a scene for the theater.

“What I did was a little boy and his dog at a fishing hole and the little boy has big fish on the line,” Girdner said.

Girdner completed the scene by adding a bicycle and an old oak tree.

The scene was so popular with visitors to the theater that Girder was asked to create a moonshiner to watch over a still that is a part of the theater’s décor. And, the old moonshiner came a-totin’ a shotgun to protect his property. He gets more than a few looks from theatergoers.

Among other Girdner’s creations is a Most T. (the late nationally acclaimed folk artist Mose Tolliver) figure that is privately owned but makes an appearance at the folk art exhibit at the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival at Troy University each year.

Girdner was commissioned by Dr. Doug Hawkins of Troy to create a figure as a centerpiece for a folk art collaboration between him and noted Alabama folk artist Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas. Lucas, a metal sculptor, and Hawkins, a budding folk artist, combined on a metal sculpture in the installation, which includes a welder and the tools of his trade by Girdner.

Girdner’s creations have not gone unnoticed by those on the board and staff of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center. Girdner was invited to participate in the Roots Exhibition: Artists of Pike County 3D, which opened at the Johnson Center for the Arts on Nov. 4.

“I was a little ashamed to put my paper mache art in the exhibit,” Girdner said, laughing.

“Among all that fine art, mine would look like a redneck had come to town. But I went ahead and took a few pieces.”

And Wiley White, Johnson Center development director, said she couldn’t be more pleased.

“Richard’s creations are delightful and so much fun,” she said. “You can’t help but smile when you see them. We are proud and excited to have them as part of the exhibit.”

The “welder” is included as part of the Hawkins-Lucas 3D installation and Girdner has two works on exhibit, one a grouping of a ladies’ choir complete with a piano player and the other a high-flying, Red Barron-type duo.

“The ladies’ choir reminds me of the old time churches,” Girdner said. “I remember that ladies used to roll their stockings down so, the gray-haired lady’s stockings are rolled down. It was fun to do and I hope it will bring back memories for a lot of people and that others will enjoy it, too.”

The airplane, with an open cockpit, was done for a local Vacation Bible School and is “totally imaginary.”

“I did the airplane because the theme for the Bible school included traveling to different places,” Girdner said. “And, what better way to travel than by airplane? The kids really enjoyed it and wanted to get in the plane. It was fun to do.

“Everything I do with paper mache is fun for me. I don’t consider myself an artist. I just make things and hope that people will enjoy them, too.”

Girdner said it is an honor to have his paper mache art on display at the Johnson Center.

“Like I said, I don’t consider myself an artist but, it’s a real compliment to be included,” he said.

The Roots Exhibit: Artists of Pike County 3D at the Johnson Center opened on Nov. 4, 2012 and will close on Jan. 4, 2013.

The exhibition includes 40 pieces by 20 Pike County artists. The Johnson Center is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and until 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.