Innovative artist Fritzi Huber’s surrounding environment organically lends itself to her fascinating creative process
By KIM HENRY
Coming from a multi-generational circus family, Fritzi Huber spent a large part of her childhood traveling from state to state with her aerialist parents as a part of a traveling circus. Huber and her brother were both trained to perform as children, but their parents also wanted them to have an option for a life beyond the circus and ensured that they graduated high school. Being on the road for months at a time has clearly shaped Huber’s colorful artistic journey, but not in the ways one might expect.
The majority of Huber’s work is not clown collages or watercolors of sequined women flying through the air. It does not necessarily seem inspired by her circus background and yet, it was most definitely her gypsy lifestyle that led her to discover her true passion in life. Papermaking.
You see, being on the road meant a lack of available, diverse reading material. Traveling for 9 months out of the year equaled very few books and little opportunity for a library card. “When we would finally stay in one place long enough for me to get a long awaited library card, I would peruse to my heart’s content,” remembers Huber with a smile. Walking down the isles, eyes closed, Huber would be drawn to books by their fragrance and began to realize that she nearly always gravitated towards books with hand formed edges, otherwise known as deckled edges, rather than the factory made ones.
The other influential factor was a major appreciation for water. “Living out of a trailer meant constantly looking for a water source. Where would we get our water? How would we carry it, dispose of it, store it?” explains Huber. The water-intensive aspect of papermaking instantly drew her in. “The first time I put my hands in the vat, I felt a true sense of euphoria,” she said.
An avid recycler, Huber makes all of her paper out of rags – jeans, linen, t-shirts, and all sorts of old fabric. This is placed in a beater and gradually reduced to a pulp, formed, then pressed and set to dry. Depending on the seed idea and organic route of her project, Huber may add cut-out words, feathers, leaves and other kinds of debris she finds along the way to create diverse textures and finishes.
Her ‘Quilt to Warm the Sea’ hangs impressively on the wall of her ACME studio and is a perfect example of the cyclical nature of her work – one idea leads to another and so on. While participating in the No Boundaries International Art Colony on Bald Head Island, Huber became even more fascinated with sea grass than she already was. She began to collect the bits of fabric that she found caught up in the ocean greenery and, oftentimes, the strands of fabric were connected to bits of old fishing line and other disregarded trash. She gradually made a quilt using only the things she found.
“I’m always responding to the environment. Writers write – my art is my way of bearing witness. I’m telling an ever-changing story. I have always been drawn to things in transition,” she explains. Water by its very nature is fluid and the oceans and rivers are in a constant state of flux. In light of current events with the Cape Fear River right here in Wilmington, Huber talks passionately about her fascination with water and the need to honor its importance. She is currently using as much rainwater as possible for her papermaking. “I like to think of it as water from all over the world coming to visit and being a helpful guest,” says Huber with her magical way of seeing things.
Huber has been painting, drawing and papermaking from coast to coast for at least 30 years, has received multiple artist grants and became an International Educator through the Lincoln Center Institute. Her local commissions include the Fort Fisher Aquarium, Cameron Art Museum and the New Hanover County Library. In 2009, she traveled to South India to create a mural for the Homes of Hope Orphanage. While there Huber made paper with the children, some of whom had mothers who worked as rag pickers, teaching them how to transform the finds into paper.
Huber is currently represented by New Elements Art Gallery here in Wilmington and has been an artist in-residence at Dreams, an after school arts center for kids in need, for over 18 years. Ever prolific, she recently pioneered a program where Dreams students were given the opportunity to join artists at the No Boundaries Retreat and even create a piece of work together.
The organic nature of Huber’s artistic process surely echoes the organic nature of being on the road and never quite knowing what the day will bring. Controlling the outcome of her work doesn’t appear to be a priority for this innovative artist. She’s even been known to leave her creations out in the rain to see what kind of pattern the drops would make on her paper. Fusing dreamy, almost whimsical qualities with conscious environmental themes gives Huber’s work both its aesthetic beauty and depth. Much like the artist herself, her work reminds us to play and relish simple pleasures, and yet be mindful of the consequences of our actions.