Sitting in her home and studio in Easthampton with a collection of vibrant white paper roses, and a paper dress inspired by curved architecture nearby, artist Marguerite Belkin, a 75-year-old self taught “paper sculptor,” said 15 years ago when she started doing origami, she would have never believed that she would become an artist. Now she is showcasing her work during her first single show at Click Workspace in Northampton this Friday.
Belkin, who moved to the Valley five years ago after living in Houston, Texas, for 45 years with her husband, is presenting a collection of paper artwork in an exhibit titled “Phenomenal Women,” that she described as part “fashion as paper art,” while taking inspiration from “tough and tenacious” pioneering women in visual arts, architecture, dance music, literature, and law, including jazz singer Billie Holiday and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
“I’m a new artist,” she explained. “I started 15 years ago. We retired early. I took some classes and origami was one in particular that I liked … I started thinking that it would be beautiful to be able to wear this in some way and so I started making origami jewelry, but I also really fell in love with paper. The things I like about it is that it’s versatile. There’s a lot of different forms of paper that you can use for a lot of different things.”
One of the pieces in the exhibit titled, “Queen of the Curve,” honors Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who is known for her deconstructionist designs involving curved buildings. That piece in particular is inspired by Hadid’s design of the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan.
As a self-taught artist, it admittedly takes Belkin much longer than artists who’ve gone to art school, she said. When she works on a new project, she starts with an idea or inspiration and goes from there, sketching out a basic design before committing to the project. Along the way, she develops new techniques that allow her to grow as an artist.
“This one took me about three months because it wouldn’t behave,” she said in regards to creating “Queen of the Curve.”
There’s also a level of improvisation to crafting her artwork, she explained. While working on a project, she allows herself to explore new ideas in the moment, which oftentimes leads to surprising new designs and shapes.
Another piece in the exhibit, “Billie’s Garden,” features a mixture of roses and other flowers to pay tribute to Holiday, who could often be seen onstage wearing gardenias in her hair. Belkin explained that this piece was made by using cut water paper, which is then assembled into individual paper flowers and arranged to make the tightly crafted gathering of stark white flowers. Each flower is also distinct from the other with some petals in thin strips of paper and others as ribbon-like waves.
Walking upstairs to her third floor studio, Belkin spoke about her muse — one of her first creations — an anthropomorphic flamingo named Edna sipping a cocktail while wearing 1920s formal wear.
With Edna sitting silently by her workspace, she’s created everything from origami crane jewelry to a Halloween pirate ship hat, as well as a plethora of other work made of paper-tissue, grocery bags, heavy-duty watercolor paper, Kraft paper, and paper maché. Oftentimes she paints the paper, cuts them into shapes, and then stitches or glues them into place.
In one instance, a piece inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo featured an elaborate multicolored costume featuring indigeinous north Mexican designs made out of yarn on paper. Another, “Caged Birds Will Rise,” is a straw-like hat and cage where half a dozen small yellow birds are breaking free, which is inspired by poet Maya Angelou.
One of the most striking pieces in the collection is called “Firebird Ascending,” and is inspired by Native American ballerina Maria Tallchief. The paper dress is bright red with elegant ruffles and a bird-like gown mask.
Belkin moved to the Pioneer Valley about five years ago to be closer to her family, she added. Now having lived here for the past half a decade, she’s gained an appreciation for the support of artists in the region.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a little artist doing one little thing,” she explained. “Whatever you’re doing you can find a venue and for somebody to support it. That’s great.”
But what drives Belkin to create solely in paper is the transient nature of her medium, she said.
“It has a life of its own after the piece is done and ultimately it’s going to crumble. But until it does, it responds to sunlight and responds to accidents. It’s impermanent. I told the director of Click that after the show, we should have a bonfire and just burn the pieces,” Belkin joked.
Phenomenal Women runs through Jan. 3 at Click, 9 ½ Market St., Northampton. An opening reception for the show will take place this Friday, Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. For more information visit clickworkspace.org/events/ 2019/10/11/arts-night-out-phenomenal-women-paper-works-by-marguerite-belkin.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.