Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Larger Than Life: Artist Mary Plaster

If you've ever seen pictures of large-scale protest rallies or have witnessed the 10:00 p.m. Parade of Nations at Epcot Center, or have experienced the Day of the Dead in Tepotzlan near Cuernavaca, then you've probably seen something akin to the work of Mary Plaster.

Last week I found myself checking things out at Ms. Plaster's art opening at Beaners Central in Duluth. Think big. Here were heads that went floor to ceiling and one large character with arms draped forty feet wide. After we spoke briefly she agreed to this interview.

Ennyman: Is Mary Plaster your real name and are the masks made out of plaster?
Mary Plaster: I married Troy Plaster, so yes, it is my actual name. I have worked with plaster but my masks are of papier-mâché and other recycled materials. One of those funny things in life that just happened…

Enny: When did you first take an interest in being an artist and who (or what) were your early inspirations?
MP: I have always loved art and considered myself an artist. I was mesmerized by and continue to enjoy children’s books and fantasy illustrations for the whimsical use of scale and imagination. I enjoyed theatre that recreated these pages, especially the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company.

Enny: How did you first get involved in making these giant masks?
MP: I first experienced larger-than-life papier-mâché through In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HoBT) in Minneapolis in the late 70s when I was visiting my mother. I lived with my dad in Montana for high school and had never seen anything like it on the street -- must have been a MayDay celebration or something. I was struck by the deep messages from very simple materials.

I decided to attend the Mpls. College of Art & Design and worked at Children’s Theatre Company & School next door in the early 80s. I eventually received Bachelor degrees in both scenic design and studio art. I spent a year in California studying mask and physical theatre. Then I lived in central Mexico several years with a movement theatre artist and apprenticed with a mask maker before returning to the USA to work in several theatres. In the 90s I got jobs in retail display, scenic painting and faux finishing, remarried, and raised my two kids to participate in drama and wear elaborate Halloween costumes.

I got serious again about giant puppets after 9-11-01 when I was looking for a way to use my art talent to help change the world. My giant creations participated in many Midwest and California parades and conferences with social justice and Earth spirituality themes. The most famous was 2007 Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

In 2008 I worked as MayDay staff in Minneapolis and got an ARAC grant to study with Peter Schumann and Bread and Puppet Theatre (the grandfather of giant protest puppetry) in Vermont. Since then I have worked and taught in various seasonal self-employment making giant papier-mâché with both children and adults and I work for commission in scenic/decorative painting as well as these lightweight sculptures.

I also coordinate an annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in the Duluth Depot called, All Souls Night. This year’s event is the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 2nd with a few days preparation to make decorations and transform the space.

Enny: What was your inspiration for the gods exhibit?
MP: Many of my creations and co-creations are of godlike icons/archetypes such as the Elements, Green Man, Gandhi, MLK, Jr., Gaia, Death, etc. In fact, my 2006 Masters thesis show was called, “Dancing with Divinity.”

I was invited to work with the UMD theatre department this spring on the musical of The Odyssey adapted by Professor Tom Isbell. I designed the gods and monsters and was given them to use after the performance to add to my collection, which I share with the community.

Enny: Do you have any advice for young artists just starting out?
MP: It’s an interesting path that pays in ways that aren’t always financial. I am very lucky my spouse has steady employment. If you want money find a skill that is in demand that can feed your family and buy materials.

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1 comment:

Diane Leo said...

Mary,I am an artist as well...
i also make masks...and after reading some here i also see you use paper mache, I found you after searching for "how to make a larger then life mask....I have an idea in my mind that I am trying to bring fourth.....first I want to say your works are amazing....may I ask you you have any ideas on how to make a mold for a very large scale mask....buying one is not in my price range. I can make one ...I need a few more ideas to wrap my head around how i will do it.....