Bonnie Ferrill Roman and two of her artworks

3-D Studio Demo Artist Bonnie Ferrill Roman

Bonnie Ferrill Roman will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating Handmade Paper Sculpture January 27-28, 2018. Demos are noon-3 pm.

The work I will be creating will consist of a shaped steel wire armature that will be the support for my handmade paper.

– Bonnie Ferrill Roman

Bonnie Ferrill Roman is a Colorado-based, mixed-media sculptor, installation artist, and digital photographer whose primary medium is cast and formed handmade paper, which she combines with fibers, natural media, encaustic, pigment printing, poetry, and light.

Megan Farlow: What will your demonstration at the DAM be like?

Bonnie Ferrill Roman: I will be working on my newest piece that is scheduled to be shown at the Denver Public Library as part of the show Pink Progression, opening Friday March 2. The work I will be creating will consist of a shaped steel wire armature that will be the support for my handmade paper—applied across the shaped spaces before it even dries. Once the paper is dry, I will be adding pigmented beeswax in an encaustic process, transferring digital photographs on to some of the shapes, and finally adding wool roving over the surface in a few places.

I will be bringing all the main elements of my studio down to the DAM studio, but I am not 100% sure which stage I will have arrived at in this process when I am demonstrating my work at the DAM. Viewers are likely to see me either forming the armature with needle-nose pliers, pulling sheets of handmade paper from abaca pulp and applying them to the armature, or completing the final steps of the process by adding the wax and/or image transfers.

... the experience of beauty is vital to the life of the soul.

– Bonnie Ferrill Roman

MF: How has your background influenced you as an artist?

BFR: How has it not? I have been making art for most of my life— I took my first true drawing class at age 12 at the Foothills Art Center in Golden, and haven't stopped since. I was also involved in music, dance, and theater as a child and teen, and studied Theater Education for two years at UNC in Greeley, before switching my focus to sculpture and installation art during my four years at CU Denver.

I discovered handmade paper during my graduate studies. Many of the works I create are installations consisting of several sculptural paper forms that interact in a space to create the overall piece. I see the influences of my early theatrical training in them, especially in regards to the importance of lighting and the shadows created, which are an integral part of the work.

Teaching anything is the best way to really learn it, so the design, sculpture, paper making and fiber art classes I have taught through the years at CU-Denver, MSUD, Regis, and RMCAD have all influenced my work in different ways. For instance, through teaching techniques as part of my paper making class at Metro, I rediscovered watermarks, which have since become an integral part of my recent work. I have also collaborated with a number of artists—some very extensively—and each time, my subsequent solo work has been influenced by the process. An example of this would be how my control and occasional use of rich color improved drastically after creating a body of works with mixed-media painter Kimberly MacArthur Graham. Finally, life-changing personal events have influenced a number of works.

MF: How did you begin making sculptures with paper?

BFR: I took an art paper making class at the beginning of my second year of graduate school at the University of Minnesota. The class was focused on techniques for creating flat sheets of paper, but I wanted to make sculpture. So I went outside one day after forming a post of abaca sheets, and found some sticks from along the riverbank. I brought them in to the studio, created a rough structure, and draped the wet paper across the shapes. When I came back the next day to see the dry results of my experiment, I was ecstatic! That was the beginning of my love affair with handmade paper sculpture.

MF: How do you achieve different textures with paper?

BFR: My techniques with my handmade paper begin with creating thin sheets of paper from pulp that has been processed in my "critter" Hollander beater (it separates plant fibers without cutting them short, as a blender would). I form pieces of the lightly pressed sheets around wire armatures, or apply them to the surfaces of convex molds (such as large round balloons, or a wax mold of my torso when I was pregnant with my son.)

Sometimes I create watermarks in the surface of the thin paper that I use on the wire armatures. At other times, I build up a surface of several thin sheets as part of the casting process, forming wrinkles or small holes with my hands and fingers. Because the paper shrinks as it dries, stretching and pulling against the mold or armature, I have to plan for how it will affect the final shapes of the forms. Saturating the paper with melted beeswax then removing the excess with a heat gun produces a skin-like translucent quality that I utilize as well.

MF: Lastly, what message/impact are you trying to get across to the viewer? How do you want the viewer to respond to your sculptures?

BFR: I strive to create an aesthetic experience that allows viewers to feel a sense of beauty and wonder, especially with my installation work. The impact that viewers feel when they first see it is very important to me; I hope to spark a moment of transcendence, a reminder that the experience of beauty is vital to the life of the soul. The conceptual basis for the works is also important, and I hope that aspects of the pieces communicate at least the general concept of each work to viewers, even if they don't read the artist statements.

Some of my works respond to my life experiences; I have made pieces that helped me grieve after the tragic accidental death of my mother, that celebrated the wonder and mystery of becoming a mother, and that expressed the heartbreak of miscarriage when we were trying to have a second child. Other works are less personal. I am fascinated with cellular imagery and biochemistry, and find inspiration in scanning electron micro-photography, and in the relationship between our bodies and the natural world. I hope that the works I create resonate profoundly, touching people at a level deeper than language.

Photos courtesy of and © Bonnie Ferrill Roman.

Megan Farlow was a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. She enjoys the museum’s American Indian art collection, especially works by Jeffrey Gibson.

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