Artist Sally Duback’s free-flowing creation will hang in Neenah paper mill
Dimensional artist Sally Duback of Grafton and Mequon is the ultimate recycler.
For her latest commissioned piece, Duback created free-form sculptures of paper pulp made from cast-off clothing that will be arranged on a 15-by-40-foot wall at SCA Wisconsin Tissue Mill in Neenah.
She was scheduled to install the work, which depicts the flow of life, this week in the paper mill’s new eco-friendly addition.
“The initial proposal was for 14 to 15 pieces, but I just kept grinding them out. I’m up to 21,” Duback said last week.
Duback will also conduct a papermaking workshop with employees’ children. The sculpture was made from employees’ old clothing.
Only fabric of 100% natural materials, such as cotton and linen, was used because natural materials break down more easily into fibers. No chemicals are needed to break down the fabric or bind the fibers together into paper, Duback said.
Duback cut each shirt, dress or pair of jeans into small pieces that she combined with sheets of half-and-half — half paper, half adhesive — which was also torn into small pieces. The pieces are put into the water container of a beater system she ordered from New Zealand.
Called the Little Critter and embellished with a decorative metal medallion, the beater was invented by a papermaker known for making huge sheets of paper in his swimming pool. It has a collapsible water container that allows Duback to take it to workshops.
After the fabric was reduced to fiber pulp, she took gallons of several colors outdoors to her home patio.
“I like working outside because I can be as messy as I want. I’ll have eight buckets of pulp of different colors and spread them on in waves,” Duback said, as water oozed from a pulp she spread on chenille fabric.
“I work looking at willow trees, so a lot of it is free-flowing like a tree in the wind.”
The artist used a variety of forms on which the paper pulp was spread and allowed to dry. A chenille bedspread and a hemp doormat created interesting patterns.
“I use the chenille over and over again until it starts to rot. Then I’ll grind it up and make pulp,” Duback said. “It’s the ultimate in recycling.”
As the paper pulp dried, she often laid it over cylinders or wrapped it around tubes or other shapes to achieve rounded or wavy pieces. Sticks were added to a few pieces. The colors range from pinks and oranges to purples and blues.
Each sculpted piece was painted with a metallic varnish finish.
“I decided to go with the metallic finishes because with the wall being stone, I felt the flat finishes would disappear into the wall,” Duback said.
She photographed each piece, cut it out and placed it on a picture of the wall to figure out how she wanted to arrange it in the final installation.
“The (Neenah) mill is owned by a Swedish company, and they’re really big on minimizing their carbon footprint,” Duback said. “They loved the idea of using employees’ old clothing and doing papermaking workshops.”
Duback makes paper for her paintings and drawings and other dimensional sculptures, including masks, puppets and totems named after people she knows.
“There are just a few of us around here who are obsessed with papermaking,” Duback said. “A lot of us who make paper teach people how to make it, so it’s nice to have a beater I can take anywhere.”
After working all year on the paper sculptures, Duback said she is burned out and will turn to painting and drawing for a while.
Although this piece was done in her home studio, Duback has another studio, Spectrum 305, in the Grafton Mill, where she also teaches art classes
“I was the first tenant 28 years ago. I love it there,” she said. “When my kids were in school, I would go there for two to three hours a day.”
Despite a tight economy in which purchasing art is often delayed to concentrate on necessities, Duback has had one of her best years.
The SCA piece is her fourth major piece in the past year. She received the commission through Avenue Art & Company in Appleton, which matches artists with corporations seeking art pieces.
In April, Duback completed a 40-foot mural at the Mequon Nature Preserve. The work, commissioned by We Energies, depicts renewable energy in the past, present and future. It has several interactive features, including one that turns a wind turbine, a solar panel that can be opened and Ben Franklin’s Challenge album. Children are asked to draw their idea of future renewable energy and put it in the album box. When the album is opened, a bulb above Franklin’s head lights up.
A dimensional turbine arm on one end of the mural is the same size as an arm on the wind turbine at the nature preserve.
Through SHARP Art, which provides after-school art workshops for inner city students, Duback has worked with fourth and fifth-graders to create sparkling mosaic murals out of sequins, mirrors, beads, jewelry, glass and almost anything else that sparkles.
Four murals depicting transportation through the eyes of the children are hanging in the Amtrak Station in Milwaukee.
A mural titled “Freedom,” also made by inner city youths showing their concept of freedom, will be unveiled Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.
For Duback, creating art is freedom.
“I can’t think of not doing art. I enjoy doing my own art and I also enjoy teaching. Teaching is an art form in itself,” Duback said.
There is a cross-fertilization between them. If you can find the right balance, it’s fun. I like working with kids because they’re absolutely fearless. I learn a lot from them.”
Duback’s parents were artistic and encouraged their daughter to experiment with art.
“I think I discovered the masters when I was 3 or 4,” Duback said. “My parents had an art history textbook with black-and-white pictures that I liked to look it. I had a thing about halos. I used to cut them out of paper and bobby pin them to my head.
“When I got my first crayons, I colored in the halos on the black-and-white pictures by the masters.”
She added a halo to a picture of her mother in a colorized photograph on her parents’ dresser. If her parents discovered her artwork, they never scolded her, Duback said.
As a young girl, Duback often helped her mother with art or craft projects or worked alongside her. Her father built a pint-size workbench for her in his workshop when she was 5. When she was 12, he taught her how to develop black-and-white photographs.
“My bedroom looked like World War III, but I didn’t go to art school. I didn’t know that was an option,” Duback said.
She attended Vasser College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for two years, then earned a bachelor of arts degree in English with a minor in art history from the University of Michigan.
She took classes in sculpture and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and attended numerous art workshops.
“I think the art world has gotten so academic that if you don’t go to school, you don’t know how to do art, which is so untrue,” Duback said.
“You learn through experimenting, finding out what works and what doesn’t.