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THE GIFT OF ISOLATION: Fritzi Huber has been busy working on four different projects during COVID

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As COVID-19 has lessened the noise of our world, calmed its frantic pace—and somehow still managed to send us into a tailspin all at once—local artists have been afforded the luxury of time to really hone in on passion projects. Local paper artist Fritzi Huber has had her hand in many projects, to put it lightly.

In the coming week, she will have her video of handmaking toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic entered into the “COVID Collection” for Cape Fear Museum. A permanent installation at Thalian Hall, combining show banners over the last 30 years, will be done. Plus, she will see the opening of her virtual exhibit, “The Time of Solace,” at New Elements on July 10 before participating in the upcoming No Boundaries Art Colony Drive-By Show on July 11 on the north 100 block of 15th Street.

We interviewed Huber via email about her upcoming projects.

encore (e): It’s been a wild first half of 2020; tell us how you’ve been coping and unpacking the world over the last six months, personally, via art, etc.

Fritzi Huber (FH): I’ve really been taking to heart Henry Miller’s philosophy of “Stand still like the hummingbird.” Everything feels really slow, but rapidly moving at the same time. What isolation might feel like to others feels like a gift to me. I miss seeing folks but am wallowing in the time we are given. A brief period of full stop at the beginning has now become a very productive period; filling the void, becoming more aware of what helps us all navigate sanity, and a sense of peace with each other, with the world, while still being engaged in changes which confront us all.

e: So at the beginning of COVID, during the great TP crisis of 2020, you made a video hand-making toilet paper. Tell us about that process and what’s happening with that video now?
FH: I began to make jokes, pretty regularly, about how being a hand papermaker, I would never have to worry about not having TP. At the time I was relaying this interest to the CAM. They decided it would be a good idea to support me in this effort, and I produced the video made in my backyard. My brother, Bobby Huber, who has retired from the film industry after 30 years, shot the video. The CAM fine-tuned it and released it. Now the Cape Fear Museum will have it in their archives defining what occurred in Wilmington during COVID-19 pandemic. I am really honored to have these responses to what began as a joke. And, yes, you really can do this at home — and it can be flushed!

e: You’ve also been commissioned, in the midst of the civil unrest we’re seeing with Black lives still fighting for equity and equality, to create a diversity piece for Thalian Hall, from show banners over the last 30 years. Tell us how this project came to be, the imagery we will see and how it represents the theme—also share details in general about the work: size, where will it be, date of completion, is it a permanent fixture of Thalian?

FH: This work will be a permanent installation at Thalian Hall. Tony Rivenbark and I have been talking about this project for over a year. He has saved banners from performances ranging in scope for a 30-year period. I was given about 100 posters to create a montage/collage of these remembrances, which included signatures by performers, to be included.

Instead of creating categories by time, I created categories by subject. They are all interspersed, but given where we are in our collective consciousness, I have interspersed countries, peoples of all beginnings and expressions, into one big melting pot. This is who we are. This is who we should be. COVID-19 has opened a rare slot of time at Thalian when there are no productions taking place at this moment. Any other time would have not been possible as I am all over the backstage space. The main wall is 20 feet by 40 feet. There are a few smaller side walls as well. I intend to complete the work this week.

e: You’re opening “A Time of Solace” as New Elements’ virtual exhibit on July 10, 6 p.m.; how many works are featured? Is it all handmade paper?

FH: This was a difficult passage, to get to a place of serenity and fulfillment. The first group of works intended for this exhibition were angry, frustrated, aggressive. Then I began to look at what gave me hope, peace of mind, a sense of not being in stagnation. It was always nature. Being at home, isolating myself, brought me to a kindred spirit with all that grows around me. It seems many of us go to this place for solace. We go to nature: The flowers persist in blooming, the tomatoes will come to fulfillment on the vine. No matter what else occurs, nature, in our good fortune, persists.

What began as aggressive gestures became obscured, layered with a calmative. It was a way of sort of saying “there there” and smoothing a furrowed brow. Yes, it’s all handmade paper, but not all of it mine this time around. I’ve incorporated hand-made papers from different parts of the world as well.

e: Take me through one piece, beginning to end.

FH: I begin with a base sheet, which has some inclusions, bits and pieces integral to the sheet itself. From there I begin to build with painting, drawing, collage, printing … basically, whatever it takes to come to an end. The papers that I have made for these pieces are a combination of local mulberry and cotton. The other painting and printing materials are all water-based. I’ve used leaves from plants in my yard for the printed images.

“Tempest in a Teacup,” numbers 1, 2 and 3, from left to right. Courtesy photo

e: Were these all made during the last three months of COVID? If no, when? 

FH: Yes, all made within the last few months. The angry works no longer exist. They served their purpose and bring no respite, but they are the foundation for three of the pieces. What we see of what is left is a form of asemic writing, which is partially obscured.

e: Do you have a fave piece that stands out? Why?

FH: Actually it is three pieces. They are the ones which made it through the transformation. These three began with spatters, aggressive, sharp, red shapes, with an unintelligible script running through them. I layered a translucent sheet over that anger, began to print leaves on it, paint into it, and calm those jangled nerves. They are the healers.

e: You’re also participating in the drive-by art show for No Boundaries on July 11. What works will you have for sale? Are these all handmade paper and were they made at the colony? Prices?

FH: Some of the works were created at NBIAC, some were not. When I create a series of works, I always hold a few out. Some of those will be there. Other than that, perhaps some drawings, little experiments. I’m going through my work to see what I have. Prices are hard to say, but I am asked to make some very affordable, and I will.

e: Tell us about your time attending No Boundaries and what you loved most about it? Have any plans to return?

FH: No Boundaries is a whole story in and of itself! I don’t know how to describe it in a brief statement. Let it suffice to say that every year I negotiate a day to take 15 DREAMS students out to the colony for a day. We collaborate with the Bald Head Island Conservancy to create a collaborative community mural, which becomes part of the Conservancy collection. We choose an NBIAC alum to guide the students and create the direction/design. The world comes to the island for two glorious weeks of creativity and camaraderie. It is a rare gift.

e: What’s next for you during these precious times as an artist? Any other shows coming up, new projects, new techniques you want to try?

FH: I stand still like the hummingbird.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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