In 2016, artist Desiree Hagen of Fritz Creek received a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation for a project that used paper- and natural dye-making as an avenue for exploring Alaska plants.
Continuing to develop her papermaking artistry with a project that explores death, grief and remembrance by using paper made from clothing of deceased individuals, Hagen has once again been recognized by Rasmuson. She is one of 25 Alaska artists to receive a $7,500 Project Award that she will use to purchase a Hollander beater, a tool for turning cellulose-based textiles and silk into paper.
“I plan on using this machine to create a body of work making paper portraits using the clothing of the subjects,” Hagen said. “I want to use the clothing of deceased people who have impacted my life. … I believe the physical process of making the paper will aide in the grieving process.”
The seeds of Hagen’s creativity were sown when she was a child.
“My grandmother introduced me to traditional Appalachian crafts such as sewing, rug weaving and wild plant crafting,” said Hagen, who is originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Virginia and has lived in Fritz Creek for 11 years.
In addition to her grandmother, an aunt taught art, and Hagen often assisted her with marbling silks and for paper and screen-printing. After moving to Alaska, Hagen began pursuing her craft seriously.
“I am inspired by other Alaskans artists such as Sara Tabbart, Keren Lowell and Amy Meissner. These are artists who are able to support themselves through their work in their respected craft mediums,” said Hagen, who, in addition to being a visual artist, works in Fritz Creek General Store’s kitchen, is KBBI’s weekend edition host, and lives on a cooperative farm, caring for the farm’s pigs, chickens, goats and bees.
Support locally offered to artists also keeps the creative energy flowing.
“Places like the Bunnell (Street) Arts Center continue to inspire, support and offer opportunities to emerging artists like myself,” said Hagen, who received Bunnell’s Alex Combs Award in 2014, making it possible for Hagen to attend a sculpture workshop in North Carolina. “Organizations that provide artists with equity, validation, representation and in some cases monetary support are essential for the future of Alaskan artists and for my development personally.”
Paper is the foundation of the majority of Hagen’s work.
“I enjoy paper cutting, bookbinding and printmaking, especially using paper that I produce,” she said. “While offering me control of the material, it allows me to produce a sustainable and ecologically and ethically sound manner, with knowledge of the direct impact my product is making.”
Through the many hours spent making paper, Hagen believes she is “putting more of my being into a piece, whether or not it is evident to the viewer. I have an intimate relationship with the material through labor, meditation, and time.”
Other mediums also intrigue Hagen. She has worked as a designer, done metalwork, and participated in a 2016 mural-painting project in Homer, working collaboratively on a Pioneer Avenue peony mural and the mural on the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Heath Street.
“Murals are nice because they can reinforce an idea which promoted community cohesion and identify,” said Hagen, who is also attracted to large-scale projects. “In 2016, I worked on a site-specific paper cut installation at the Bunnell Street Arts Center covering 642-square-feet of wall space. It was constructed with hand-cut, hand- and machine-sewn handmade and salvaged paper.”
And that brings the focus back to paper. Hagen has created five posters for the Homer Farmers Market. This year she was commissioned to create a poster celebrating the market’s 20-year anniversary.
“I used handmade paper in this piece,” said Hagen. “The green trees are made from paper from an old cotton bed sheet, the ground paper is made from reishi mushroom grown on our farm, the hay in the wheel barrel is made from hay paper, the dirt is made from paper made from hemp nettle.”
Hagen used Michelangelo’s connection to marble to describe the connection she feels to paper.
“Michelangelo said, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ A blank sheet of paper becomes alive when I alter it,” she said.