For Pulse: Deconstructing HPV

“Deconstructing HPV” is as much about the magnificent engineering of virus structures as it is about the human quest to understand what can hurt us.  In addition to addressing scientific exploration, it is a cautionary piece about treading carefully through the social implications of medical precautions and assumptions about human behavior.  Recently, all children, male and female, aged 12 and older are required to receive a three-shot inoculation against HPV, which can be transmitted through sexual contact.

For “Deconstructing HPV,” I made a full model of the HPV virus – an icosahedron comprising 140 triangles with focal groups of 5 triangles each.

Wire armature for Deconstructing HPV, starting to cover intersections with flax paper

The surface is only fully covered on part of the piece, revealing the interior as though the skin is being peeled away, one triangle at a time.  I hung a wooden plumb bob in the center, a measure of the balance of the structure and a colder, mathematical examination of the form.

The plumb bob has a screw-off cap and a small space inside, into which I tucked a few lines of Helena’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste. (1.1.6)

 I do not oppose inoculations that can help us avoid the transmission of terrible afflictions.  I do not doubt that kids as young as 12 are exposed to HPV through sexual contact.  I hope that the conversations we have with our children about sex, increasingly filled with warnings about pregnancy and STDs and urgings to inhibit hasty actions, can also include some discussion of the wonders of love and being comfortable with one’s own body.

Getting ready for Pulse

Since last summer, I have known that I would have new work – an entire room of large pieces and installations – in an exhibition this February through April (2013) at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, MD.  The show is called Pulse: Art and Medicine and is curated by Harriet Lesser.  My inclusion in the show stemmed from my involvement with the two Courage Unmasked auctions (2009 and 2012) and the embellished radiation masks I made for them.

The next few posts discuss the pieces I have made for the show and the process I went through preparing for my first focus on larger work made to be shown together.

I have always incorporated biological and mathematical themes in my sculptural work, but the Courage Unmasked pieces – the focus on a particular subject matter and the concentrated time and effort around the fundraising project – forced me to think a bit more deeply about the narrative and symbolism of the work I was creating.  That experience was invaluable as I prepared for the Pulse show.

Brain Teaser (2009)

View from Within (2009)








For the first three months (most of the summer of 2012) I searched online and in books for inspiring images, letting my mind wander as I made work for other shows.  I found it very hard to get started with even the experimental, exploratory part of physically making work for the Pulse.  Perhaps I was a bit daunted by knowing that I would have an entire room to fill.  Perhaps I was intimidated by the knowledge that I really could make anything I want.  I knew that I had permission to work in materials other than my usual paper shrunk over wire.  Perhaps I was stunned by so much freedom.

Eventually, I started by falling back on something familiar.  The first piece I started was a variation on the mask I made for Courage Unmasked in 2012.

Beauty and the Beast (2012)

Beauty and the Beast was a reflection on the conflict between the beauty of the HPV virus (represented here by a 1/2 model of the virus’ structure) and the beauty of the patient (in this case, my mother-in-law, whose mask I used for this piece) and the virus’ destructive properties.  I painted the mask silver to evoke the image of the beguiling and devastating robot from the 1920s movie Metropolis.

“Deconstructing HPV” includes the entire model of the HPV virus and I will discuss it in the next post.


Deconstructing HPV (2013)



When it finally dawned on me that the Smithsonian Craft 2 Wear show next weekend is right before Halloween, I decided to kick myself into gear and make a few pieces I have been thinking about for a long time.

So here are two masks.  I hope to make more, but I am not sure I will finish them in time for the show.  The plan is to make a whole series of them, many of them much larger, in hopes of being able to get back into theater/costuming some time.  The adventure continues!

Owl mask - flax with seaweed over steel (2012)

Bat or Dragon mask (still deciding) - flax (w/ seaweed) and abaca (red) (2012)

Pentaradial forms – my favorite

I don’t like to pick favorites, but even though I resist when people ask me, my favorite number is 5.  I loved to draw five-sided stars when I was a child because you can draw them with one line.  As someone who was dragged through the tortures of the 1960s experiment with New Math, I find the halfway point between multiples of ten comforting in this base-10 world.  Five is an interesting number for an artist to work with, it takes some thought and planning, even if you aren’t aiming for perfection.  You can’t just jump right in an divide pieces in half – you have to plan fairly carefully to make sides balance.

All of that was true even before I became obsessed with Echinodermata – marine animals with five-fold (pentaradial!) symmetry including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, blastoids, crinoids, etc. Interestingly, many of these animals are bilateral at first and then become pentaradial as adults – a process that gets my design juices really flowing.

So here are a few images of five-sided pieces I have made.  Enjoy!

Echinoid Bracelet w/ pearls and gold leaf (2012)


Small echinoid vessel (2011)

Blastoid (2011)


Puzzle Necklaces

I really don’t like clasps.  So I am always daydreaming about ways to make bracelets and necklaces that side-step the issue completely.  Lately, I have been playing with a new necklace design that comprises linked components that collapse on eachother so that a necklace can just slide over your head, but not hang too loosely around the neck.

I have been trying a few different three-sided triangular elements, in both black and natural flax paper shrunk over flexible steel armatures.

Here are two of the first stabs at it.

2012 Smithsonian Craft 2 Wear show!

This October 26 through 28, I will be selling my jewelry at the first weekend show in almost two years!  I was honored to be invited to show at the Smithsonian’s Craft 2 Wear show at the Building Museum in late October.  It’s all wearables, so I will only have my jewelry there, but please come by and say hello and see what I’ve been up to!  I hope to post images here of a new series of geometric necklaces.  I also plan to add color to my inventory again – mostly charcoal (I know – a color??) and red – in addition to the usual natural flax and abaca colors.

Hope to see you there!!

Courage Unmasked 2

I am very happy to be a contributing artist in the second Courage Unmasked auction – a fundraiser for head and neck cancer patients – to be held on September 12, 2012, at the Katzen Arts Center at American University.  The show will be up in the Center’s front rotunda for a few weeks before the auction.  This year’s masks are lovely – a wide range of techniques, materials, and sentiments.  You will be able to see them on the non-profit’s website at starting in late July.  If you are in the Washington area, please consider coming to the auction and bidding on a mask or two.  It’s a great cause and will be a fabulous event.  More details to come closer to the date.

The mask I made this time is a half model of the structure of the HPV virus (one of the viruses linked to throat cancer, among other things) over a silver radiation mask.  I think the mask, when silver, is reminiscent of the robot from the 1920s movie Metropolis – both beautiful and terrifying – as is the virus – a gorgeous mathematical structure that can cause so much pain and suffering.

Here is an image:

Beauty and the Beast

Studio Neptune artists’ childhood profile

Elyse Harrison of Studio Neptune (an amazing artist in her own right! – see link below) is blogging about artists’ childhoods, and I am honored that she chose to interview me a few months ago.  Here is the profile she published after our talk.

What an interesting experience to blab for an hour or so and then see how you turn out!  I discovered some hidden connections between my present work and my distant past.  No wonder so much of my work is about math and science, close observation, and winging it.

Thanks, Elyse, for unearthing the stories and making them all hang together.


Here is a link to Elyse’s work, as well.

Weigh your Words

I have always been fascinated with words – how we use them, how we chose which ones we use, how they change over time.  And I am a copy editor and proofreader in one of my other lives, so even when I am deep into an art project, I’ve got words floating around in my brain in an abstract way.

The saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me” has always struck me as hopeful but distinctly improbable these days, and I wanted to investigate the intimate relationship people have with descriptive words that are thrown their way.  For the past year, I have been thinking about creating an interactive installation that invites participants to play with words, but didn’t quite know how to jump into such a different medium. 

Fortunately, Washington DC has a wonderful, occasional, festival called Artomatic, which occupies a building (usually soon to be demolished) and fills it with an unjuried frenzy of visual and performance art – the perfect place for someone like me to try out a new idea.  This year, Artomatic is in Crystal City, VA (1851 S. Bell Street, about a block from the Crystal City metro stop and only a short drive out of DC). It runs from May 18 through June 23.

I nabbed a corner spot in a big room on the 3rd floor and turned it into a short of short-hand school space, with a black board (classroom), a seesaw (playground), mirrors with shelves (bathroom), and dish-sorting bins (cafeteria).  I had compiled a list of about 700 words that people use to describe themselves and others (all adjectives and nouns; positive and negative; antiquated, common, and slang). Then I covered stones (about 1″ to 4″ in diameter – yes, about 700 of them…) with my high-shrinkage flax paper and then wrote one word on each of them and distributed them around the installation space.  Participants are invited to play with the words/stones in a variety of ways.

For more details, see the blog I have created for this installation (  It includes the word list, invites people to suggest new words (I know I have left out some crucial words), asks for stories about how people use words with each other (bullying, terms of endearment, etc.), offers an opportunity to post poems using the words from the list or self-portraits of visitors with self-describing words on the shelves in front of the mirrors.

If you are reading this while the show is still up – please come down and see it for yourself!


Another lovely mention – thanks Waffler!

I have known Molly since she was six and the younger sister of my best friend from high school.  She remains six years old in my mind, even though I know she is now a fully grown person, with kids of her own.  She has a fun and diverting blog called the Waffler in which she decides (or doesn’t) what to do about all sorts of things – what color to paint a room, where to put a rug, which shoes to wear to a party – nothing terribly heavy, but stuff that can really bog you down.  She also helps others with their waffles. Check it out!

She has a section on her blog called “No-Waffles” and I am pleased to say that she has listed my jewelry in that category.  Thanks Molly!  Glad you like my stuff.