Floyd County artist Gibby Waitzkin makes her own colored paper from scratch using materials as varied as banana stalks, birch bark and parasitic insects called cochineal, used since the days of the Aztecs and Maya to create red dye.

She can weave strips of this paper, incorporate surprising objects like snakeskins and feathers, make photograph prints on it depicting gorgeous scenes from her 30-acre property and sculpt it into flower-like shapes by embedding wires into the fiber. Most every element has symbolic meaning.

She described her creative process as “kind of like the ultimate mixed media.”

All these techniques come together in her solo show, “Gibby Waitzkin: The Truth Continuum,” showing at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins through Dec. 8.

The artworks incorporate her concerns about climate change, the treatment of refugees, the travails of the LGBTQ community and women’s rights. As examples, “Tears of Shame” and “Give Me Your Tired…” both make use of photos Waitzkin took of the Statue of Liberty, and both have miniature boats made of paper mounted beneath the images.

The boat in “Tears of Shame” contains a piece of paper inscribed with the titles of President Donald Trump’s many executive orders related to immigration. “Give Me Your Tired…” shows a rainbow appearing by the statue and contains words from the famed poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.

A Greensboro, North Carolina, native, Waitzkin, 68, and her husband, Michael “Buz” Waitzkin, live on a Floyd County property that has belonged to her family for decades, and also maintain a home in Durham, North Carolina, where Buz works as Deputy Director of Science & Society at Duke University. Before building her art studio in Floyd, Waitzkin ran a design and communications firm in Washington, D.C., and worked for the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Campaign and the Pew Center on Climate Change.

A series she calls “The Butterfly Effect” recreates the shapes of milkweed pods several feet high, a shape she focused on because milkweed is essential to the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. That metaphor, and the weaving together of the strips of paper themselves, reflect that “we’re all connected in nature and in the world,” she said. “We have more in common than we’re different.”

Many of the works in the show have been stained with homemade walnut dye. “Walnut is wisdom,” she said.

“What I find amazing about your work is that you’re starting with plants, sometimes plants that people think of as weeds,” said Wilson Museum director Jenine Culligan as she and Waitzkin toured the show. “But they’re turned into something completely different than what they originally are from. You always have this element of beauty to your work. Within your message, there’s also this beauty.”

“If I were going to look at the world as a half full or half empty glass, I’m always the half full,” Waitzkin said.

“Everyone can relate to it some way. I think there’s so many layers to your work,” Culligan said.

“Literally,” Waitzkin replied with a laugh.

Waitzkin’s exhibition is being shown in tandem with “Pulped Under Pressure,” a traveling exhibition of artworks in handmade paper by seven women artists, which will continue through Dec. 19.

Mill Mountain wins grant, holds contest

Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke has been awarded a staffing development matching grant from the Greensboro, North Carolina, based Southeastern Theatre Conference, which will be used to fund a tour manager and technician position that will help MMT produce its upcoming eight-week summer children’s musical tour.

Also, the professional theater company is looking for plays written by children. MMT is seeking 10 to 15 minute scripts for “Write Stuff!” The contest is open to all middle and high school age students. The deadline is Dec. 31. Winning plays will be performed Feb. 22, 2020. For more information visit: http://millmountain.org/production/write-stuff-2020/.

Mike Allen covers government happenings in Franklin County and Botetourt County for The Roanoke Times and also writes the weekly Arts & Extras column.

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