About Drew Zimmerman
Builder of masks, relief-collage, marionette and stop-motion video, and sculpture in paper-mâché
BIOGRAPHYDrew Zimmerman lived on a homestead in West Virginia in 1980, and has since spent his art career in row houses and apartments of Philadelphia and the comfortable suburbs of Lower Merion Township. He is a self-taught artist whose primary materials are paper-mâché, found newsprint and cardboard, 16-gauge wire, and digital videography.
His initial passion was marionette building and performance, having become hooked on the animation of inanimate objects by the television work of Jim Henson and Mabel Beaton, or perhaps earlier (who knows?), in his crib, watching adults make flying objects out of blocks and rattles. In the early 80s, his interest led to regular street performances in Headhouse Square. Zimmerman collaborated with his brother, Lee, who later had a successful Hollywood stage and television career, using a fiery Jimi Hendrix marionette that Drew helped to build, and dozens of other characters dependent on his older brother’s basic paper-mâché-over-a-wire-frame design.
Paper-mâché was perfect for making any sort of performance prop, and in addition to building puppets, Zimmerman created dozens of portrait and “monster” masks. In his early twenties, he worked in a china doll factory, where his job was to pour the porcelain slip in and out of plaster molds. A co-worker advised him how to represent the most challenging likenesses of his freelance mask-making, using a four-step process: sculpt a figure in clay, create a mold of it in plaster of Paris, fill the mold with strips of newsprint and paste, and pop the form out of its negative after it was dry. Many of the molds he made had several sections, and he tackled the problem of piecing together different parts of the same sculpture.
By 1990, when he was hired to make props for The Bozo Show on local Philadelphia station WGBS-TV, Zimmerman had begun using the technique of coloring a sculpture’s surface with paper strips of “found” newspaper advertisements. The results retained the texture and marvel of beautiful objects made from ordinary trash. The wonderful feel of a paper-mâché surface was more desirable than the plastic touch of acrylic paint; torn strips of complimentary colors laid side-by-side were lovelier and more expressive than brushwork. He thrived on the slow, slow accumulation of narrow, wafer-thin bits that was most suited to his self-taught technique.
He earned a BS summa cum laude in English and Secondary Education from Temple University in 1995 and became a teacher at Roxborough public high school in the Philadelphia School District. In 2004, after health concerns forced him to leave the most challenging and satisfying employment of his life, Zimmerman resumed his art practice. He also wrote a novel, Story Grammar, that he called "a dark satire of the public schools."
In the mid-Aughts, Zimmerman's first projects were marionette musical satires, for which he wrote the scripts and the score, built the characters and sets, and operated the digital camera. (Pitcher: Bugs Bunny; catcher: Bugs Bunny; center field: Bugs Bunny, and so forth!) In a parallel development, he began to use paper-mâché as a portrait-making material. An innovation in his work was the use of a cardboard undercarriage that added relief to a flat surface, taking advantage of the sculptural properties paper and paste have over paint on canvas. The method, which he called “relief-collage,” led to the inclusion of his work in several exhibitions for the Art in City Hall program, directed by Tu Huynh. Toying With Art was the first of these, its call for artists practically jumping off the page, considering his use of paper. Other early shows that included his unique pieces were the Betsy Meyer Memorial exhibits of ‘08 and ‘09 at the Main Line Art Center. Both venues had a mission of community engagement, and Zimmerman was, after all, an indigenous artist.
Showing juried work sparked an invitation in 2010 to join the Muse Gallery artists’ co-op on Second Street in Old City. He exhibited in their group shows, organized a juried presentation of local artists, and had two shows of his own, Do I Amuse You? in 2011 and What I Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You in 2012. Zimmerman’s first two-year tenure with the Muse Gallery included 12 months when he was its director. (He belonged to the organization for another two-year service in 2020-2022, the highlight of which was his solo show Guerrilla Theater in 2021.) Prominent juried exhibitions in which Drew Zimmerman participated over the last decade included two invitations to join Art of the State in Harrisburg, in 2011 and 2015. On the first occasion, his relief-collage was chosen as the Second Prize winner in the craft category, and he had two three-dimensional representations chosen for the next one. In 2019, he showed in the Crafting Narratives exhibition for Art in City Hall, and he was selected to participate with three separate works of free-standing sculpture for Art in the Time of Covid, presented by the Atlantic Highlands Art Council in winter of 2020.
Recently, one of Zimmerman’s marionette satires was licensed to Winnipeg Super Happy Puppet Slam, a live-streamed revue in August of 2022. Sequence, a winter 2023 show of digitally effected art, featured his stop-motion, seven-song musical Lisa Strata. Touchstone Gallery on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. curated the art and played host.
Drew Zimmerman is planning his next stop-motion video production, a work inspired by his dual interests in visual art and literature but with a more formal aesthetic than the outsider point of view that has guided his previous visual statements and play with puppets.
Drew Zimmerman Photo-Biography
EDUCATION1995 BS summa cum laude English and Education,Temple University
AWARDS2011 Second Prize in Craft, Art of the State, The State Museum, Harrisburg, PA
1995 Willard Zahn Prize for highest cumulative index in Temple graduating class
VIDEO SCREENINGS2023 Sequence, Touchstone Gallery, 900 New York Ave., Washington, D.C. (Maleke Glee, Lauren Leving, Roddy Schrock, jurors)
2022 Winnipeg Super Happy Puppet Slam, Winnipeg Puppet Slam, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CN
2017 Everyday Labyrinths, Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St., Philadelphia (Jim Strong, curator)
2008-9 Lower Merion Township and Narberth Public Access Television,continuous
Solo Shows2020 Guerilla Theater, Muse Gallery, 52 N. Second St., Philadelphia
2011 Do I Amuse You?, Muse Gallery
Group Shows2020 Art in the Time Of Covid, Atlantic Highlands Art Council, Atlantic Highlands, NJ
2019 Crafting Narratives, Art in City Hall, Philadelphia, PA
2018 Salamander Mask, Pilot+Projects, 1719 N. 5th St., Philadelphia, PA (Jim Strong, curator)
2015 Art of the State, The State Museum, Harrisburg, PA
2011 Art of the State, The State Museum
2010 Paper Works, Art in City Hall, Philadelphia, PA
2009 In Your Dreams, Art in City Hall
2009 The Green Show, Art in City Hall
2009 Betsy Meyer Memorial Exhibition, Main Line Art Center, 746 Panure Rd., Haverford (Julien Robson, juror)
2008 Likeable Art, Art in City Hall
2008 Betsy Meyer Memorial Exhibition, Main Line Art Center
2007 Toying with Art, Art in City Hall
Two-Person Shows2022 Wit’orWit’out, with Susan Mckee, Muse Gallery, 52 N. Second St., Philadelphia
2012 What I Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You, with Eric Ashleigh, Muse Gallery
BIBLIOGRAPHY2011 Donohoe, Victoria, “Pop Art,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 18, 2011.
2023 Jenkins, Mark, “In the galleries: Using technology as a medium and an inspiration,” The Washington Post, 2/10/2023.
2023 Rule, Doug, “Sequence: An Art + Technology Exhibition Touchstone Gallery,” Washington, D.C. MetroWeekly, p.20, Jan 19, 2023.
2012 Shinn, Phebe, “Puppets and Paint Pots,” Philadelphia Weekly Press, Sep. 12, 2012.
RELATED EXPERIENCE2011-2020 Presenter of multi-part courses on Modern Art subjects, Main Line School Night, Radnor, PA
2008-10 Host, four episodes, It’s the Arts, Lower Merion Township and Narberth Public Access Television
2002 Featured "Carolers" in Strawbridge and Clothier Christmas window, Market St., Philadelphia
1981 Creator of props and games, WGBS-TV, The Bozo Show