Drew Zimmerman

About Drew Zimmerman

Builder of masks, collages, relief-collage, marionette and bunraku-style puppets, furniture, and sculpture in paper mâché







Literary ideas and provocative modern art have influenced the odd twists and turns in my biography. In 1980, while studying literature at the University of Delaware, I started making masks and marionettes out of paper mâché. Then as now, the inexpensiveness of the sculpting material, the ease of modeling and molding it, and the ubiquity of recyclable newspaper fired my enthusiasm for the medium. I considered the work of artists in local museums as a license to elaborate my own expressions.

That my pieces should have some utility was a concern of mine in those days. I made masks and puppets that were recognizable persons or characters so they could be used theatrically. I built games and props that were used on a children’s television show. Merchants displayed my work in their shop windows. Eventually, I wasn't satisfied with making utilitarian objects; I vowed to make myself useful, too, so I entered Temple University and worked on the requisites of a high school English teacher.

Acquiring credentials and teaching English in the Philadelphia School District consumed me from 1991 to 2004. I continued to make art privately, including collage portraits, but my greatest investment in paper mâché was teaching students how to use it to create objects suggested by the books we were reading. Advancing the literacy of Philadelphia’s public school children was the best job I could imagine, so I was very unhappy when, after nine years, the behavioral climate of my school took a sudden downward turn, and I had to stop teaching for safety's sake.

In my changed circumstances, I began again to produce collages using a palette of found, colored newsprint. In the last century, masters of paint and brush liberated artistic expression from depiction and narrative entirely, so that the characteristics of the material and the artist’s technique were themselves the subject of the work, but paper mâché is less ethereal than paint and the opacity of paper strips limits forays into abstraction. As a medium for sculpture, paper pulp affords fewer opportunities for technical exploration than clay.

Where other artists could make light and air the focus of their work, the hidebound aspect of paper mâché challenged me to explore what the material could be, not what it could do. Fashioning a likeness of a person using nothing but scraps of newspaper thrilled me. Soon, I had made colorful images of nearly every one I knew without loading pigment of cobalt or sienna onto a single bristle.

As I stood next to two of my pieces in MLAC’s 2009 Betsy Meyer Memorial Exhibition, another artist suggested I apply for membership at Muse Gallery. Maybe I shared with her what was in my artist's statement: “I have been making relief sculptures that zero in on the landscape of faces, piling up with cardboard, paper, and glue the highs of a likeness, its cheek bones, nose, and chin, and carving into the fleshy surface its careworn lows, the creases and furrows.” The corporeality of paper pulp poorly imitated fog or twilight, but I could express three dimensions with it.

At Muse Gallery I finally enjoyed the comfort and company of other artists who struggled as I did to fix unwieldy matter inside a rigid frame. Twenty or so very creative people attended our contentious monthly meetings, and after a while, they named me the gallery director, an honor that is often likened to becoming a herder of cats. The acceptance of those wonderful artists validated my experience and freed me, in a way, to explore other subjects besides the human face with my layers of cardboard, paste, and paper.

My affiliation with Muse Gallery has lasted up to the present, a period during which I mounted two solo shows of my own work and helped to produce or participate in many others. Talking to other artists about their work and gaining an understanding of what they were trying to express was for me the most fulfilling part of the collaboration. I learned that describing the motivation to paint or sculpt in a certain way or explaining why they chose a particular subject was difficult for them. The artists made very definite choices about materials and content, which they weren’t able to articulate.

Realizing that thoughtful descriptions of an artist's work are crucial for developing the public's appreciation of it, I began posting on the Internet my reactions to gallery shows in Old City. Additionally, I created texediting.com as a resource to assist artists in writing about their work and promoting it. From that experience, I secured employment with two Internet corporations, writing copy for other kinds of small businesses who were expanding their profile on the World Wide Web. I was immensely gratified to find employment that utilizes both my writing and artistic abilities. In recent days, I support myself tutoring high school students in English and SAT/ACT skills.