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Gemma Taccogna

Gemma Taccogna by Gemma Taccogna

Extracts of Gemma's unpublished book have been kindly sent to us by her close friend Jackie May.

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  • Date addedAdded: February 25, 2007
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I must tell you that although I did not have toys as a child, I did have materials to work with. I had paper and I had flour, because my mother was an extremely good cook. So I invented Papier Mache for myself. I didn't invent it to the world - I had never seen it before - but by experimenting on my own.

Several skittle-like toys
Several skittle-like toys

I was second born, not so pretty. But as I grew up, life at my house became quite unbearable and very unstable. So I left home when I was 14. I rented a room filled with bedbugs, but I had a room. With four jars of tempera I went to grocery stores to paint their produce signs. I'd go from one store to the other getting their business. I'd make little cartoons to make my signs more appealing. That's how I earned my living.

In 1935, during the years of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt put into effect the Works Progress Administration, giving artists jobs with great freedom to create. Prior to that everyone had been starving.

During World War 2 I became a photographer. I did portraits and all kinds of goodies. That was a fun time.

Then in Westchester County, I met this incredible woman, Charlie Neubauer, who had been at Mahatma Ghandi's hermitage for six years! She was a painter and worked a lot with ceramics, so we shared her studio and I gave birth to my Art Center and started teaching. I was about 19-20 years old. Since then I have been teaching.

At the studio I began experimenting with papier mache as well, all at the same time. The materials cost less than nothing, which made it possible for everyone to be a sculptor. The materials are available to everyone, so you don't have to have any big money investment. Its just glue, newspapers, colors. Everyone can afford that. Also what you do can't explode and kill because you are not firing them. Once its done, its complete in itself.

Three heads
Three heads

You can go as big as you want, they're light in weight, and very strong. It has all the pluses.

There are two ways of working.

You can build your form with clay and on to it you place pieces of dry newspaper with a flour and water mixture, covering the entire object.

Gemma working on a piece
Gemma working on a piece

Or

you can make the structure with other light materials such as chicken wire, ping pong balls, cardboard or styrofoam structures, which you leave inside.

Structure
Structure

It feels good, too. Its smooth and responds, the medium doesn't fight you. And you will do as you will with it. Its like making an eggshell around something, tearing little strips of paper. In teaching this, I insist that you be in every piece of it, including the tearing of it. Enjoy that part of it also, the sensuality of the experience. There is a delicious expression in the whole process, the whole thing. Like anything in life, whether you are making a cake... even in the crafts there has to be a great pleasure, an involvement. And a certain humility because its wonderful to surrender to your craft, not to be the impatient one who wants the immediate gratification.

White head
White head

THIS is papier mache.

It would take me about 2 hours to build a large head like that, so there's a great investment of time. But if you are involved in it, if you are not simply waiting for the prize, it doesn't matter how much time it takes. It becomes a sculpture. When its dry and you take out the inside structure, and are left with a wonderful light shell of papier mache...that you can then paint over with wonderful results.