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Museum, library bring pop artist to Rugby

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 3, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Prairie Village Museum Director Jennifer Willis joins a table of budding pop artists creating collages in the museum’s Sandvik Building June 28.

Area residents gathered in the Prairie Village Museum’s Sandvik Building June 28 for a presentation by New York pop artist Michael Albert and a chance to put their own artistic talents to work.

Albert, who authored “An Artist’s America” in 2008, stopped in Rugby on a multistate tour of libraries to bring his art to communities across the nation.

Rugby’s Prairie Village Museum and Heart of American Public Library both sponsored Albert’s visit.

“I’m on a tour right now visiting over 50 libraries, museums and festivals in 12 states,” Albert said. “I’m in the beginning of my third week and I’m spending 10 days in North Dakota, which is the first time I’ve been in North Dakota.”

“Actually,” the White Plains, New York, resident added, “I’m going to be in four states I’ve never been in this summer: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota. That’ll bring my total up to 40 states I’ve done my art program in over about 10 or 12 years.”

“One thing I’m sorry about is I’ve come to North Dakota a little early to see the sunflowers because I’ve heard they’re unbelievable,” Albert said. “But to me the landscape here is really spectacular.”

Albert, who creates pop art, described the process.

“Pop art is related to pop culture, you know, materials such as consumer brand packages that are popular because they’re in every store and we know them,” Albert said. “Then, the overall subject, such as an American flag is a popular thing in our country,” he added, picking up a pop art piece constructed from hundreds of tiny red, white and blue paper snips arranged into an American flag pattern.

“Or, a frosted flakes box can be used. Anything that’s well known.”

“I think if you’ve heard of it, if everybody’s heard of it, it’s a subject for pop art. The Gettysburg Address, even, for me, is a subject for pop art,” Albert said, picking up a poster displaying the text of the famous Lincoln speech, constructed with individual letters clipped from consumer packaging.

Albert said his work extended to collages made from a postcard printed with the Empire State Building and old photographs re-arranged to form new images.

“My pieces don’t overlap, but they can, that’s not a rule. But this idea of deconstructing an iconic image and putting it back together in your own way is what it’s about,” Albert said, picking up a yellow poster depicting famous cereal boxes. “Look at these Cheerios boxes. With this, I really cut them apart and the word, ‘Cheerios’ isn’t in the place you’d expect and the bowl is not there, but I think you can still tell what the image is because it’s so ingrained in our minds because of the bombardment of advertisements and the fact it’s in every store, and the color.”

Albert showed other prints of his work, which included a collage of bright yellow and blue scraps formed into a cheery sunflower image.

After demonstrating his work to the group gathered at the Prairie Village Museum, he invited them to grab pairs of scissors, bottles of glue and any pieces of consumer packaging that appealed to them. Attendees then started work on their own pop art collages.

Albert said he began bringing his art to communities after friends asked him to visit their children’s schools.

“They had guest artists and authors at the schools, so I started doing that,” he said. “Then, when I got a book deal, this book, ‘An Artist’s America,’ which was published by Henry Holt in 2008, it ended up in a lot of library collections,” Albert said.

“First, I started contacting libraries that had my book locally, and I pared down my school visit to a two-hour program in libraries,” Albert said. “I found out this is really great for all ages, as long as you’re old enough to use scissors and glue, and even if you’re on the younger side and your parent is with you, you can do this.”

“Depending on the library and what they’re interested in and what other programs they have for other age groups, I’ve been working with young kids, teenagers, this is sort of a mixed-age program for teens and adults,” Albert added. “I’ve found this is a great multigenerational program.”

“I’m seeing some very beautiful work,” Albert said of the pieces his groups create. “Everybody sees the things I’ve shown them and you never know what they’re going to come up with.”

Albert said he likes working in libraries best. “You get the kinds of people who come to library programs – you get teachers on summer break; you get retired teachers; you get other artists who see another artist is coming and they want to find out about it; then you get regular people who just want to learn something new. That’s why the library’s the ultimate venue because it’s free, everybody’s welcome and people that come to the library want to learn.”

“That’s the kind of people I want to meet – people willing to learn, who are willing to try a new thing. It’s just fantastic. Look at them,” he added with a smile.

Albert said he hoped his class inspired people to create art from other media such as photos. “A lot of adults say, ‘Hey, I have a lot of photos at home,’ My first photo collages were just extra bad photos of my family. Instead of just saving them, I used them and tried to do something with them.”

“Then, I shared some serious things like the Gettysburg Address and the entire To Be or Not to Be speech by Hamlet,” Albert said of his pieces using text clipped from letters on packaging labels.

“Here is an entire map of the United States that took me over a year to make. I spelled out every place and arranged it geographically,” Albert added. Sure enough, Fargo sat in its correct spot on the southeastern corner of North Dakota.

“So, on one level, my goal is to meet people and show them my work and create a creative environment where they can try a new project,” Albert said. “If they like doing this, they can do it at home and see, ‘Oh yes, I have some of these materials and I have scissors and glue.’ To me, it’s just awesome.”

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