There’s a new resident at the Piasciks’ Niskayuna home: a postal cactus.
Standing over seven feet tall, the saguaro cactus sculpture can be found nestled behind the family’s mailbox on sunny days. Perched in its branches is a partially hatched eagle egg, featuring the United States Postal Service logo.
The handmade paper installation was created by Beca Piascik, a 2016 Niskayuna High School graduate and, most recently, a graduate of The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston.
The artist had to return home in early March due to COVID-19. It brought her capstone project, which she’d been working on all year, to a screeching halt. She’d planned a touch-based installation of sculptures centered around the idea of keystone species, or species that have a disproportionately large impact on its environment compared to its abundance.
“I was making tubes that would be inside of these large rock sculptures. It would be this big conglomerate on the floor. You would come up to it, reach inside of the rocks, and then you would have this textural experience,” Piascik said.
She quickly realized that a touch-based project was going to be impossible to turn in or to exhibit anytime soon. So, with just a few weeks left in her courses, she and her father, Ray, created a papermaking studio in their garage and she got to work on a completely new project.
“I ended up making the mail cactus,” Piascik said. In it, she draws comparisons between the way that the saguaro cactus in its environment and the way that the USPS functions in ours. From Piascik’s perspective, the USPS is, in a sense, a keystone species and one that deserves greater appreciation and support, especially in this current environment of relative isolation.
With its bright green and tan handmade paper, the installation immediately captures one’s attention.
Yet, the medium might surprise some of Piascik’s former high school teachers. Throughout her time at Niskayuna High School, she was focused on swimming and photography, which she won several regional awards for. She planned to continue both during college but while attending The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, she had to give up swimming due to time constraints. Luckily, she found the best of both worlds in papermaking.
“I missed swimming so much and it was so important growing up. Being able to manipulate water and have it move pulp fibers around and watch them settle and then watching the water leave the material was just so incredibly beautiful. I think it was metaphorical to my journey up to that point,” Piascik said.
At college, she had an entire studio to work through the layered and messy process of papermaking. Building the same set-up at home was challenging, but as artists often do, she embraced what she had, using a Ninja Bullet to blend the pulp.
“I ordered construction paper that has color in it because I didn’t have dyes so I couldn’t color my pulp [as] I wanted. But I got a bunch of greens and [mixed them]. So I pulped a bunch and made a ton of sheets,” Piascik said.
In about a week, she made the paper and built the skeleton of the structure out of chicken wire, eventually using a ladder to get to the top of it.
“The first day I installed it, I sat in my driveway and I waited for the mailman. He saw me sitting there with this cactus,” Piascik said.
She explained that it reflected the importance of the USPS and the mailman thanked her for the recognition. Piascik has since turned in photos of the installation and it’s now a part of a virtual senior thesis exhibition at Tufts University.
Yet, the project isn’t entirely complete. In the coming days and weeks, Piascik will be encouraging her neighbors to write letters of thanks to USPS employees and send them to “Mr. Postal Cactus,” her home mailbox in other words. After she collects a bunch, she plans to bring them to her local post office and give them to the employees.
“Not everyone gets to be in contact with a nurse or a doctor but most people get mail. That’s [the] essential worker that you can relate to,” Piascik said.
According to Piascik, USPS employees are helping people stay connected despite the restrictions that have been put in place with COVID-19.
Some of those restrictions have put a pause on Piascik’s next move, which, after graduating with her bachelor of fine art degree, was supposed to involve a cross-country journey.
“Our plan before COVID was I’d graduate and I’d go out to California,” Piascik said.
She hoped to stay with her brother, Mike, and work with Studio Channel Islands Art Studios in Camarillo, Calif., where she previously interned and volunteered.
However, a cross-country move isn’t exactly advisable at the moment, so Piascik is sticking around her hometown and working on personal projects. Some of her artwork is on display at Bex Salon in the Stockade and she also plans to sell some of her work at the Schenectady Trading Company in the coming weeks.
“That’s the plan right now, making stuff and experimenting. It allows me time that I wouldn’t have had normally to explore a lot of things without being stressed about going and doing a workshop and it gives me some time to make some things that I wouldn’t have,” Piascik said.
To view Piascik’s installation and learn more about the project visit smfa.tufts.edu.
To learn more about Piascik’s work visit becapiascik.com.