When Ginger Ertz plays with pipe cleaners, colorful sea creatures emerge from her hands. Organic and abstract, they look like sea shells, coral and jellyfish. Clinging together, they form mesmerizing tidepools of texture and color. For the past nine years, the Schenectady artist has twisted, braided and knotted thousands and thousands of fuzzy pipe cleaners into imaginative sculptures. Last year, Ertz had her first Capital Region solo show at Schenectady High School’s Butzel Gallery, and in 2010 her sculptures appeared in the prestigious Mohawk-Hudson Regional exhibit at The Hyde Collection.
“I figure it out as I go along. It’s like doodling with a pencil. They are different every time. Sometimes I have dreams that tell me how to make things, with complete instructions,” says artist Ginger Ertz of her work with “chenille stems,” also known as pipe cleaners.
This is detail of Schenectady artist Ginger Ertz’s pipe cleaner creation “Babbling Brook.” Ertz twists the “chenille stems,” of which she says, “My hands are all cut up. It’s such an intense process.”
“Babbling Brook” is not a single form, but 130 individual pieces that flow together. Waves and plumes of blue, white and lavender studded with light-catching beads are interrupted by gray, rock-like forms.
The organic forms often appear after studying prints of simple life forms by Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist in the early 1900s.
Ertz graduated from college with a philosophy degree, then earned a master’s in library science. For 25 years, she worked as a librarian, and over the years, she worked as a costume designer, sometimes paid and sometimes volunteer, for theater and dance groups in Philadelphia. “But the artist in me was getting bigger,” she said. After years of drawing and painting, she went back to college to study art, and in 2001, at age 50, she received an MFA from Vermont’s Johnson State College and Vermont Studio Center.