ErneheadshotThe first annual Members Show brings together three artist collectives from Crane Arts – InLiquid, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, and Second State Press – to highlight the best work of their membership. Today’s Members Show featured artist is Second State Press member Elaine M. Erne.

Can you explain where the idea for your Stuffed Animals series came about? Stuffed animals are so often associated with security and comfort – why choose them as symbols for fear and survival?

Stuffed animals, like children, are vulnerable and like many children as well as many adults they get tossed around but never say anything about it, they just keep smiling. I find them to be the prefect allegory for people, especially children who in recurring distressful situations often become like dolls, putting forward a cheerful persona and say nothing no matter what is happening.

I remember a friend telling me a story about running into one of your bunnies. That story stuck with me to this day. Can you tell me a bit more about that particular project? What was the response like?

I had this idea one day about duct taping stuffed bunnies on every telephone pole and lamp post in the city on some dark night and then the citizens of Philadelphia would wake up the next morning in a city covered with bunnies. That made me laugh and I thought why not. It became a piece for a solo exhibition I had at Nexus in 2011 called Mr. Bunny Misses His Friends.

I could only afford 400 bunnies which I bought from a toy company online. With the help of several great friends and 10 rolls of duct tape we hit different parts of the city for evening bunny bombings a week before the show’s opening. Each bunny had a numbered label and instructions on how to return it to their friend Mr. Bunny who missed them. The label explained there was a reward given for the return of the bunny. At the gallery 400 hand pulled relief prints of a bunny titled “Rescued” hung on the wall. A bunny brought back to the gallery was exchanged for the print that matched its number. One could also take the print plus adopt the bunny for a small adoption fee. 72 bunnies came back.

During a bunny bombing my friends and I would watch people to see if they would go up to the bunnies and to watch how they acted. It was funny how some people went up and causally took it off the pole while others would look around and then quickly pulled it off and ran. We would go back over the bunny bombed route and all the bunnies would be gone within a half an hour of their being taped up. I did not think I would get any back so I was very happy when 72 of them returned and eight were adopted. I do worry about how the others made out; I hope they are being treated well.

Can you tell me a bit more about your work as an instructor?

I am on the faculty at Moore College of Art and Design where I teach Drawing 1 and 2 in the Foundations Department and Woodblock printing in the Fine Arts Department. I also teach printmaking classes in Moore’s Young Artist Workshop and in their SADI pre-college program. I teach several classes in the adult and children programs at the Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia, including printmaking, mixed media, and kiln-fired glass.

I love teaching and sharing what I do with others. It is very exhilarating to work with students, watching them develop and express their ideas as they learn new materials and techniques.

What’s the most important take-away message that you leave your students with?

Developing your creative voice takes time, energy, and it is never over – so never limit yourself by not trying something new. The more skills, processes, materials, and techniques you know the more resources you have to express your ideas.

What are you up to now, and what do you have in the works for the near future?

I have just finished a large graphite pencil drawing called “Lanie Doll”, 72” x 126”, that I have been working on for three years. As I was finishing it I realized it needs two more panels each the same size as the first to be complete. I will be starting the next panel this coming week and I hope to get it done faster than the first drawing. I have sketchbooks full of studies for drawings so as one drawing ends another is just waiting to get started.

I have also been working in the print shop experimenting with some new materials to do left ground etchings as well as working on several lithographs.

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Can you tell me a bit more about the piece you have in the Members Show?

“The Protector” is part of The Lives and Trauma of Stuffed Animals series. It is of Pinky Dog and Lanie Doll. He is her protector and as all friends they are there for each other no matter what may happen.

It is an etching done with a lift ground material I am experimenting with to attain a drawing quality with value without doing a traditional aquatint.

What has your experience as a Second State member been like so far?

Second State has been great. I really have enjoyed the print exchanges and feel very lucky to be a part of them. Whenever I stop in it has always been a good experience.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from the collaborative Members Show?

It is a amazing display of work and I think one will walk away from the show with a clear sense of the diversity and energy of art making in Philadelphia.

The Members Show runs August 3 – 24 at the Icebox Project Space at Crane Arts, 1400 N. American Street.

Diane Szczepaniak

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