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VOL. 126 | NO. 44 | Friday, March 4, 2011

ArtsMemphis Displays 25 Years of Grant Clips


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The average paper clip consists of a twice-looped thin wire that extends close to three centimeters long and weighs about a gram.

Sean Kingston’s 1997 paperclip submission to ArtsMemphis.

(Photo: Courtesy of Nathan W. Berry)

The 140-year-old instrument has been used to fasten papers, pick a lock, symbolize Norwegian resistance to Nazi occupation or represent an e-mail attachment.

By the Metal Museum’s standards, the simple mechanism can exceed 12 inches and be shaped like a woman’s frock, as long as it holds papers together.

The Downtown Memphis museum has made a tradition out of crafting paper clips.

For each of the past 25 years, when the museum submits its grant application to local arts grants organization ArtsMemphis, an intern of the museum is charged with the honor of forging a paper clip to include with their submission.

“It’s one of those things whoever gets to do it is really excited about it,” said museum conservator Kevin Burge, who crafted a two-and-a-half-inch-wide sterling silver bear trap for last year’s clip. “It’s a fun way to work. The only requirement is it has to hold 50 sheets of paper together. Beyond that, it’s completely open.”

After 25 years of receiving grant applications from the Metal Museum, ArtsMemphis has amassed quite an ensemble of paper-clip-inspired creations.

To celebrate the collection, as well as their long-standing relationship with the museum, ArtsMemphis, in conjunction with the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts at Rhodes College, will host an exhibit of the pieces at its East Memphis office, 575 S. Mendenhall Road, including an opening reception this Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“They really are sculptures,” said ArtsMemphis president and CEO Susan Schadt. “They’re really pretty. Some take their form from nature, like a flower, or they’re more sinister or more mechanical.”

In addition to the 25 pieces on display, a catalog documenting each sculpture and artist will be for sale for $15, with proceeds benefiting the Metal Museum’s artist-in-residence program.

Rhodes senior and art history major Meghan Wilcox, 21, curated the show and assembled the catalog as part of her CODA fellowship.

“I’m really excited. This is my first exhibit ever, and I’ve been working on it for the past year and a half,” said Wilcox, of Memphis. “I learned a lot about ArtsMemphis and the Metal Museum. I got to see what it takes to run an institution like the Metal Museum. They don’t just do commissions, they fix the plumbing or the roof if it’s leaking. They do everything. These people are really dedicated. It’s like their home.”

Schadt says it’s this dedication that has earned the museum grants over the years, including over $1 million in the past decade.

“Everyone who applies to our grant cycle undergoes a fairly rigorous application process. The Metal Museum has routinely and consistently proven that they are an arts organization of significance and have shown financial responsibility and stewardship,” Schadt said. “The sculptures are a little lagniappe. They show the care and attention the museum puts into their grant application, as well as the passion and creativity of the artists associated with the Metal Museum.”

The artists don’t go empty-handed either.

“The paper clips were a pivotal piece to my artwork. They’re integral to what I do today,” said John Medwedeff, 48, who crafted the inaugural paper clip in 1985 and now constructs large-scale public art pieces out of his Murphysboro, Ill., studio. “It’s really cool that it has become this tradition.”

The museum’s former director, Jim Wallace, who instructed Medwedeff to make the original paper clip, a four-inch copper sculpture shaped like a traditional paper clip, thinks it’s a cool tradition as well.

“The application process at the time was, to be polite, extensive. The intern (Medwedeff) kept coming in and asking if he could help, and it was better if he just stayed out of my way. I knew the original application had to be assembled with a paper clip, so I told him to go make me a paper clip and he had six hours to do it,” said Wallace, 63, who now lives and creates in Norfork, Ark. “Really, it was a way to make him feel like he contributed and get him out of my way. It was a spur of the moment thing that developed a life of its own.”

The reception is free and open to the public and the exhibit runs March 7-25, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the exhibit or ArtsMemphis, visit www.artsmemphis.org or call 578-2787. For more information about the Metal Museum, visit www.metalmuseum.org or call 774-6380.

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