Papier Mache Art and Recovery: An Update on Thanksgiving 2014

I wrote some or most of this in 2009 but I want to rewrite and update it..

Art, capital A, saved my life. It did more than that. Art gave me a new life, new hope, and something to get up for in the morning. It’s not that I’ve stopped writing. But I had been writing in a vacuum for a long time and needed an outlet for my creative urges that involved more than just my brain. Oh sure, writing involves the hands, too. But not in the way I mean. What I needed was, well, what do I mean? In some sense I needed more activity, if only because my poor brain shuts down and goes to sleep whenever I read, and it simply capitulates to narcolepsy whenever I am sedentary. I have indeed tried standing up while reading and writing, but this doesn’t work for someone whose feet swell very easily. And I find that standing up is just more distracting than anything.

But also  I felt an intense to make things, create objects or works of art that could be seen and touched and even smelled and if scratched or thrown to the ground, heard. I had no idea in 2009 that in 2014 I might even write a couple of rap songs before I succumbed to the impulse to retreat into self-imposed total mutism. If I were VIncent Van Gogh, I might even want to taste my art, but I will try to stick to real culinary arts when that urge overtakes me as I do not at the present time wish to be poisoned by cadmium red etc. Nevertheless, despite my lifelong love for words, I still wanted to create something physical, not just an imagined  or recalled world in words, however long-lasting.

I have always needed to work with my hands. I once wrote a poem called Hand Hunger which some silly psychoanalytic candidate insisted was sexual rather than seeing the references for what they clearly were, to making and creating and building with the hands, to MANUAL LABOR and not to — (sheesh!) masturbation! I mean, how stupid and dim can you get?

Anyhow, I needed to make something or do some sort of craft or artwork. Fearing/Knowing that I could not do “real art,” (YASS,that was ME only a few years ago, telling myself that I could never paint a face! Listen up all ye who think YOU can not  do art!) that I was not the stuff of which true artists are made, I always gravitated towards the crafty side of things. (But pray tell, what stuff is that, Pamela?)

So even when I – on a manic whim – dove into sculpture, creating that llama-in-a-day, Dolly the Llama,

Dolly the Llama at show








the result was mostly folk art, which is to say, unsophisticated, rustic, and at best a craft-like work. Sure, I was pretty proud that I’d made a lifesize animal that actually stood up firmly on its own four legs. But with a deli-container-head (underneath the papier mache) and huge mailing tube body, scarcely concealed, big enough to have once held a large amateur telescope, it didn’t look much like a llama. In fact, the result was not much more than that tube covered with a few layers of paper and glue, and all of it painted red. Nevertheless, I was happy enough with “Dolly the llama.” I have to confess though that it took me a entire year after the psychosis and mania were treated to finish her. Her saddle blanket have fooled many into tugging at the finge to see if it is real or not. a trompe-l’oeil — eye fooling — success that pleased me no end.

But a year-in-the-making was too much time to complete a craft or artwork, even a life-size llama. I came to dread the work by the time I got to applying the last few strokes of paint. You really need more drive than that to do art, but I didn’t seem to be able to sustain the energy or enthusiasm for much of anything. in fact, I’m not at all sure how I managed to write even my part of the book DIVIDED MINDS given those obstacles.

Then, during my hospitalization in 2007 it seems one obstacle was overcome: on Abilify plus the Abilify-tempering Geodon I suddenly had both energy and stamina* (see bottom of post for a later 2014 discussion of this). Or perhaps it is simply that the medications enabled a “well me” to come out, someone who could sustain an artistic effort, even if it was for the very first time. Given a different life I would have been doing this sort of thing all along had I known it was possible, had I had that kind of stamina… But I didn’t think about this, no, for me there was no looking back.

What I did not know at the time I wrote those words back in 2009, or at least  the connection I was unable to make, was that I had actually been on that same antipsychotic drug combination for a several years before this sudden transformation. But in late 2007, however, a small vascular malformation in my frontal lobe hemorrhaged. This was a small bleed, to be sure, but I later felt and some doctors have also agreed this was not impossible, that the timing was such that the bleed itself might in some sense have been responsible for the sudden production of Decorated Betsy

Decorated Betsy: Lifesize Papier Mache










and as my new-found compulsion to do art as well as the felt inability to stop…


Since that time I have jokingly said, “Well, a little brain damage (in the right place) never hurt anyone.” Of course, that is indeed only a joke. because brain damage almost always DOES hurt people. But in this case it seems to have wrought a miracle in my life.



Over the years since Dec 2007,  I have created many pieces, large and small, from bowls to two large tortoises and two geese, even a  “crazy fruit” bowl. Also a large seated man, a child detachable from her hassock (not quite finished) and several small birds. My female sculpture, the Decorated Betsy, even won a NAMI national contest on creativity and mental illness. But why tell you about them. I will upload a few photos instead.

I am going to try to show you them chronologically, but without the  many bowls I have made along with way, except for a few that are particularly special to me. Note that all the sculptures incuding a few that are not shown here, have been donated to someone or some organization, However if anyone is interested in purchasing a new sculpture, I  do accept commissions.

This is the Dream Tortoise, otherwise known as Yurtle the Turtle, which is about 3 feet in diameter. It was my second animal, but my first turtle.


DreamTlooking up

The prescription that this brightly clad psychiatrist holds in his hand reads: Dr John Jumoke, Rx: Art, Poetry, Music.  I thought, well, that  is one shrink even I wouldn’t mind seeing!

Psychiatrist Dr John Jumoke with Rx for Art, Poetry and Music
Psychiatrist Dr John Jumoke with Rx for Art, Poetry and Music


Trudy, papier mache child seated on paper mache hassock
Trudy, papier mache child seated on paper mache hassock, donated along with Dr Jumoke to Otis Library in Norwich CT.


Crazy Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon
Crazy Papier Mache Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon


Papier Mache Goose for Ruth
Papier Mache “Herr Goose” commissioned by Ruth S, one of my favorite artists and mentors.


Herr Goose after revisitation for repairs...Click on the photo to make a close up and you will notice neck "feathers and the difference it makes with old fully decorated version.
Herr Goose after revisitation for repairs…Click on the photo to make a close up and you will notice neck “feathers and the difference between this and the no-gold fully decorated version.


African Queen of Paranoia, without the large gold cascading earrings that I made for her but which catch the light too much to photographed.
African Queen of Paranoia, finally photographed with the large gold cascading earrings that I also made for her. Reminiscent, so i have been told, of the bust of Nefertiti…


African Queen of Paranoia (reminiscent of Nefertiti)
African Queen of Paranoia (reminiscent of Nefertiti) You can see that this resemblance was purely accidental, The bust was mostly an exercise in balance!




Papier Mache Bowl, painted with  slimemold motif and papier mache apple
Papier Mache Bowl, painted with “slimemold fruiting bodies and plasmodium” motif, also papier mache apple


Bird in Cage - Papier mach by Pamela Spiro  Wagner
“Standish” Bird in Cage for Tim – Papier mache by Pamela Spiro Wagner
Wading BIrd
Wading BIrd-given to Joyce Kamenitz, MD. Paper bird painted with nail polish, made by Pamela Spiro Wagner, placed on cellophane covered mirror with stones and soil mixed with polyurethane and glued to mirror.


papie-mache bird in tree banches made for sister by pamela spiro wagner,
Papier mache hummingbird bird in tree branches made for sister, Martha, by pamela spiro wagner,


Dr Geuss:  large Papier Mache Goose  made for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont's Human Services
Dr Geuss: large papier mache goose made for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont’s Human Services Approximately 3 feet tall


Tim with Papier Mache Turtle I made for him
Finaly, my dear friend and art collector, Tim with papier mache Turtle I made for him (so you can get an  idea of the size) Turtle’s head is large but the photo was also taken at angle so it looks larger…Notice copper sneakers, two of them with laces!












































































































*As for Abiilify and Geodon “causing” my stamina and better endurance? I dunno what to say? I have little social stamina even now. But I stopped the Geodon almost as soon as I restarted it. I just feared taking any drug that prolongs the QT interval, one, and isn[t  even approved in Europe for heaven’s sake! Why is that? I can think of two reasons. One is that it is NOT effective at all, not even enough for them to fake-believe it, or two, it is too dangerous for the Europeans even to subject their mentally ill to it.  There may be other reasons why the European Union declined to approve Ziprasidone, but I cannot think of any other obvious reasons.


As for the Abilify, well, I have taken it, more or less, since I was in Care Bed, largely because they got me onto it and I am scared, frankly to stop it…And yet, I do have to “get myself” to take it each and every day, stop myself from simply removing it from the slot in the pill tray that it is in…I should. slowly, but I am afraid, I confess. My therapist at the Northeast Kingdom Human Services told me yesterday that I came extremely close to having been forced into the hospital this month…and she is worried about me if I do not take the fricking drug. But I do not believe it does a danged thing for me, nothing bad either, nothing bad that tis obvious at any rate…But what will it do down the road, and what was that stuff going on with my mouth when I was OFF it??? I want to know but I know no one will tell me or even test me for TD, because they do not want to KNOW…They do not want toi know if the  drug is causing brain damage because of the consequences of their KNOWLEDGE both from me and for them.

FUCK THEM and FUCK ME. I don’t know what to do. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has a different opinion and because I do NOT TRUST MYSELF to know myself or my needs, I listen to everyone at least temporarily. I listen to everyone! But I cannot trust what anyone, any one single person tells me, because I do not actually trust any single person to know a goddam thing about it OR to tell me the fucking truth. That  is the problem. Even Nancy, the APRN, who admitted that the drugs were imperfect and very broad targeting, etc seemed to be too enthusiastic for them, rather than trying to find a way NOT to use them. But that may have been because I myself raised a stink about their having taken a WHOLE bottle of expensive pills (GEODON) from my bags at CARE BED and not returned them to me,…I did not like that one bit.

i mean, I am not going to overdose or sell the meds, but I want what I came in with, and they are MY pills, goddam it! Wh=at right does ANY one have to take them from me! So i partly agreed to the Geodon just to get my bottle of pills back, only then it turned out that they wanted to give me a weekly tray so I would try to be compliant …so I did not get the entire bottle only a week’s worth which I frankly am not even taking.


I do not want to take any pills except for what I FEEL in my soul I need! I NEED 1) methylphenidate, or I cannot stay awake to do anything, esp not to drive any farther than 10 minutes  away, if even that. I start yawning about 15 minutes after I wake up…You may think this is a bad drug for someone with a propensity for psychosis but having narcolelpsy is NOT my fault…I cannot stay awake for the life of me. And that was true well before I ever took any other drug. 2) I need topiramate because I really fear seizures, and because if it just reduces my headaches by one a week, it is worth it. I take severall vitamins in larger than usual  but not mega-doses. I take a very small dose of a thyroid medication also, which I would not want to stop…Do I NEED Abilify or Geodon? Some people who have known me for  years and in and out of hospitals say “Yes, absolutely!” some others say, No, not if you reduce the dose very very slowly..”


I do not have ANY inkling myself, none at all, but I want to believe NOT…I do not feel that these drugs do a thing at all frankly. Except bad things, especially in the case of Geodon. I do not usually like it when people tell me what to do, but I wish wish wish in this case that SOMEONE with influence would indeed tell me what to do. Precisely..and convince me. But no one is in that position, not any more. I am just alone and fucked…My therapist practically said, no she DID say: f you end up in the hospital it will be no one’s fault but your own, because you won[ take the Abilify….What sort of thing is that to tell me??? Should I just accept that and be quiet or what? Is she right? I didn’t like it one bit. I felt utterly abandoned and scolded and also basically told, well, you heard! It WILL BE YOUR FAULT! YOU TAKE THOSE PILLS OR WE BLAME YOU!!!!


Enough of this shit…I should, I suppose, have written something about my gratitude for this lovely holiday, the original one that presaged a wholesale slaughter of our good “Indian” buds we had over for the first T-day…ha ha ha.  And how grateful I am for this wonderful country that treats everyone “equally” and with compassion and kindness (justice? Oh well, we need not mention JUSTICE, need we?Justice goes without saying, don’t it???) Ha ha ha, of course if you are melanin-challenged you might not agree that justice nor social compassion…But some folks in MO, and a certain MO town these past few days and nights have come to a different understanding about such things.


Okay enough for the “holy-day” chatter from me for now.


Gotta go pace the driveway.



21 thoughts on “Papier Mache Art and Recovery: An Update on Thanksgiving 2014”

  1. Hi Sarah.

    I think I missed your last comment having been assailed by a migraine for several weeks that got miserable around T-day. Yes, the Irish definitely have poetry in their blood, but I daresay the Welsh are no slouches either, and I am thinking of Dylan Thomas in particular whose “the Force that through the Green Fuse drives the green flower drives me green age…” which always gave me shivers…not to mention the famous and famously “dense” nearly incomprehensible one, The Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London, if I have the title right, which starts:

    Never until the mankind making
    Bird beast and flower
    Fathering and all humbling darkness
    Tells with silence the last light breaking
    And the still hour
    Is come of the sea tumbling in harness…

    Most people find this too difficult even to begin but since I was weaned on the difficult Brit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, I just LOVE it. and the Welsh for producing the “original Dylan”! Beside, who else would have a town with a name so long it is 1) the longest town name in the work, and 2)so like so many others, I only remember the first two syllables Llanfair…blah blah!! You gotta love that unpronounceable Welsh!

    Your artsy crafty friend,



  2. Yes, we have to know our limits. 🙂
    I’ll try not to tempt you by reblogging my crochet and quilting posts then. 😉

    When I said my key wasn’t working in the previous comment I meant the Return key but the editor obviously objected to my complaints and sucked out the word Return! It’s working again now, as you can see.

    If ever there was a people born for poetry it’s the Irish. They are brimming with it. 🙂 I don’t know specifically about Galway but I imagine that there are plenty of poets haunting it’s nooks and crannies. It’s a wonderful city, one of my favourites. I like London too. The UK has changed a lot since the 60s but you’d probably still like it. There are still plenty of ponies in the wilder places.


  3. Aha, yes I was born in Washington State, in the army where my dad was a doctor for the time being, I mean in the army for a stint, way across the country from Vermont where I live now…and I lived in Connecticut my whole danged life except except for one MAGICAL year we spent, guess where? In the UK..and I have AMAZING memories of Wales in particular, the wild ponies on the moors especially. WOW, what wonderful place at least in the 60s when I was there. I loved London then too. I miss the UK though we never did get to the Emerald Isle alas…Ever since I started writing poetry I have wanted to visit Galway of all the towns in Ireland. For some reason I think of it as a poet’s haven…Is that true or still true if it ever was?

    Oy yes, I too gave away tons of craft books and materials, and it near to broke my heart as well. But it had to be done and I have nearly never looked back. At least I do not miss the knitting and crocheting so much…But other stuff like quilting I do have to keep myself from picking up again, because I KNOW i will not finish another not again! some times we have to know our limits, don’t we???



  4. Hi Pam, I hope you had a good thanksgiving. It’s not a holiday that we celebrate over here so please forgive me if I forgot to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday. The key isn’t working in here so please also forgive the lack of paragraphs. I’m sorry about the fig-related misunderstanding. Thank you for clarifying. I can understand getting overwhelmed by having too many choices. I’ve only just started to realise that there are too many figs for one lifetime and that I need to pick just a few and relish them. I was always starting things and not finishing them. I ended up carrying them round with me from house to house, country to country. When they started weighing me down too much I resolved to clear out the ones I was never going to finish. It nearly broke my heart to give away things like my lace bobbins and my craft books, but I don’t miss them now. I also resolved to not start new projects unless I was prepared to finish them. It hasn’t quite worked but I’m doing a lot better than I used to. The blogging helps. If I’ve told people what I’m up to then I’m more likely to keep at it. I’m glad to hear that art and writing get you into the flow. It’s a wonderful thing. I think my frustration comes when my ego gets involved. As to where I am from, well, I was born and raised in Wales, worked in England as a young adult, and then moved to Ireland when my husband got a job in Galway. How about you? Were you born in the US?


  5. Pam, thank you for sharing this wonderful art. Some of the pieces are familiar to me, but others I had not seen before. I admire and appreciate your talent. Thinking of you and sending you much love.


  6. alas Pammy, such a place may be an ideal only! We are all on a journey, more melanin or less, american or not! it’s really sad all what l hear, read n see about man’s inhumanity to man all in whatever name!


  7. Yes, isn’t it strange, that my Pam-Avatar is the African Queen of Paranoia, that it is that one out of all my art pieces that I identify with. She is the one I call ME…and always have? Life is strange. While I cannot know the experience of anyone else (no one can, of course, except second hand) but I have always felt a deep kinship with — well, I guess I would say African-Americans i.e. oppressed people, and O.P. in general — I wonder why?? Nevertheless, I wanted to make my Queen strictly African, because of her fundamental NOBILITY and BEAUTY, like Nefertiti (an unconscious resemblance)…which is also theirs.

    You know, I grew up in the years when we were being given the message that “black is beautiful”–FINALLY…and for me, this message really took. I do not believe, sadly, from what I hear and read about some African American girls/women being held to what is called the “paper bag test”– that this same “black is beautiful” slogan worked quite as well for many, especially those girls who have darker skin, alas. It seems that discrimination is still very much at work, even within the African American community against those with more melanin in their skin as opposed to less. All of which pains me…

    Why do we make such a big deal of melanin? That is all skin color is, in the end, differing amounts of pigment polymer derived from the amino acid tyrosine. People are weird, which would be fine, if weird didn’t also so often turn into cruel and much much worse (I am thinking at the moment of all the tsouris (Yiddish for distress, woe, misery) that has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri this past week…) I wish I did not live in this GD country where racism is so damned rampant…I would move from Vermont even, YES! Even away from this country, if I knew where to go. I finally have the income to do so. I just do not know where to go or where I could live best on my small income. Somewhere people live together in peace and harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Marie, I replied to your reply but it seems not to have posted! Well, here it is again: I wrote this:

    IF you manage, Marie, to get yourself all the way across the world to Vermont, I promise you that working together we will make you some papier mache objet d’art that you will treasure forever. Two pairs of hands would make short work of a long project, I am certain to it. (Alas, as I have written, all my other pieces are long gone, donated already elsewhere! Except the African Queen of Paranoia, which is my Pam-avatar and could NEVER leave me, she is ME, mine, my “baby sister!”)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Sarah, you are completely Right! I just mean what Sylvia Plath referred to when she wrote about the abundance of figs on the tree, and too many figs to pluck such that she got overwhelmed and simply failed at one point to pluck any…If one has too many choices at least for some of us it becomes just too much, i dunno, for me at any rate and I completely understood Plath’s metaphor even as a teen. The idea that when presented as I was, too, with that overladen fig tree of opportunities, and this was quite despite the battles I was facing at the time, or perhaps it was all part and parcel of the same thing? At any rate, it was terrifying rather than inviting, and what it ended up inviting was collapse rather than a leap into the “fray”…So while I would LOVE origami, I also fear getting into it, with the true meaning of fear. If you do not understand this, I can only explain that I fear getting so scattered that I cannot find my way to any clarity or to finishing any project. Never finishing anything, never finding any real clarity or in that sense any way out of the confusion and mess has been such a pattern in my life that I avoid it at all costs, even though it catches up to me often anyway. And I can say this even though you might not know it at all from my clarity of self-expression and what I post on my blog. But the people who know me in life, and who are around me DO know it and have seen it, and they know that I carefully censor myself when online and ONLY post when I can show myself at my best…(At least I know enough to do so). That said, I do LOVE getting immersed. Going with the FLOW until I am IN THE FLOW is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Absolutely — the frustration place is not one I know often… not any longer when it comes to art or writing. Frustration to me has to do with all the other areas of my life. As soon as I start to do art or writing, I am WHERE I BELONG and nothing else matters. Yes, to that feeling of “rightness.” Without that you have nothing. But some people never feel that. and I feel sorry for them.. Still mean to find that PBS title for you…Been occupied by the silly gluttonies of yesterdays holiday. ASAP. Cheers. Oh, by the way, you are not native to Ireland, I gather. Where did you move there from?


  10. Kyra,
    Yes, I understand entirely. One thing I will say is that you are still young and that the brain heals…BUT on the other hand, LIFE changes and you never know where your prose writing skills can and will lead, skills which you certainly possess in spades. You write your prose with passion, at least from my point of view (which of course is the only POV i have). Whether if feels inspired is another matter altogether, and only you can know that. But as they say, most writing is only 1% inspiration…blah blah blah…In poetry though that inspiration 1% or not is ALL important, I agree. The sine qua non. A technically good poem is just that, a technical poem, but it fails to touch the heart which means it simply fails. But you know that, which is why clearly you have stopped writing much poetry. I am sad to hear that though, as I can imagine how good you probably were! Might still be, given that passion/inspiration/muse.

    So glad to have you commenting on my blog though. Yours are such a valuable contribution…I love to hear from you whenever and whatever you have to say!

    Thank you!



  11. I know exactly what you mean. I have a very strong urge to go and play with some papier mache right now. 😀 I don’t think we get lost though, I think we come alive when we immerse ourselves like that. We become more connected with our deeper selves and the mysteries of life. Do you reach a calm/focused place when you create? I know that my creative process involves quite a lot of frustration but there is also a deep sense of satisfaction and “rightness”.


  12. Sarah,

    So far I have not done anything since the big turtle I gave to Tim but all these comments are whetting my appetite…Maybe I’d better get started on something!!!

    Thank you so much for your enthusasiasm! You see why i am scared to get started with Origami??? I could REALLY get into it, and get LOSTED!!! 8)




  13. Hi Pam, your papier mache creations are fabulous. I love, love, love the colours and the designs. Thank you for sharing them here. Are you working on any at the moment?
    As for the medical issues, unfortunately I have nothing remotely useful or interesting to say about that. Sorry. 😦 All I can say is that I feel for you and hope you find the answers you need, and your voice. ❤


  14. I can still do the technical side of creative writing–I could sit down and produce a technically proficient short story or poem if I had to. What’s lacking for me is inspiration. Anything I would write would be dead–lacking that necessary spark, for lack of a better term. The technical skills are still there, which is why I can write skillful prose–I think that was an inborn talent honed by extensive training. But the inspiration and creativity are gone. It’s been 10 years since my surgery, and I’ve written maybe three good poems that whole time. Before that, I was producing that number on a weekly basis.


  15. Jeeze, I am sorry that you also feel your vascular malformation affected you but badly…I still have mine and I worry that it could bleed again, since one bleed is usually the only sign that another will happen statistically. But so far, so good. It has enlarged slightly since 2007 but not hugely…And i am still doing art so that makes me happy.

    You clearly can still write something…evidenced by the wonderful writing on your blog. So I wouldn’t give up on the writing altogether, though I think it was actually the passion and drive that was the gift I got from the bleed, and it may be this you speak of when you say your creative writing ability fell away. Not the ability but the drive to do it?

    Anyhow, thank you so much for your comment. I am so glad you respond to the bright saturated colors too! They are rich aren’t they? 8)



  16. Pam, your work is gorgeous! Simply amazing. I’m in awe of your effort, dedication, and creativity. Your use of color really speaks to me–so bright and alive. I’ve always been drawn to intense, saturated colors like the ones you use.

    Interesting that you think there might be a link between your art and your brain bleed. I also had a vascular defect, although mine was in my left frontal lobe. It was congenital, but it wasn’t diagnosed or treated until my late teens. Shortly after I had surgery to remove it (to prevent the inevitable stroke or aneurysm), I stopped being able to produce much creative writing. I’ve always suspected the two might be linked, although my neurosurgeon swore they weren’t. But I think we know our own brains better than any expert.


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