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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Making art of light

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Schroeter poses outside the Fine Arts building. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

Home to hundreds of sheets of varying textures, colors, sizes and densities, the fine arts building nurtures creativity. Oddities are strewn throughout the large space and numerous cabinets open up only to reveal even more papers and fabrics.  

Here, surrounded by paper, senior Bekah Schroeter constructs her captivating paper lanterns attracting both the eye of art fanatics and non.

With their iridescent hue-engulfing spiraled lights, Schroeter said her delicate lanterns resemble the environment of Bellingham.

“I take inspiration from nature,” Schroeter said. “Mushrooms are a big influence, their shape. I look at really flowing movements, really soft shapes take my interest.”

Having practiced the arts since she was a child, Schroeter is now a studio arts major at Western. Schroeter first became interested in designing her lanterns after taking a paper folding class last fall.

Lanterns designed by Schroeter displayed at her showing last year. // Photo courtesy of Bekah Schroeter
Lanterns designed by Schroeter displayed at her showing last year. // Photo courtesy of Bekah Schroeter

Professor Seiko Purdue of the art department specializes in fabric forms, and can develop skills through such classes as Papermaking and Mixed Media and 3-D Forms in Fiber.

“We give an assignment to find what they like, because paper has so many different qualities, it depends on what you use or what you put in,” Purdue said.

The classes are popular and over the years Purdue has seen students take many creative liberties when experimenting with paper.

Purdue said students do really unique things when dying the fabric and creating different textures and color tones for their projects. She has seen students incorporate wine, bean sprouts, ginger and other objects to reach the perfect result.

It was through Purdue that Schroeter began to love the art of papermaking, and for an assignment, began creating paper lanterns.

“I gave her a lighting sculpture for an assignment and she really liked it,” said Purdue. “Afterward she just kept going.”

Despite Schroeter’s humble attitude regarding her projects, constructing her lanterns is no easy task.

The cutting machine she uses to create her paper can be quite dangerous, as it can be harmful to students if used improperly, said Purdue, and the overall project is very much process oriented.

“We soak the fiber a couple days before, and preparing the paper requires cooking, beating it and placing it in a vat,” Purdue said. The single sheet must then be formulated into its desired shape, say, a lantern, and it will then dry over the course of several days.

Though the process is difficult, and a single lantern can take up to several weeks to complete, the result is beautiful.

Senior Rona Bryan is also pursuing the arts at Western, majoring in sculpture with a focus on multimedia installation.

Bekah Schroeter leafs through the pages of her sketchbook in which she sketches ideas for her lanterns. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath
Bekah Schroeter leafs through the pages of her sketchbook in which she sketches ideas for her lanterns. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

Last December, Bryan shared a sculpting class with Schroeter taught by professor Werner Klotz, who was said to be another major influence in Schroeter’s artwork. Bryan also shared her artwork in the same room as Schroeter during an art installation at the Herald building that displayed several pieces of art from sculpture students of that class.

“There’s such an incredible sensitivity in her work,” Bryan said of Schroeter’s lanterns. “Her work is really delicate and subtle, but it has this immediate presence when you walk in the room. The lights instantly capture your attention.”

Bryan and Schroeter also displayed work together earlier this spring at one of the Friday Art walks downtown.

Schroeter said naming the price of her lanterns is a different art.

Criticized by peers for having sold her first lantern for what many thought was much too little, she said she is still figuring out how to price her pieces for sale.

Even knowing many art pieces of similar variety to hers can be sold for much more, at times upward of $1,000, Schroeter said she stood by her sale of just $100.  

“My idea is to provide really cool lighting for people with small spaces – small apartments – that’s not really expensive,” said Schroeter.

Schroeter hopes to continue selling her pieces and working alongside prospective buyers in achieving exactly what they envision. She is currently selling her lanterns mostly by word of mouth but is attempting to reach more buyers.

After graduation this spring, Schroeter is striving to get her master’s degree in education and hopes to incorporate her artwork into teaching young kids.

Schroeter said, “I really want to do elementary education, but tailor my teaching style more toward an artistic way.”

Schroeter is in the process of creating a website, striving to have a permanent space in which all of her artwork can be displayed and hopefully reach more viewers.

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