Unexpected Plot Twists
In summer, Susan Joy Share and her husband, Paul Stang, cook meals of homegrown vegetables and kayak about the lake beside their Anchorage home, paddling to a soundtrack of grebes, gulls and loons. In winter, they skate and ski, stepping onto the frozen lake or trails just a stone’s toss from their backyard.
Their home is a place of subtle elegance, of angles and light, with a rooftop garden and outdoor pathways lined in stone. Tucked into a neighborhood nook with its back to the turbulence of the city, their hideaway is a place of quiet, unlike the frolicking colors, shapes and textures — smooth, spiny and spiky — that reside in Share’s head and take shape in her Midtown studio.
A multimedia visual and performance artist, Share uses traditional and innovative bookbinding techniques to create kinetic sculptures that unfurl and unfold, morphing from ordinary looking books, boxes and satchels into playful, polychromatic folding screens, puppets, masks, costumes, creatures and other surprises. Her enchanting popup books are feats of engineering. Her chambered boxes revealworlds of hidden treasures. Her accordion books, when launched, become paper waterfalls, cascading as much as 25 feet, then oscillating back and forth like Slinkys.
Like the best books, Share’s work is unforgettable with the most unexpected twists of plot. “To understand some pieces, you have to open them to reveal their potential, so I became the mover,” Share said. She’s studied dance, yoga, improvisation, clown and other forms of movement to hone the performance component of her work. “I was trying to figure out my stage presence and how to help with my shyness. I’m still very shy, but when I’m really focused, I love it, I love moving.”
Besides vintage, handmade, commercial and other variants of paper, the materials she works with are all over the map, and include photos, linen, felt, beads, metal, wood, plastics, wire, hog gut, welding rods, zippers, twist ties, colored pencils, crayons, maps and shredded money. The inner and outer workings of her assemblages are labor intense and detail rich. She likes hinges, snaps and stitches. She likes to make things rattle and ruffle, crackle and pop.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Share studied ceramics and sculpture, but her passion for book arts took over. After graduating with a fine arts degree from the College of Ceramics in Alfred, New York, in 1977, she moved to New York City to be an artist. There, she studied bookbinding and worked for 20 years in book conservation at institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society and The Brooklyn Museum of Art, all the while blazing new territory in the art world.
In 1992 she was teaching a workshop at Maine’s Haystack Mountain School of Crafts when she met her husband, Stang, a clay artist taking a tile-making class. She lived in Brooklyn, he in Washington, DC. After a five-year, long-distance relationship, his work as a manager with the Department of Interior brought him to Alaska.
Commuting some 200 miles between Brooklyn and DC was one thing, but Alaska would add an extra 3,300. She checked it out and liked what she saw — mountains to climb, trails to hike and bike, tidepools to explore. Moody seasons, dramatic light, her kinds of people. It was hard letting go of New York City, and even harder moving so far from her close-knit family.
When she moved up in 1998, she did so only sort-of. She kept her Brooklyn studio for another six years before finally shipping the last of her things.
“My dad thought he’d never see me again, so he wrote me every single day. Some letters were advice on how to live life. How to love. He wrote poems, too. I have boxes of them. My dad was the sweetest, most loving man, generous and accepting. He loved our family and many others unconditionally.” Affectionately dubbed Share the Bear, Alan was a gifted athlete who had a good shot at playing professional baseball until World War II interfered. He played softball into his 70s and racquetball into his 80s.
Share has incorporated his neckties, letters and other family mementos into her work, so no matter how far, they are always near. In the last month of her Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship, her father lay dying. (She lost her mother, Pauline, in 2006.) She and her four brothers gathered around to see him along his way. He had a smile on his face until the end. “My dad’s last days were special because he was such a beautiful man.”
Already known nationally and internationally for her teaching, performances and artworks, Share is continuing to grow. Her Fellowship allowed her to spend time with her New York art community, take classes at the Center for Book Arts, visit museums and galleries and do other groundwork she’s now funneling into a new body of work that explores the intersection of Alaska’s built and natural environments. She made connections with artists in Alaska and Outside.
“It gave me a big emotional boost, enabled me to document artwork and move forward creatively.”
Experience a performance by Susan Joy Share at her “Doing Doing” Exhibition in Anchorage:
Doing Doing, Performance and Exhibit from Susan Joy Share on Vimeo.