It’s not often that you walk into a gallery and see an installation of Blue Herons seemingly flying around and struggle to understand how they were created. Printmaker Sierra Lech loves to engage those that look at her work and leave them in wonder. Her installation We Are Fragile But We Are Free, in the Edna Carlsten Art Gallery, is no different.

Lech comments, “it was so interesting seeing people look at them hanging in the gallery and have them not immediately know what they are made out of. I had many people think that they were made from plastic, and a few also thought they were made of metal. That is something I am especially pleased with, because I enjoyed being able to engage the viewers and pique their curiosity with my work.”

Passionate process

Lech’s Herons are not made out of plastic or metal. In fact, they are made out of paper. The process she uses is a consuming one, but the end product is mind blowing. First, she creates linocuts of the different parts of the Heron’s bodies. After creating 12 different linocuts, all to scale of an actual Great Blue Heron, she rolls printmaking ink onto the linocuts and runs them through an etching press with paper. Lech uses a very specific locally made paper — Riverpoint paper.

After the prints dry, she begins the tedious process of cutting them out and beginning a waxing process. The encaustic painting process she uses on this piece dates back to ancient Egypt. Using beeswax with this ancient process leaves the paper almost transparent and provides texture. The final step is hand-stitching each piece together to form birds. This is how Lech moves her paper cutouts to the next dimension.

“As an artist, I believe the unique process that goes into making each piece is an incredibly important aspect of the work. The physical process is why I work mostly in print making, specifically linocuts. Printmaking is a process driven medium where not only do you create an image upon a matrix, but there is also a process behind mixing inks, setting the press pressure, and pulling a clean print.”

Family traits

Artists have many different reasons for choosing their subject matter and for Lech it was deeply personal. Lech tells us that she “chose to depict Great Blue Herons because they are a symbol for strength, determination and independence” traits that she believes represents her family. “The work that I created for this installation is a response to a traumatic event that my parents, sisters and I had previously been battling together for four years. This past year it all came to an end and we feel free again. I wanted to emulate our feelings of being freed by creating five, one for each member of my family, life sized Great Blue Heron sculptures flying in a spiral up to the ceiling, and into ‘freedom.’ Using my interest in nature related themes, and the feeling of being freed from emotional distress, my hope was to create an uplifting environment for the viewer to experience.”

Lech also explains, “I am driven by experimentation with different materials, mixed media, and pushing the boundaries of the materials I work with. I have recently made symbolism a much more prevalent subject within my work and find that it creates a sense of conceptual depth without being overly direct.”

Do what you love

Creating is one of Lech’s passions. When asked what her favorite part of the process was her response was, “devoting all of my time to doing what I love. I truly love creating art, and it makes it even more enjoyable when there is an element of experimentation. The work that I created for this exhibition was very process oriented and time consuming, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. The process is what drives me as an artist, and after all of the hard work that was put in it feels rewarding to see it displayed in a gallery.”

Confidence is key

All artists face struggles when creating a new piece and Lech was no exception. “Something that I struggled with in the beginning was creating work as an installation rather than multiple stand-alone pieces. I had never created an installation before, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off. In the end though, all of the stress and experimentation with new materials paid off,” explains Lech.

She also faced a common struggle that most artists do which is, “finding the strength and most importantly the confidence to show your work to the public and face possible criticism.” According to Lech, “criticism can be scary, but it shapes us as artists, and fuels us to always be creating our best work.”

Having the confidence to show her work has led Lech to have this installation featured in another gallery as well. Her pieces have been accepted into exhibits and gallery shows.

Most artists would agree with Lech’s outlook on criticism. Though it can be scary, with this installation she proved that all the hard work paid off. Her passion shows in every aspect of the installation down to the way her Heron’s shadows play on the walls. Lech definitely gets her message across with these beautiful paper Herons that are fragile but free.