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Being an artist helps Modestan discover ‘the joys of people’

Modesto artist discovers papier mâché not just for kids

Diane Sorensen enjoys doing work that aids nonprofits, environmental consciousness led her to papier mâché. Andy Alfaro/ aalfaro@modbe.com
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Diane Sorensen enjoys doing work that aids nonprofits, environmental consciousness led her to papier mâché. Andy Alfaro/ aalfaro@modbe.com

Creating magical creatures like dragons, flying pigs and monstrous spiders has helped artist Diane Sorensen make very real connections with her fellow homo sapiens.

The 68-year-old said she’s “quite an introvert,” who long has done acrylic painting, mostly of landscapes. But more than three years ago, she began creating papier mâché artwork, which has her “much more involved in working with people.”

She gets commissions from customers who want to have particular pieces made, and she creates works for nonprofit organizations. “I have to talk with people about what they want,” Sorensen said. “... I discovered I actually enjoy the company of people, whereas before I worked so many years in a job where I didn’t talk with people. Now I’m discovering the joys of people.”

With painting, you really have to have an idea before you begin of what it will be when it’s done. This is a little more “thoughtless,” you could say. The work explodes into what it wants to be.

Diane Sorensen, on working in papier mâché

Sorensen retired two years ago from her job as a drafting technician at a private engineering firm in Mariposa. She lived in Mariposa about 22 years before moving a little more than a year ago to Modesto, where her two grown children live. “I lived here many years ago, and it’s a joy to be back where my kids live,” she said. “I’m getting to know the art community and what all there is to be part of.”

It’s fair to say Sorensen is learning fast. Last April, she attended the Stanislaus Artist Open Studio Tour, where she met Betty Kinney, program coordinator for Peer Recovery Art Project. “She asked me to come down and look at a piece of papier mâché that needed repair,” Sorensen said.

That led to the artist bringing a few of her own pieces for display at Peer Recovery at the Third Thursday Art Walk. And it further led to Sorensen starting work with Peer Recovery – her first day is Wednesday – to help with art projects, prepare for Third Thursdays and pretty much “do anything they ask me to do.”

​The largest papier mâché piece Sorensen has done was a life-size, 8-foot-long octopus for a parade float in Mariposa. The creature rode on the front of a steampunk airship. There’s a photo of it on Sorensen’s Facebook page.

Sorensen also recently completed three paintings for the Stanislaus Family Justice Center; they will be auctioned to raise money for its abused children fund.

And for Peer Recovery’s “Empty Bowls” fundraiser last month to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank, Sorensen said she was asked to do “a couple” of bowls. When she learned a total of 350 decorated bowls were needed for the event, Sorensen made and decorated 50 papier mâché bowls and painted another 50 ceramic bowls.

“Let’s just say I spent a month and a half of my life doing bowls,” she said, laughing.

Other pieces she’s made range from marionettes to African tribal masks to abstract sculpture to a work in progress: a life-size carhop à la the “American Graffiti” soundtrack cover.

The largest pieces of artwork Sorensen has created were two canvas murals she painted for a cowboy poetry gathering in Mariposa. One was 17 by 9 feet, the other 23 by 9 feet.

Helping other people and making people happy are big rewards she gets from creating her art, Sorensen said. She has personal projects that keep getting nudged back – “pieces in the back of my mind that are expressive in terms of world conservation. But to have people come to me and ask me to help is what really drives me.”

A project she’s doing now combines Sorensen’s charitable and conservation interests. For the Backcountry Horsemen of California’s annual Rendezvous coming March 18-20 in Angels Camp, she’s building four papier mâché mountains as table centerpieces. “I’m throwing hours and hours into it,” she said of the work for the group, which “promotes the conservation and utilization of backcountry resources.”

Other volunteers will help decorate the mountains, which on one side will be ugly with litter and other signs of people’s misuse of backcountry, while the other will be beautiful thanks to conservation work.

Dan Reeder, a papier mâché artist and author in Seattle, has a photo of one of Sorensen’s dragons on his Gourmet Paper Mache website, which is subtitled, “Not your third grade paper mache.” He called her piece, which is titled “Yorgy,” perfect.

Her environmental consciousness is partly what led Sorensen to papier mâché. On her Facebook page, she posted last April, “Being a ‘recycler’ (never knew what I would come home with) for many years was the reason for the ‘mache’ beginning. Saving paper from the landfill and upcycling into creative projects has become a true adventure.”

While living in Mariposa, Sorensen got involved with the Recycled Craft Fair, which requires entries to be 90 percent recycled material, with the remaining 10 percent being things like glue and paint. “That’s what got me into papier mâché,” she said. She now has friends and neighbors who save paper for her use. “The paper ads that come in the mail ... it’s horrendous how much garbage is going through our mailboxes.”

Diane Sorensen’s Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/diane.sorensen.370?fref=ts. She can be contacted at 209-544-1933 or dianesorensen@hotmail.com or through the Peer Recovery Art Project, 209-581-1695.

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

Meet Your Makers

The Modesto Bee has begun an ongoing series of occasional video reports and stories on “makers” in the community. We intend to cover a broad range of creative types, from visual artists to performing artists to artisans to culinary composers whose palettes are our palates. If you’d like to be profiled, please tell us a bit about what you do, including a link to a website, if you have one. Feel free to attach images. Please email both Andy Alfaro at aalfaro@modbee.com and Deke Farrow at jfarrow@modbee.com.

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