Since I left my job as a bank SVP in 2002, I have been creating art nonstop! Inspired at first by boxes of old family photos and documents, I began making collages, assemblages and altered books with these very personal materials.
An inspiration for me has been the colors and folk art of Mexico and Guatemala, where I make an annual “pilgrimage” with a group that calls itself “the muchachas.” We visit woodcarvers, weavers, ceramic sculptors, mask makers and other artisans in their homes and studios, and my collections have expanded to include ethnic textiles, little books in Spanish, rusted cans and other Latin American detritus!
For a number of years I have been a member of Philadelphia’s Dumpster Divers, a group of artists which focuses on re-using cast -off pieces of the world around us to make found object art. To me and to many “divers,” art materials are everywhere, and sometimes just finding a particular item inspires a variety of projects. I look at a bottlecap on the street and see a doll’s little hat; my old paintbrushes look like legs. Cigar boxes and old drawers are really “houses” for creating a story within.
My work brings together many elements of my life: figures are made from reused materials such as plastic bags, recycled paper, old doll clothes, toys and found objects; my colorful palette, the use of masks and the paper maiche process are inspired by the exuberance of Mexico and its crafts people. My assemblages are frequently family records and memory pieces which incorporate the wall paper pattern of my childhood home, postcards from the beach town where we spent the summer, my father’s passport and ration books from World War II.
Currently I have a long-term goal of creating 1000 figures! I’ve made about 500 so far.
I am a self-taught mixed media artist and longtime member of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers, a group of artists that repurposes found objects and “trash” in our work.
Using recycled materials, as well as clay, paper mache, wire, fiber, tape and paint, I create assemblages, cardboard figures, dolls I call “Divas,” as well as folk art portraits, collages and memory jugs. To me, and to many “divers,” materials are everywhere—and sometimes just finding or pulling out a particular item from my stash will inspire a whole project. Old paint brushes are re-seen as “legs” or an old torn work shirt is envisioned as clothing for a figure.
The colors and folk art of Mexico and Guatemala are an inspiration for me, and I spend two months in Oaxaca every year. I recently created MY TOWN IN MEXICO out of matchboxes, bottle caps, broken mirror shards and Mexican collectibles.
I have a long-term goal of creating 1000 mixed media figures—I’ve made about 600 so far! In 2013, about 200 were displayed at the Philadelphia International Airport.
2013 “A Conversation with Ellen Benson,” Cloth Paper Scissors, Interweave Press, LLC, March/April 2013