Five Women Artists – Ellen Ziegler

Ellen Ziegler artist's book

During the month of March, we are highlighting five women artists. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Next up is multimedia artist Ellen Ziegler.

About Ellen Ziegler

Born in 1949, Ellen Ziegler is an award-winning multimedia artist who works in drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, performance, cyanotype, and assemblage. Her work connects the psyche with the physical world by her choice of unpredictable mediums. She calls this practice “sourcing the immaterial through the material.”

Raised by her mother who was a ballerina, Ziegler grew up with creative influence, inspiring her own artistic career.

“I didn’t go to design or art school, and the freedom this allowed me was both frightening and empowering,” Ziegler recalls.

Ziegler attended Ohio’s Antioch College in the 60’s. It was there she became familiar with the 20th century avant-garde ideals of thinkers like Jacob Lawrence, Elaine de Kooning, and Ruth Asawa. These artists taught at the experimental liberal arts school Black Mountain College, which was committed to the idea that the arts were essential to the learning experience. From there, she studied Indian classical music in India and California to learn the art of improvisation.

Currently based in Seattle, Ziegler began making visual art in 1995. She is a member of the artist-run gallery SOIL.

Her Work

Piece by Ellen Ziegler

Ellen Ziegler; Hypnagogue 1, 2009; Glass sculpture; Gift of the artist.

In her 25 years as an artist, Ellen Ziegler has worked in several different mediums and been shown in more than 25 exhibitions across the country.

“The sum of what I’ve learned has everything to do with juxtaposing one thing with another to get a third, and that risk-taking, mistakes and experimentation are a form of collaboration with the unknown,” Ziegler says. “And, for me, boundaries are not useful for innovation.”

Ziegler has created a number of handmade books that have been shown nationwide. One of her books was included in the 2015 exhibition Unhinged: Book Art on the Cutting Edge at the Whatcom Museum.

Her limited-edition book Exercises to Free the Tongue is a collection of 21 individual two-sided poem pages from poet Molly Tenenbaum. The book features images and ephemera from Molly’s grandparents, who were ventriloquists on the vaudeville circuit in the early 1900s. Photographs of vaudeville acts that performed in Bellingham in the early 20th century can be seen at the Museum through May 2021 in the exhibition Vintage Vaudevillians.

Among Ziegler’s other works, Hypnagogue is a series of 3D drawings made with mirrored glass, light, and shadow. The stenciled silver glass pieces are mounted against a wall, casting a reflection upward and a shadow downward. The piece evokes a sense of disorientation, hallucination, or wonder, according to Ziegler.

She drew inspiration from the mirror’s ability to induce trance-like fascination or self-consciousness. She named this series after the “hypnagogic state,” which is the period of consciousness between wakefulness and sleeping, where audio and visual hallucinations may occur.

The Museum holds the piece Hypnagogue 1 in its collection. See the work for yourself in the upcoming exhibition Fluid Formations. The exhibition runs April 10 – Oct. 10, 2021, in the Lightcatcher.

Sources: Ellen Ziegler interview, healthline.com, ellenziegler.com

Main image: Exercises to Free the Tongue by Ellen Ziegler. New York Public Library Artist’s Books Collection.

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