Paper Magic: Artist Cris Ruehle

Art that combines beauty, function and recycling? Yes, it’s possible.

Cris Ruehle of Cary is a full-time paper artisan who shreds computer paper donations from neighbors and businesses and forms them into objects of beauty.

“It’s almost like papier mâché, but with a twist,” Ruehle said.

Adding three adhesives into the mix to create what she jokingly calls a “mashed potato or Play-Doh consistency that I smush into molds,” Ruehle’s first projects were two huge bowls created to fill a décor need in her home.

Friends then requested similar pieces, which evolved into specific commissions.

“Next came framing mirrors, then canvas art and wall sconces,” Ruehle said, along with pieces featuring iron frames welded by her husband, Jim.

Jim’s also her “roadie” for shows, transporting their work in a 10 x 10 trailer and helping with tent setup.

“And he helps me flesh out the ideas that come to me in the middle of the night!” Ruehle said.

Along the way, she mustered the courage to apply to regional art shows including Cary’s Lazy Daze, where her work will appear again this month, for the sixth year.

She’s delighted, and humbled, to show off her talents to the thousands of people who attend Cary’s signature event.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “You just feel so important when you get that (acceptance) letter. Lazy Daze is one of my biggest events, with some of the same customers returning year after year. I’ve got groupies!”

In Ruehle’s year-round studio, aka her home’s garage, she soaks, presses and molds paper using simple tools like kitchen spoons and a handheld mixer, razor blades, paintbrushes and a baker’s cart for drying.

Her pieces are air dried, a process that can take two days or two weeks, depending on humidity, then are sealed, painted and sealed again.

The resulting artwork can be hung outdoors, and the bowls can be used for non-liquid foods like candy or bread. Her decorative serving trays are epoxy-sealed and waterproof.

Ruehle favors earth tones like burnt orange, leafy green and sunset lavender in her work, but will mix custom colors in commissioned pieces.

“You never know where inspiration will come from, and you never know how a piece will dry; each is unique,” she said. “I just want to make things, to say ‘I wonder what happens if I do this.’”

Cris Rhuele, Cary

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