A gentle enthusiasm twinkles in Mary Ellen Palmeri's eyes as she says, "Every time I fold origami models, it amazes me to watch flat paper transform into three-dimensional shapes that become vivid plants, animals, or human figures with real character traits."
Her special joy comes from incorporating origami folds, pop-up card designs, and artists' books with detailed painting and collage techniques. She calls her unique mixed-media creations "Paper Dream Paintings". They have filled her days over the past 25 years. Previously she worked as a professional photographer and a Masters Degree art teacher while raising her two children.
"Since childhood I've wanted to be an artist", she says. "Creating absorbs me like nothing else. The outside world melts away as the fun and challenges bring me complete inner peace."
After years spent learning painting, sculpting and collage techniques, her desire focused completely on mastering paper arts as the main visual component in her work. Various noted art professionals today consider Mary Ellen a Master Origami and Paper Artist.
Origami is routinely misunderstood as a child's pastime instead of the noble ancient Japanese art of paper folding that it is. Many other people believe origami is intimidating with complex folding techniques. In fact, origami can be as simple or complex as each person chooses the fun of making it or the challenges.
Many traditional and contemporary origami models appear in recognizable forms of animals, plants, flowers, or human figures. But origami also readily accepts abstract forms if that's what a folder chooses.
"I especially love how paper arts use traditional Asian practices as well as Western versions", Mary Ellen says. "Also, I can add my personal inventions that stir the feeling I want to relay to viewers, instead of the extreme mathematical skills some folders prefer."
She often begins each major art creation with research for visual inspiration. She then selects the origami models to be made or learns new ones to use. Then comes deciding on an overall working concept and what support to use - canvas, board, or something different. Next, she moves into choosing color elements, whether acrylic paints or inks or watercolors, or a combination of them all. Then what size origami units best suit the smaller background areas, and then larger foreground imagery. Next she questions if she requires special paper textures, or whether to paint papers for unique colors, etc...
"When working, my hands are constantly restless, touching objects, the feel of different papers. My fingers really do become extensions of my mind creating."
The time for layout and design depends upon the size of the art piece, which varies from 5-by-7 inches to 5-by-4 feet. Choices remain constantly in flux during her "making time" as the spirit of individual art pieces come more fully into focus. Mary Ellen is one of the few artist anywhere who routinely integrates origami into full painting or collage works.
"Detailed that way it does sound like a lot of work", she says, "and it is. But no more than for all high-quality hand-made arts, be they made of wood or metal... or paper."
After working at Disney in Los Angeles on a design team for ten years, in 2005 with her husband, painter and playwright Ken Tesoriere, she returned to Tucson for the peaceful spectacle of this Sonoran Desert. They restarted Lyric Arts, their umbrella art organization that includes Mary Ellen's private group workshops in origami, pop-up cards and artists' books. She also founded Lyric Arts Folding Fest (LAFF), a free monthly group of paper folders that presently meets at Nanini branch library. She regularly teaches paper arts for Pima County's Library Programs (free to the public), and is a dedicated member of PaperWorks - The Sonoran Collective for Paper and Book Artists, a lively, creative group that very few other cities have). She can also be found teaching workshops around Tucson at the Botanical Gardens, the Children's Museum, Contemporary Artists of Southern Arizona (CASA), Town of Marana Parks & Recreation, and various art galleries and retirement communities---
Mary Ellen's work has shown locally at Tucson Pima Arts Council's (TPAC) Pioneer Building exhibits, Dragonfly Gallery, Tohono Chul, Dinnerware Artspace, Toscana Gallery, Southern Arizona Arts Guild (SAAG), Bernal Gallery at Pima Community College, The Drawing Studio, etc... and nationally in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Fe, Rochester, New York and Manhattan, et al. She has earned awards regionally and The University of Arizona purchased one of her artists' books for their Special Collections Library.
She regularly participates in National and International origami events such as a Global call for origami elephants to bring attention to the plight of those animals being killed solely for ivory markets. She is especially proud of an accomplishment back in 1995 that she initiated during her first time living here in Tucson. Back then she recruited volunteers and together they folded 1000 Peace Cranes to send to the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hiroshima Bombing. While many other groups participated worldwide, her group's cranes were the only ones in the world received by the Hiroshima Peace Exhibit in which the wings were opened in the appropriate way to honor the victims for that peace celebration. In recognition, they sent a special citation back to her.
Mary Ellen adds with a smile, "As my husband Ken often says, 'Making art invigorates our lives daily and is as necessary for us as oxygen'."
A new book of simple and intermediate origami models, "Surprising Magic", will contain her precise folding instructions and is planned for publication early in 2019. It will include many of the models published here in Tucson Happenings in her monthly Origami column over the past few years.
Here is an interview for a series about local artists, called "Don't Quit Your Daydream" by Avai Media.
Mary Ellen's art work can be viewed online, and originals & prints purchased directly from her, at: Lyric-Arts.com or at Etsy.com/shop/LyricFineArts, or at Vangoart.co/mary-ellen-palmeri, or at Fineartamerica.com/profiles/lyric-artists.html, or saatchiart.com/maryellenpalmeri.