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Meet Don Widmer of Lion of Bali in Bridgeport

Today we’d like to introduce you to Don Widmer.

Don, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was an academic music librarian for many years and it was a good job, but part of me was secretly yearning to do something more creative. I signed up for a couple printing and bookbinding workshops at the Center for Book and Paper at Columbia College Chicago and became fascinated with these processes. Creating objects using traditional equipment, especially the old printing presses with hand-set metal and wood type, was very addictive. I decided to throw caution to the wind and quit my library job to concentrate full-time on preparing a portfolio of artwork. After getting accepted to Columbia, I devoted three years to getting my MFA. After my first papermaking class with Melissa Potter, I fell in love with pulp. I especially enjoyed pulp painting, a process which uses beaten plant fiber (pulp) to create imagery within sheets of handmade paper. While still at Columbia, I had the opportunity to exhibit my pulp paintings during Art on Track, where I covered the windows of an elevated train with my handmade paper scenes of the Chicago skyline. Ever since then, I have been exhibiting and selling my pulp paintings of city architecture, birds and other images.

Has it been a smooth road?
My primary means of selling my wares is by setting up a booth at art fairs throughout the Midwest. I am constantly astonished by the positive reception people have to my artwork. But I have to admit that the life of an art fair artist is strenuous. Most of these fairs occur outdoors during spring and summer. Like a postal worker, we deliver our goods rain or shine. Setting up or striking a tent in blazing sun or a torrential downpour is always a challenge. Luckily, my life partner Steve helps out during all the shows. I think our customers enjoy his perkiness and optimism as much as they enjoy my artwork. It’s a harmonious arrangement.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Lion of Bali story. Tell us more about the business.
My company is called Lion of Bali. I chose that name for a few reasons. Much of my art inspiration comes from travel and Bali is one of my favorite places in the world. I have played music in a number of Indonesian music ensembles, called gamelan orchestras, and I briefly studied Javanese dance. Also, the amazing thing about Bali is that the entire community seems to participate in the art-making process. A villager may work the rice paddies by day, but he gathers with others mid-day to smoke and make music. The air in Bali sizzles with creativity. My art practice consists of several book arts processes: hand papermaking, letterpress printing, and artist books. Sometimes I combine all three processes. I think the most unique thing about my work which sets me apart from other paper artists is my method of creating pulp paintings. I have attempted over the past several years to see how much detail I can get from creating images of birds, architecture and other objects by exclusively using pulp derived from plant fiber. The resulting artwork has its own look, a little like watercolor, sometimes like graphite or even stone. People frequently stop to ask what it is.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Lots of art fair artist who have been doing the circuit for decades will tell you that the renaissance of art fairs passed way back in the 1980s. I have no clue. It’s an unpredictable business and can be affected by weather, politics, the economy, or when there’s a football game on television. All I know is that people love birds, especially crows, and I can never seem to make enough of them!

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