Exhibition full of playful, colorful artwork

A paper mâché zebra is an example of the type of art Cathi Christianson created for her first solo art show.  - Kris Hill
A paper mâché zebra is an example of the type of art Cathi Christianson created for her first solo art show.
— image credit: Kris Hill

There’s something about paper mâché Cathi Christianson finds particularly satisfying.

“It’s fun that you can get your newspaper and start shoving stuff around,” Christianson said. “It’s just this wad of newspaper with a flour and water concoction and it can take shape in your hand.”

Christianson, a longtime Maple Valley resident, will showcase her paper mâché skills Friday night when a 5 foot, 8 inch giraffe will be on display at the opening of her first solo art show at the Maple Valley Creative Arts Council’s home, The Leaf.

Ever since she was little, Christianson said, she has enjoyed art. As a grade schooler she would skip recess so she could work on art projects. Since then she earned a business degree in college and has experimented with a variety of styles.

“I’ve tried lots of different mediums and that’s what you’ll see at my show,” Christianson said. “I’ve got photography, paper mâché, painting.”

While in college she took as many art classes as she could and since then has taken ceramics, pottery and photography classes at local community colleges. She has also taught art classes for children at Lake Wilderness Lodge for the past three years.

Her young students seem to really enjoy the classes she offers.

“I’ve had kids take the class six or seven times, so we always try different materials and mediums,” she said. “They would get bored and I would get bored if we repeated the same thing all the time. In that whole time I’ve never seen anyone take a cell phone out. These kids are really in the moment, painting, doing stuff with their hands.”

Christianson has also been involved with the Arts Council since its beginnings more than a decade ago. The Leaf is home to regular artist rotations with new exhibits brought in every two months or so, and Christianson decided to ask Christina Grachek, who serves as an ex-officio member of the council’s board, if she could have her own show. Grachek told her there was a spot open in January and Christianson happily took it.

There will be food at the reception, which starts at 7 p.m. and will feature dinner for $10 by EJ’s Custom Catering, along with music provided by bluegrass band Ryegrass and a masseuse who will provide chair massages.

“I don’t want it to just be about my art,” Christianson said. “I want it to be fun, kind of a party atmosphere.”

As she considered what to display in her first solo show, Christianson said, she looked for pieces with a certain type of visual appeal.

“Lots of color. I like color,” Christianson said. “So, anything with color was what stuck out to frame for the show. So, it’s not just my photography, there will be my painted pieces.”

And of course, paper mâché. She arrived at our interview at Starbucks in Four Corners with a paper mâché zebra tucked under one arm then described the process of making him.

Particularly challenging was the mane, which required research on zebras including how the mane matches the stripe pattern on the animal’s body.

“He’s made to show the kids I teach a little bit of what I do,” she said.

Paper mâché is also a favorite medium for the youngsters in her art class.

“The kids love working with the paper mâché, but, sometimes they don’t have the patience,” Christianson said. “So, it’s probably a good thing for them to learn. I’ll ask them to do a thumbnail and it’s a guideline — it doesn’t have to look like that — then at the end I’m amazed at what they make.”

A favorite piece on display during the exhibition, which will be on display at The Leaf for six weeks, is an acrylic painting on canvas she calls “Owl.”

The public is invited to the opening reception Friday night as well as to check out  the exhibit during its run. To see when The Leaf is open, visit the Arts Council website at Another option to see Christian’s work is to go to an Open Mic night on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month.

Beyond her first solo show, Christianson has plans to keep working.

There’s still a medium she hasn’t tried yet: encaustic painting. This involves working with hot wax instead of watercolor or acrylic paint, for example.

“I want to grow, expand, go bigger,” she said. “I just want to do more art. I wouldn’t mind doing a guerilla art project where you do a big project and then you set it up and then it’s gone two days later.”


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