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Art People: Dawn Siebel | painter, sculptor

  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sculptures by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Sculptures by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Detail of sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Detail of sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Sculptures by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Detail of sculpture by Dawn Howkinson Siebel in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Dawn Howkinson Siebel talks about her work in her Easthampton home and studio Tuesday, April 9.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Last fall, Dawn Siebel gave herself a homework assignment. The longtime painter had wrapped up a project that had consumed her for several years — painting small portraits of all 343 firefighters who died on 9/11 — and she wanted to take up sculpting again, something she hadn’t done in years.

“It scared me at first, because I wasn’t sure where to start,” said Siebel, of Easthampton. “But when you get scared, you also get creative, you try different things.”

After brainstorming, Siebel hit on an idea: She took a 10-volume set of encyclopedias she’d found at a garage sale and opted to make each one a part of a sculpture. The theme for each sculpture would be based on two listings she could find in a two-page spread of each volume.

Case in point: “Buckwheat and Buddha,” comprised of a small wooden shrine with a Buddha statue that’s surrounded by buckwheat, with much of the grain contained in glass valves and beakers from an old chemistry set. The Buddha sits on a bed of loose, dark buckwheat hulls, which Siebel notes are used as the stuffing for meditation cushions. The encyclopedia itself sits atop the shrine, underneath a sheet of glass.

That sculpture, as well as her others, highlights some of Siebel’s signature traits. For one, she draws on a wide variety of materials — even dried pig’s intestine — to build her sculptures. Second, her work is very much theme-based: “The medium, the materials I choose, are really determined by my subject,” she said.

And third, her work is infused with a fine sense of humor. An older sculpture, “Cowboy,” is built around a curved tree root that captures the swagger of a bow-legged Westerner; she added a tiny gun belt to its “hips” and fitted its angular “head” with a miniature 10-gallon hat.

In some older oil paintings now on exhibit in Amherst Town Hall, Siebel, 62, has recreated various iconic photos, such as Marilyn Monroe’s skirt billowing above a New York City subway grate, and added a small collage figure — a flower girl, an image of herself as a child at a wedding — to the paintings.

She also recreated advertisements she found in a 1928 periodical that depicted dutiful Indiana housewives using new electric appliances, like vacuum cleaners. The paintings offer both a pastiche and a subtle feminist message, as Siebel notes that the women shown “are sort of invisible — they’re like appendages” to the newfangled appliances.

Siebel has her serious side, too. An Indiana native who had lived in New York for over 20 years, she was living in Colorado when 9/11 took place, and the destruction of the World Trade Center so haunted her that she began the project she came to call “better angels: the firefighters of 9/11.” Her 4-inch-by-6-inch portraits — painted on burned blocks of wood — won the support of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and toured the country in 2011-12.

“In this case, the theme was more straightforward,” she said. “I just wanted to find a way to honor all these people who had lost their lives.”

— Steve Pfarrer

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