Kirsten Bungener & The Art of Paper

Walking into Kirsten Bungener’s studio space on the second story of her Ephraim home is a sensory experience.

On the left side of the studio, the worktables are covered in beads, rocks, watch faces and chains. There are shelves of clear jars stuffed with beads and findings, and spools of leather, and racks of unfinished and finished work.

Kirsten Bungener. Paper dress. Ephraim.

A red paper dress created by Kirsten Bungener. Photos by Alyssa Skiba.

On the right side of the studio sits a large basket filled with paper rolls, a shelf of tissue paper, a table with a green cutting mat and jars of Mod Podge, and even more paper.

The studio is a permanent installation in Kirsten’s home, one she is grateful for. Prior to moving to Ephraim, her studio was a 5×12 landing between the first and second stories of her Green Bay home.

With the space, Kirsten’s paper, jewelry, ink and watercolor art has grown out in all directions.

Kirsten began working with waxed linen, a medium she still uses in her paper art, and jewelry, while she was in retail.

She began to make jewelry based on customer requests for her Ephraim store Rugged Basics, branching out from bracelets into necklaces and earrings. After closing Rugged Basics and retiring, Kirsten went back to jewelry making. Currently, she sells her designs at Patricia Shoppe, Sourced, What Next?, Monticello and Ecology Sports.

Her retail experience has guided the production of her jewelry.

“In the spring I know that people will be wanting new designs,” she said. A small link of multicolored beads is pinned above her work space; one bead for each of the season’s most popular colors.

While her designs reflect the colors and trends of the season, they also reflect vintage styles. Many of the components of each piece are vintage elements.

“People give me things or I will go junk shopping and find retro pieces,” she said.

“I also make my tags,” she said. “I guess you could call me a vertical company, but I don’t make my rocks and beads,” she joked.

Kirsten, who studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also uses paper as her medium to create tiny paper dresses and landscapes.

Her first paper dress and landscape was created for We Are HOPE, Inc. Kirsten Bungener. Jewelry. Ephraim. fundraiser, Say Yes to the Paper Dress. Along with other Door County artists, Kirsten created a paper sheath dress.

The dress building process is tedious, especially on the tiny scale that Kirsten favors. She uses pins, Mod Podge and a mixture of other adhesives to help the paper hold its form.

“I have always been a paper hoarder since I was a little kid,” she said. A basket of multicolored paper sits to one side of her studio. There is a fine line between playing with the paper too much, at which point it tears or disintegrates, and pushing it the right amount.

Kirsten placed her first paper dress, for the We Are HOPE fundraiser, on a clothesline to give it more movement. A tree in the background framed the dress.

“I got more caught up in the tree than the dress,” Kirsten said.

Eventually the dress and the tree became separate ideas, and Kirsten began to explore using paper to create landscape, and to incorporate pieces of the landscape into her dresses and paper trees. Grapevine is one natural element that Kirsten uses in the pieces. Its swirly tendrils peek out from the sleeve of a dress or behind the trunk of a paper tree.

The pieces are created on top of Gessobord, which is covered in tissue paper or watercolor paper to add interest and texture to the piece.

Often, she will add paper blossoms or pieces of fruit to the grape vine, to incorporate it more into the piece. Each tiny paper blossom is created with a hole-punch, and carefully speared through the middle with a grapevine.

“Paper with paste becomes a wonderfully malleable medium,” said Kirsten. “Nature, in its infinite variety and fabric with so many textures, I enjoy interpreting the most.”

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