Pacific Northwest artist Dan Reeder has been turning everyday materials into magical creatures for four decades. Now, he is using his talents to help support brain cancer research for The Dragon Master Foundation.
Reeder said he gets many solicitations from various charities, and is very conscious of making a good choice in supporting the ones he feels are right.
When the foundation came along, he said the first thing that caught his attention was, of course, the name.
“It certainly fit my art. And I really liked the logo; a dragon silhouette in a double helix. How clever,” he said. “Making a paper mache rendition of that logo posed a great artistic challenge.”
The logo and name, however, weren’t what sold him on helping the foundation, since making a dragon for someone is a good two- or three-month commitment.
“It was one of the vice presidents, David Herrmann, who initially sold me on the foundation,” Reeder said. “He is a TV executive, but he gives his time freely to this group. In fact, I found that all members of the staff of the foundation are essentially volunteers. That impresses me. It also keeps the expense ratio incredibly low, to less than 1 percent. Unheard of in this day and age!”
As a result, Reeder said all the proceeds from the foundation’s work go towards helping researchers fight cancer.
“They are committed to make sure that the data being gathered about cancer gets shared by the people working on the front lines,” Reeder said. “The foundation itself was started in memory of a very special kid named David. His mother and stepfather wanted this foundation to be his legacy.”
The foundation’s inspiration, David Pearson, passed away at age 16 after a 20-month fight with glioblastoma multiforme, but his brief life touched many people with his spirit, humor, and enthusiasm.
“All of this appeals to me,” Reeder said. “The more I learned about this foundation, the more I wanted to help.”
The more Reeder worked with Herrmann and foundation President Amanda Haddock, the more impressed he grew with their dedication to the cause. He was also very happy with how his rendition of the logo turned out.
“As an artist, it is always thrilling when a project works out the way you envision it,” he said. “I think I captured that logo.”
In addition to making the dragon, Reeder agreed to make a time-lapse video of the dragon-making process, so people can see the creature’s birth.
The prize drawing is set up in a crowdfunding manner, and donations of $10 to more than $250 gives donors 100 or more entries in the drawing, and, depending on the level of financial support, autographed copies of Reeder’s book, Paper Mache Dragons, as well as posters, glow-in-the-dark T-shirts and other prizes.
Reeder said he knows there are many good causes and charities out there, but with finite time and resources, he said it is important for people to pick carefully to know their dollars are well spent. He feels cancer research is an extremely worthy cause.
“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by this dreaded disease. I certainly have,” he said. “From everything I’ve read, it appears that we are on the verge of beating this disease. It just needs a final push over the top. I think it’s the right time and the right cause.”
Reeder admits he is a disciple of the paper mache medium, which he feels is both underrated and underutilized.
“I can’t think of another art form that allows you to make large pieces of sculpture without a lot of training,” he said, adding that there are costs involved, such as paint glue and tape.
Most of the materials, he said, can be gathered from around the house, including newspapers and wire coat hangers. These are materials he said may not be as prominent as they were, but are still common household items.
Reeder said one of the biggest “claims to fame” in the paper mache world is the invention of the “cloth mache” skin of cloth and white glue he adds to his projects.
“It makes the projects very strong and allows for details you can’t get with paper alone,” he said. “Once again, since everyone sleeps on beds, old sheets are fairly easy to find.”
Although Reeder has created several elaborate dragons, monsters, and mounted sculptures, as well as written two books on the art of paper mache (as well as a children’s book about dragons, William’s Treasure), there is still a project in the back of his mind he can’t wait to start—marionettes.
“I’ve made two videos involving marionettes. I made the puppets, and then I taught them to dance. I’m learning as I go,” he said. “I don’t know how marionettes are supposed to be made or how they are supposed to be manipulated. And I don’t dance myself. Nevertheless, I’m obsessed with making marionettes that dance. Go figure.”
He said his most recent venture into the puppet-making world is a video called Rum and Paper Mache, showing the puppet-making process, as well as what happens when marionettes get a hold of the rum. He said this process was both fun and very labor intensive, taking him six months to complete.
His creations and mastery of the craft have earned Reeder several fans, and he said ever since his first book was published in 1984, people have been sending him pictures of their own works.
Since the waiting list to purchase Reeder’s art is fairly lengthy, he often encourages hopeful buyers to stretch their own imagination, by creating a dragon or other creature. Many do.
“They are always accompanied by unbridled enthusiasm. People thank me for changing their lives,” he said.
Reeder said it has been clear to him from the start there is a “universal need to create,” as people always look for a vehicle of self-expression. He is happy to see many of them have found it through a similar artistic passion as his own.
“And they tell me later that they wouldn’t trade what they made for anything I have in my collection. I understand completely,” he said. “It is supremely satisfying to pull something out of thin air, to start with nothing and end up with some amazing beast.”
He said he’s always impressed with the photos he receives of others’ work. Some he said may not be as polished as an artist like Reeder, who has been doing paper mache for more than 40 years, but all the art has what he calls a “wonderful aura” and personality.
“Honestly, I feel somewhat like a grandparent to the monsters in the photos people send, particularly if my books were used as a guide,” he said.
One of the best things about the medium, he said is paper mache is an art form accessible to everyone, regardless of age or artistic experience.
“Many of the coolest projects I’ve seen have been made by beginners,” he said. “Give it a try. Once you do, you’ll be hooked. Trust me.”
To see more of Reeder and his fans’ work, visit his site, Gourmet Paper Mache.
Chances to win Reeder’s latest dragon are available via the Dragon Master Foundation through June 15, 2015.