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Carol Flax creates incredible works of art in an unusual medium…

Flax with her work at Woodruff’s Art Center in Mashpee Commons.

When Flax cuts the paper, she cuts it in such a way to make its form appear as natural—and less like paper—as possible, and oftentimes she will layer her cut out pieces to create a sense of texture and dimension. “It’s not like paper dolls,” she notes. “You can’t just cut out an image and then paste it on—that has no dimension, it’s flat.” Flax then builds her scenes from the bottom up, designing the background before the focal point. She doesn’t draw out her subjects first—it’s rather freestyle, she says. Her Elmer’s CraftBond glue is tacky enough for adhesion, but she can also quickly reposition the paper if necessary. And no piece of paper, no matter its shape or size, is wasted, as evidence by the sea of scraps on her work table. “Sometimes the most microscopic piece is something that I need to add.”

“The technique is a lot like painting with paper. The way I cut paper and apply it is the same way a painter would use a brush to create an effect.”

When people see her work, Flax says they are often taken aback. “Seeing people’s reaction—they think it’s a painting, and then they get up closer and they’re like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ It’s fun to see that,” she says. She’s often asked how long a piece takes her to complete—a question she originally struggled with. “An artist friend once said to me, ‘You should answer, and don’t say it takes three weeks or two days or five months. You should say it takes your whole life.’ It really does,” says Flax. “I’m bringing every day of my life experience to the table to create something.”

“Foggy Morning”
20” x 20”

The first time Flax ever made a piece with cut paper was during her college years. “I had been using magazines that were in my family home,” she recalls. “I made gifts for people—I made collages just like the ones I make now. I’d use poster board, and Elmer’s glue back then was the liquid kind so it was really messy. My 96-year-old mom still has an owl that I made for her 50 years ago.” At the urging of her father to pursue a career that was financially stable, she went on to become an English and theater teacher. She eventually went into marketing and communications, and over the course of 20 years she worked for such institutions as the University at Albany (SUNY) and Ohio Northern University.

But she never forgot about her cut paper art. When Flax retired in 2012, she started experimenting with the medium again. “As soon as I started doing it I thought, wow, I love this! I loved doing it then, and oh my gosh, I love it even more now,” she says. “Love is probably bordering on addiction,” she admits with a laugh. “It’s pretty compulsive at this point. I have some pieces that really give me fits. I’ll be thinking about it at night, and I’ll wake up and run out here (to her studio table) in my pajamas and I’ll go, ‘Oh, I know just what I have to do.’”

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