Artist Fritzi Huber puts a little circus in her act

Fritzi Huber stands on a table in her studio in front of works "Zenobia" and "Private Dancer." Fritzi Huber stands in her studio at Acme Art Studios. // Photos by Lindy Schoenborn.

Fritzi Huber, the daughter of an aerialist, specializes in paper and is a constant in Wilmington’s arts scene

Fritzi Huber is really, really hard to keep up with in conversation. It’s like trying to play the game Whack-a-Mole; her thoughts and ideas seem to appear at random just like the moles in the popular arcade game.

But there’s nothing random about Huber, a fiber artist based in Wilmington. Everything she says and does comes from something she experienced in life, beginning with the circus. Yes, the circus.

Huber on outdoor trapeze rigging in 1975. // Courtesy of Fritzi Huber.

Huber was “born into the circus,” she says on a recent Friday evening at Acme Art Studios on 5th Street where she has a studio. “My family has been in the circus for hundreds of years; we don’t know how long but it’s been a while.”

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Indeed, Huber’s family is well-known in circus circles. Her father, Fritz, was an aerialist, and her grandmother on her mom’s side was once the “World’s Strongest Woman.” There was even a film loosely based on Huber’s grandmother’s family called “Man on a Tightrope.”

So when Huber says she was born into the circus, she means it. Literally.

That experience started to shape Huber’s artistic prowess at an early age. Circus life taught her more than just tricks to make viewers gasp and awe. “All the skills I learned in the circus, I used them to make money,” she says of the experience. “And when we were in the off-season, I taught sailing and catamaran launching to stay in shape.”

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The seemingly randomness of her circus career and subsequent jobs — like making handmade bikinis in Hawaii, giving surf lessons in Leucadia, California and working for a costume maker in her hometown of Houston — show in the artwork she chooses to create. She believes we pick things up from all over. “We leave evidences of ourselves everywhere we go as human beings,” she says.

This is, in part, why Huber studied and followed three people who work in two different mediums: Lee S. McDonald (tools), Don Farnsworth and Bob Nugent (both paper making). She left college in ’78 to pursue working with paper and put to work what she’d learned from her aforementioned teachers. But it wasn’t just because she loved paper. “I’m interested in paper, but [really into] the skill [of making it],” she says. “I just got hungry. I really wanted the skill.”

There’s “evidences” of those teachers in Huber’s work. McDonald taught Huber how to make tools for the paper making process, and they have traded equipment over the years. One tool, her beater, is extremely important. “Without my beater I would not be able to make paper out of rags, my fiber of choice,” she says.

Farnsworth taught her the “beauty of Eastern techniques,” she says. “Having knowledge of both Western and Eastern approaches broadens the possibilities of what can be accomplished. Hence, the material will follow the concept, not the concept fitting a limited range of options.”

Nugent, an international artist who has been a professor at Sonoma State University in Northern California, opened Huber’s eyes to casting on unusual surfaces, as well as what could be done with inclusions.

The first person to show Huber how to make a sheet of paper was Sheril Cunning of Escondido, CA. “She showed me how to deep emboss by casting into negative molds,” Huber says.

Making paper from rags is fun for Huber. She loves the process, saying it is of “very little waste.” Her work “spans the bridge of plant, fiber, cloth, rag and paper,” she says. “Paper is all of these things, and I use all of these materials either as they are or in altered states becoming [the] other.”

So while she works with all those elements, the “continuing thread is it’s all paper,” she says.

Huber chats in her studio on a recent Fourth Friday in front of a series called “From the Forest to the Sea.”

As an artist, Huber has accomplished a lot, like conducting workshops at Savannah College of Art and Design, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and others. Plus, she’s shown work in places around the world like Brazil and Switzerland. Since arriving in Wilmington from California in 1987, she’s been associated with DREAMS of Wilmington as a teaching artist, the Cameron Art Museum, No Boundaries International Art Colony (NBIAC) and others. Huber also had a studio in Surf City and worked in Wilmington’s film community as a prop maker.

As you can see, she’s been busy. And the petite redhead wouldn’t have it any other way. “My brother and I have conversations about boredom, about the, ‘gee, I don’t have anything to do today,’ that never seems to be a part of our lives,” she says. “My work ethic has made life in Wilmington full as well as fulfilling.”

Find Huber’s work in Wilmington at Acme, Wilmington Children’s Museum and Randall Library at UNC Wilmington, to name a few. She’s always in rotation at New Elements Gallery as well, as she’s represented by the gallery. So you can usually find her there on Fourth Friday.

It’s hard to keep up with Huber because she’s busy creating and has so much going on. Her energy is contagious and noticeably missing when she leaves your presence.

Kind of like when the circus leaves town.


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