We had the good fortune of connecting with Page Turner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Page, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
I love this question, immediately it transports me through my memories in search of that moment of joy – that indescribable feeling of happiness, the warmth of the perfect sunbeam. When I look at these moments of happiness, there is always something in my hands. I grew up in the rural hills of the Appalachian Mountains, inside a community of devout Mormons who have lived in the same hollow for generations. Self-reliance prized, craft encouraged, and critical thinking cultivated. We also helped each other – “many hands make short work”. My youth was surrounded by a loving community that was eager to teach me anything I was willing to learn. I spent my days working on my families homestead and running the deer trails throughout the hollow, stopping in on the elder Sisters to offer help with their chores. It was during these visits that I’d jump right into whatever they were doing. While snapping bushels of beans, I learned about these women and how to can beans. I never thought of it as work, I was going to go play with my friends. We’d get busy in our own personal rhythm. I’d get mesmerized by each woman’s personal style- the way she snapped beans. Snapping beans and talking just as fast as your hands are moving.
These women taught me how to mend, pattern clothing, sew by hand, different textiles, and processing raw material into workable goods. These hand skills inform my work today. The way these women always had something in their hands, something they were working on. When my hands moved all on their own -snapping beans, my mind could wander. This is where I always find my best thoughts, my personal revelations and understanding. When I really think about it, my true happiness.
When I left to attend university in Idaho, I only took with me a few belongings. I had a full course load and worked a crummy job in telemarketing. I loved the academic challenge, and was happy to have a job – any job. I shared an apartment with 8 other girls, ate all my meals in a cafeteria, and for the first time had nothing to do with my hands – no beans to snap. I found the one place on campus (during the Idaho winter) that had plants growing. I was not in the Horticulture Department and I’d been run off by staff an embarrassingly amount of times, but still found myself wandering around. I watched an older lady tend the plants and greenhouse, her smile more radiant like that perfect sunbeam. We smiled at each other, and I walked in and picked up a rake and got to work. I felt the pressures of being 18 and alone leave my body. I had found a sister who would let me help and busy my hands. I recognized then, that working my hands is pretty key to my happiness. It is while snapping beans, that I can easily walk around in my creative brain -and play with audacity.
I employ the same practice in my studio. I live in the same hollow I grew up, I walk the same deer trails, collecting and foraging. Carrying baskets full of treasures back to my workbench. Playing with my collections and materials, and walking through the discovery process. Recently, I found some good clumps of wool snagged along the fence, enough to do something with. I brought it back to my studio and found a box for it. For the next few weeks, I engage with my collections by playing with my stuff: rearranging things, grouping like objects, taking things apart, sewing things up, rolling things around in my hands, drawing on bones or persimmon caps, spinning wool with a drop spindle, doing things for no reason. Time continues and I’ve played in my studio for countless hours making things and letting my mind completely go anywhere it wants. The physical action of my busy hands -just making- grounds my creative process. Working the wool with my hands and a spindle, I processed a pile of cords. These bits all become my sculpture materials, growing fat with more layers of my hand work. Playing and rearranging, I come across other bits and work those into tiny baskets – piles of tiny woven woolen baskets grow on my workbench. At the same time in my studio play, I’ve been refining the pattern I use for my stitched figure’s legs – working to sew them as small as I can and still turn them right-side out. Using different parts of a family quilt, I sewed up a big pile of legs no longer than 5 inches – hip to toes. Stacking and shuffling my collection of piles, the sculptures kinda start to make themselves. My mind wanders often to thoughts about women’s rights and components of sisterhood, but mostly thoughts of the women I know. Snapping beans in my studio makes me happy.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I collect items of deep personal meaning to painstakingly create delicate objects that honor the feminine along with the desires, experiences and roles of women. My powerful assemblages include found objects such as fur, wood, shells, paper, and bone that firmly position my work culturally and geographically in the Appalachian region. I stitche these objects together with family heirlooms, antique fabric, and other personal objects, by hand, to create delicate sculptural pieces infused with a new feminist aesthetic and a soulful reverence for my heritage. Raised as a devout Mormon, my work is informed by both my Mormon heritage and a feminist perspective. I look to the religion and its complex history as inspiration, and explore the divide between righteousness within the faith and women’s personal power. With deep reverence, I pay homage to pioneer women of the Mormon faith, as well as the contemporary sisterhood and my Appalachian community’s pioneer sisters. Things seem to find me, personal objects or natural elements. I love to handle objects loved by someone else. I’m captivated by objects that seem to have been saved, extra special. These things are my sculpture materials. I work on many sculptures at the same time, some having nothing to do with the others, some planned or structured. I am very dedicated to my work and make many sacrifices to keep a simple life that allows me the time to work freely. I work as an Art Editor for a few publications and am able to supplement my income without the need to focus on selling my art. By removing the financial motivation, I am able to focus on making and exhibiting the work. I am able to build a body of work that is cohesive that communicates. I can take my time, build sculptures as they come to me, and fully explore my thoughts. This patience was rewarded recently, when I was included in Schiffer Publishing’s 50 Contemporary Women Artists: Groundbreaking Contemporary Art from 1960 to Now. In this book my work is seated along with Judy Chicago’s, Kara Walker’s, and Maya Lin’s. To me, this is worth more than gold.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My Shoutout first goes to my folks and my husband – for all support. Second, goes to the intersectional Mormon Feminist community of Exponent II, who have been sharing the voice of Mormon women since 1974 through a quarterly printed magazine. Exponent II Magazine was the first publication to feature my sculptures and my story in 2012. This feature introduced my work to a community or rather a sisterhood that spans the globe. Shortly after, the editorial staff asked me to work as the Art Editor for the magazine. At the time, I didn’t know any other Mormon women who were artists, but I jumped at the opportunity to find them and to share their work. I had never worked as an art editor, but had the encouragement and support of an entire community. I dug in and searched out artists, made lifelong friendships, and published over 24 issues over the last 6 years. Exponent II Magazine has a history of standing on the shoulders of strong women, so that more women can climb even higher.
JP McClung Sean Cuddy Luna Brett Zephren Turner Mary Rezny