Friday, November 9, 2012

The Paper Performance of Elizabeth Lyska

"The Life of the Giantess", a new exhibit rendered entirely of paper by Seattle artist Patty Grazini opens on Saturday at the Curtis Steiner gallery in Ballard. Fascinated by the true story of the 7'2" tall Elizabeth Lyska (1877-1896), Patty chose to document Lyska's brief but illustrious career by rendering it entirely of paper. Her research led her to late 19th century news reports of Elizabeth's appearances on the European stage where she became an instant celebrity for her unusual proportions. After the death of Elizabeth's peasant father when she was eleven, she became the muse of a promoter who arranged tours across Europe in order for her to support her near penniless mother and four siblings at home. Wherever she toured, she became a sensation and was loved not only for her phenomenal height, but for her beauty as well. Although she received the attentions of scientists, suitors, scholars and fans over the years, she died quietly at home away from the limelight at the youthful age of 19.      

Artist Patty Grazini standing next to her paper sculpture of the seven foot tall Elizabeth Lyska all dressed in cossack costume.

Because of the meticulous detail and the narrative themes which she so nicely weaves into her work, Patty Grazini's paper sculptures are a sight to behold. Working on a seven foot tall subject was a stretch however, as she admitted she prefers working quite small. She researches every detail, and she tries her best to accurately portray period costume and dress all of paper. Elizabeth was by far her biggest challenge with all of her seamless yards of paper and large hands and feet. Patty also portrayed her younger sister who was of normal height. The rest of her paper artworks in the show are smaller keepsakes, toys, and personal affects that may have belonged to Elizabeth Lyska, but this is for the viewer to determine.     

Above and below: Elizabeth's ribbons, jewelry and medallions all of paper.



Elizabeth continued to get top billing throughout her brief career. An original playbill from the South London Palace. From the British Library Evanion Collection via The Tallest Man.

Small works belonging to Elizabeth Lyska

Each of the works below range in size of approximately 8 to 15" in height with exception to the bouquet of roses which is nearly 30" tall. With remarkable detail each artwork is created entirely of paper, including a sewing needle and thread, and much of it consists of old paper she has collected. Every artwork in the exhibit is accompanied by a colorful short story and description written by Grazini's son, Tynan Kogane. The photos here are taken by Michael Stearns and myself. 

An automaton belonging to Elizabeth. Inside is a music box which plays Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". 

The Elizabeth perfume, said to be named after her. 

Elizabeth's custom made sewing kit. A gift from a French contortionist. 


Prince Ivan's horse was said to be a favorite toy of Lyska's.


The toy poodle was another gift from a painter. Here Patty assembles the enclosed hoop to demonstrate how the performing poodle is assembled. 


The front of the toy poodle's carrier. 

A gift of an engagement ring and key presented to her by a Viennese suitor who fell madly in love with her. Below is the actual ring.  

A ceremonial "name-day cake" and large fork presented to her by some Russian emigres. Below is a small table, on which sits a number of keepsakes belonging to Elizabeth. The locket with photos are said to be her parents. Truth be known, they are actually photos of Grazini's great great grandparents from the Ukraine.   

Acorn detail of a metal container of smelling salts belonging to Lyska. 


The long-stemmed Lyska Rose, so named after Elizabeth Lyska because it was said "to stand without support". As a side note; Patty received her most prized validation of authenticity when she discovered a very disappointed bee take notice of her new bouquet of roses. Below is the mourning photo of Elizabeth who died in 1896 most likely from heart failure. In every photo ever taken of her, she was always posing with someone else for scale.   
There are exceptions when I stray from the nature of typographic works, books and design here on Letterology and they usually have to do with paper (or presidential elections). In full disclosure, I designed the announcement for Patty Grazini's exhibit featured at the top of this post. After writing about her work in the past, we finally had an opportunity to meet one another months later and have happily become very good friends. Originally we envisioned the announcement to be an actual ticket to one of Elizabeth's stage performances, but the line between reality and fiction was so blurred, we abandoned this idea.
     To read and see more of Patty's imaginative paper sculptures, find my earlier posts here and here. Each of the artworks seen here and many others are available for sale from Curtis Steiner.  

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