Fantastic Plastic

  • Visit North Central

“Just one word: Plastics.”

That iconic line from the 1967 movie The Graduate struck many audiences as wildly funny … but the advice proved to be prophetic — especially here in Johnny Appleseed Country. Leominster, with its scores of plastics-related companies, gained a reputation as the plastics capital of the world.

It’s been said that many of the household and technology items we take for granted today simply wouldn’t exist without the advent of the lightweight, easily molded, sturdy material.

And while the heyday of major plastics employers has faded, the industry is still firmly rooted here — not just in Leominster, but throughout the region, serving niches from medical devices to fashion.

jaleo for web

So a celebration of that material came as a natural to the curators at the Fitchburg Art Museum. “Plastics Imagination,” featuring 10 contemporary artists, is designed to do just that: celebrate the industry that is so integrated into our society at large and the livelihoods of local residents.

The exhibition, which will fill the upstairs galleries of the museum from September 25 through January 15, encompasses works in three basic categories, says museum director Nick Capasso.  The first is plastics as a raw material — foam, urethane, Plexiglas — used to create works that could not be created with other materials.

And then there are works created from plastic consumer materials, like plastic fencing and zip-ties.

Coming full circle, there are “post-consumer” creations — works that artists have crafted from, as Capasso puts it, “plastic junk” like discarded and outgrown toys.

Super Stuff

Plastic, he notes, has many characteristics that make it fantastically unique. The multi-purpose material can be luminous, colorful, lightweight, strong, durable, practical, playful, affordable, and aerodynamic. It can conjure associations with industrial accomplishment, foment feelings of nostalgia, and trigger very real fears about consumption and waste.

Plastic Imagination explores the work of 10 contemporary New England artists who create extraordinary things with all kinds of plastics — finding inspiration in the fillers, films and moldable plastics made popular throughout the last century. Some shave, sand, sculpt, and paint different densities of foam. Some play up the translucent or opaque qualities of Plexi or Fiberglass, and some recycle plastic toys, treasures, and trash. Some present readily accessible, everyday plastics as strictly formal studies, while others crave the layers of meaning (social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic) that result from a focus on this ubiquitous and arguably indispensable material.

fucigna-negative-drip-blue green

Back to the Future

In developing the exhibition of works by contemporary artists, the museum has not forgotten one of the best-known plastic sculptures of our time: the pink flamingo. Love them or hate them, you’ve seen these iconic birds everywhere. But did you know they were created right here in Leominster, by plastics product designer Don Featherstone? And did you know they’re still being made in Fitchburg? And sold at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center?

“The pink flamingo,” Capasso notes, “is part of pop culture.” So don’t be surprised if you see a whole flock of them in the museum courtyard — and other locations throughout the region — during the run of the Plastics Imagination exhibition.

The plastics show is the first of several local industry-related exhibitions the museum has in store. Upcoming shows in the series will also focus on industries that put local communities on the map: Furniture and paper.

Stay tuned. And think plastics.