News | October 22, 2023

New Paper Sculpture at Folger Pays Homage to its 16th and 17th Century Book Collection

Lloyd Wolf/Folger

A close-up view of artist Anke Neumann’s light sculpture Cloud of Imagination, commissioned by the Folger Shakespeare Library for its new east lobby stairs leading to the historic theater above.

When the Folger Theatre begins performances of The Winter’s Tale on November 4, ticket holders will be greeted by Anke Neumann’s ethereal and symbolic 15-foot-tall hanging sculpture, Cloud of Imagination.

Installed in August at the Folger Shakespeare Library, it connects the newly constructed east lobby to the historic theater lobby above. The work is one of three commissions by contemporary artists being integrated into the Folger’s expanded and renovated spaces, and the first to be fully activated for the public.

Cloud of Imagination is composed of 250 individual handmade paper components, each lit from within by optical fibers that trace the contours of the softly cascading forms. To create the paper components, Neumann made a flax-based paper that pays homage to what would have been used in many of the 16th and 17th century books in the Folger’s collection. Each bundle of optical fibers was layered between two sheets of wet paper and placed in small molds. The tension between the optical fibers and the paper, which shrunk as it dried, created the dimensionality of the components. Suspended together from the ceiling using a specially devised mount, the forms appear to float as if held together by magic.

Lloyd Wolf/Folger

The sculpture in the new east lobby stairs

“Anke’s art encapsulates our work and our mission in a poetic way that will resonate with everyone who enters our building. We wanted a work made of paper, given that it is a material of primary importance to the Folger, but we also wanted something that would create a sense of enlightenment and elevation. Those who encounter it experience its lift and illumination,” said Folger Director Michael Witmore.

This is Neumann’s first work in a U.S. cultural institution, and her collaboration with the Folger was set in motion while she was installing sculptures at hotel properties in the DC region. She is a former student and studio assistant of Gangolf Ulbricht, who specializes in handmade paper and book restoration. Ulbricht has collaborated with the Folger’s conservation laboratory on numerous occasions, and he recommended that Folger staff see Neumann’s work. For the commission, Neumann was asked to create a work that would support the Folger as it dynamically brings new perspectives to bear on Shakespeare and the early modern world.

“It is a powerful thing to have a contemporary artist pose questions about Shakespeare and the early modern world from a different angle. With each artist commission in our reimagined building, we have the opportunity to restate the value of Shakespeare and the humanities,” Witmore said.