THE mail arrives in droves every day — magazines, catalogs, bills to pay, worthy organizations soliciting your hard-earned bucks and cheesy outfits trying to sell you crap you’d happily call 1-800-GOT-JUNK to dispose of.

   Even newspapers, both those we subscribe to and those we don’t, fill the metal box out at the curb day by day. With the advent of recycling buckets, much of that mountain of multi-hued paper never makes it into the house. But in the hands of artist Eva Mantell, the mail is a gift; it becomes her paint, her canvas, her brush, her stone.

   The first thing you notice when you enter her home/studio is the cloak hanging from the stairs. It is made from cutout glassine windows from envelopes — you know, the little transparent oval where the address shows through from bills and other notices — that have been stitched and glued together.

   Although it looks rather large for the slender artist, she wore it in a performance piece, “The Dance of Direct Mail,” at New York’s La Mama ETC back in 1993.

   Ms. Mantell, who grew up in Princeton and was a student at Princeton Day School, created visual effects for performance art when she lived in New York City. Since moving back to Princeton with her husband and two children, she has been teaching at the Arts Council of Princeton, where she also runs the DepARTures program, leading bus trips to such art meccas as Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the Chelsea area of Manhattan; and Philadelphia. In a booth sponsored by Princeton Junior School, she will lead art activities using recycled materials at Communiversity.

   Ms. Mantell’s living room looks like the setting for a photo shoot for a feminist fashion designer. There is an umbrella, set up on a tripod with a photo light, made from the foil disks that top takeout food — that was used in an installation, “Ombrella, Ombrella.”

   On the wall is a garment, made from sewn paper printed with rabbits, for a woman with four breasts. “I made it when I was pregnant,” she says. “It’s called ‘The Fertility Top.’ It was part of an exhibit on ‘Strange Ways to be a Woman.’”

   With an artist who works with recycled materials, anything is fair game. She completely covered her husband’s running shoes with almonds, but she didn’t stop there — she encased one of her rejection letters in peanuts. “It’s like in Greek mythology, when there’s a chase, and someone turns into a tree,” she says. “I’m trying to push nature into the manmade experience. When you put things together, they become more than the sum of the parts.”

   Garments aside, there’s a cut-out theme that runs through Ms. Mantell’s artwork. Recycled magazine papers and coffee cups are transformed into lacy, frothy dancing works of art, thanks to the use of her scissors. “It comes from being interested in light and shadow, and when you cut you let light through and allow the pattern to enliven the piece,” she says, holding up a bobbin around which her cutouts are scrolled. “It comes from Indonesian shadow theater — last year I did a video, ‘Balleto Stiletto,’ with choreography, original music and shadow puppets — and it’s a simple idea of using light and dark to energize a surface.”

   There’s a red magazine rack from a New York City kiosk that has been filled with her magazine cutouts. Imagine waiting around for your dentist and having that to read.

   Ms. Mantell coordinates the Arts Exchange program for children in HomeFront, a program that offers a hot meal and art class for ages 5 through 18. She teaches elementary school students at Redding Circle, book arts to adults, and at an after-school program at PDS.

   ”There are kids who have disadvantages and need artwork to be in control, to make decisions about something that’s totally theirs,” says Ms. Mantell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in fine art from the School of Visual Arts in New York.

   ”As an art teacher I always say to students, ‘Use your mistakes. They can be more interesting than what you were trying so hard to control,’” Ms. Mantell says in her artist statement. “Isamu Noguchi said it better… ‘Mistakes are God tapping you on the shoulder. Listen!’ Step aside and let materials behave as they will under certain conditions — that’s a pattern — but our perception of this and our participation in it, that’s a story.”

Eva Mantell will lead art activities using recycled materials at the Stage on the Green stage, Palmer Square, Princeton, April 26, noon-5 p.m.


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