Introduction by Linda Hoffman Kimball, Segullah Art Director:
It was my great delight to interview assemblage artist Page Turner, our featured artist for this quarter. Her piece “A Proxy for Hope” won the 2021 Segullah 1st Place Award for Visual Arts. Page’s work is unique and tangible – sort of. It is both mysterious and literally down to earth.
I wrestled with a way to ask questions that would reveal Page Turner’s unique aesthetic and her embraceable personality. There is something about her soul and her worldview that is without temporal boundaries, that is like a hug that expands rather than compresses you. She is an Appalachian earth mother who knows more than most about wild mushrooms. She is a kind of celestial cowgirl who lassos images of other worlds, presents them for us mortals, and invites us to explore along with her. And then, with a puff, the images may be dismantled, as ephemeral as holy dreams.
Interviewing her in any traditional format seemed too rigid.
What to do?
I decided to provide her with short, impulsive prompts (in bold) that might elicit Rorschach-esque responses. From young love at Chuck E. Cheese to musings on the communal nature of women’s blessings, Page provides rich and wise delights!
Page Turner responds:
May, 1981: I am the youngest of 5, I have 3 brothers and 1 sister. I grew up in rural Roanoke, Virginia deep in the hollow surrounded by a tight-knit Mormon community made up of mostly 5/7 families. This cluster of cousins converted the hollow and baptized entire families after two missionaries arrived in the late 1890’s. I was among the last to grow up with the wisdom and love of the older generation who knew the lineage, the land, and understood the seasons. My parents were newly married (and from vastly different backgrounds – Mom grew up Lutheran outside of Charleston, SC, & Dad grew up Catholic/Jewish in Chicago) and found the Mormon families of Roanoke welcoming of this odd couple.
Soon after, my folks were baptized and were sold a good parcel of land among the families in the hollow where they built a small home and added 4 more children.
Here I knew all the families and knew the land from deer trails and tractor paths that connected the hollow. The crooks of the creek are landmarks, spring houses and canning sheds abandoned but still standing. I spent time with sisters who had lived their entire 80+ years here on the mountain, who knew things. Often retelling the same story from their own perspective, making sure I knew the history of the mountain and its promised blessings.
I was told of how Papa Ferguson corresponded with an Apostle about his willingness to sell his mountain and pack up the family and move West to Utah; about how he was instructed to stay and build Zion here on the mountain; that his dozen daughters would all marry in the temple and create generations born under the covenant.
These sisters became my royal lineage, even though I was not a blood relative. I learned about their uniqueness and strength from their granddaughters – who were like my grandmothers. I was taught to be a good sister by these women, how we treat each other, how to be compassionate in times of need, and especially how to conduct yourself with integrity. These lessons were given while we put up tomatoes or sewed up holes in clothes. Rolling out pie crust was an opportunity to tell me about how Annie always uses the back of a fork carried back from the war, and that’s why her pies look beautiful. It’s almost as if these sisters felt compelled to ensure that I was taught the history and the lives of the sisters they were so proud to be from.
Here is a short video I made a few years ago about how my Mormon heritage informs my sculpture work.
Family/ties that bind/significant kin: My family is a patchwork quilt of ethnicities and heritages. We are a dynamic bunch. My grandparents on my mother’s side both grew up and lived in the same county in South Carolina nearly 100 years, their line goes back even further to the Revolutionary and the Confederate war. Generations attended the same Lutheran chapel. Roads bear family names. My grandparents on my father’s side are both first generation Americans and immigrants from Italy and Russia (both running from persecution and illegally immigrated). Grandparents from different walks of life, each an example of the pursuit of happiness and following your passions.
My paternal grandfather was a costume designer in Chicago. A good friend of Hugh Hefner, Uncle Harry designed the prototype of the Playboy Bunny costume for the Playboy’s gentlemen’s club. He designed costumes for many entertainers, burlesque dancers, magicians, and performers. He passed away before he was 35, but I like to think we have a connection. While making the patterns for the different figures in my series, A Stitch in Time Saves Nine, I often thought of him. This work is a collection of totems of the women who shaped me, and laid a foundation of skills that today inform my sculptures and creative practice.
While I am mostly self-taught, I was blessed to be able to spend time when I was 10 with my sister-in-law Heather who had recently studied fibers and fashion design at Ricks College (as it was then called). I knew how to use my sewing machine, but not how the machine worked. She explained the nomenclature and taught me basic machine repair. She helped me to understand patterns and how to alter them to fit me.
Heather spent time teaching me about different types of fabrics and their characteristics. I had the time and attention of a sister who had devoted years of education learning the techniques of the tradition. I remember struggling with a hem, and without hesitation she ripped out the entire line of stitching, re-positioned the pins and ran it through the machine at lighting speed. I witnessed her comfort with the material, the wisdom of many past mistakes and the audacity to rip out beloved stitches and do them again. I find Heather’s voice in my head, even today, telling me, “pin that curve with more pins than you think it will hold” and the warning not to hold needles in your mouth (imagine holding a pin in your lips and sneezing…). I learned so much from watching her handle a bolt of fabric, tug at the weave, pull at the fibers, and hold it up to the light. She is brilliant, and her craftsmanship was an inspiration. I wanted to make things as well as she did. Today, she makes time for my questions or to help solve a problem, and she’s always got a bag of treasures she’s collected for me.
Satisfying Childhood memories: I could talk for days about my childhood, I’m truly lucky to have grown up in a supportive community where everyone knew me and my family. Folks who were eager to teach me anything I wanted to learn. My childhood was colored by wild adventure and an invisible to me – safety net. Maybe that comes from my siblings who watched out for me more than I know, and paved the way for me to be authentic and real.
Christmas when I was 5 was a big one, unwrapped under the tree was a boxed up Big Wheel. My brothers had real bikes and mine was certainly for babies. After the wrapping paper parade was over, I remember taking the box to each of my siblings asking for help assembling my Big Wheel and each of them being more interested in their own new toys. I was so frustrated by them, that I dragged the box out to the garage and used a screwdriver to put it all together. I proudly peddled all over the yard until the sun went down. At dinner my dad said something about how glad he was that one of my brothers put my bike together. They all offered that they did not do it, I piped in that it was me and my father did not believe me. Someone took it all apart and they all watched as I put it back together. I remember feeling how easy it was and that the parts and what needed to be done seemed really self explanatory.
Around the same age, I spent some time with my grandmother who visited for the summers. She taught me how to sew on buttons, and how to sew them differently for pants or coats. She taught me how to iron my dad’s Sunday shirts – to start with the collar. Mom had a mending pile of Dad’s shirts. I took her button jar and dumped it out on the floor and spent hours sorting them and deciding which were my favorites. I took my best pile and added them to all of Dad’s white church shirts, I used big metal military buttons and purple plastic domed buttons, and all the fabric covered buttons I could find. Okay, I’ll confess – I snipped the thread on a few buttons that didn’t need to be replaced so I could use all these magnificent buttons I had just discovered. Dad proudly wore those shirts to church without a tie, to show off my stitch work.
Mom’s button jar was the inspiration for lots of sewing projects. One pile was of the tiniest mother of pearl buttons, almost too small for my 5 year old hands to hold. I had an entire chapter on making doll clothes in a Childcraft book, pages filled with illustrated instructions. I knew where to find the prettiest floral fabric for my doll’s dress. I drew out my pattern on the top sheet I found in the linen closet. I cut out the dress pieces, sleeves and all from the middle of the bedsheet and I cut my rug in three places. I sewed up the dress and added the tiny buttons the dress was designed around. It fit my only real Barbie like it should and I was so proud. When I showed the doll in her new gown to my mom, she gasped, recognizing her linens. I recall her quickly getting over the shock when she saw what I had made. She complimented my dress and how I made it myself. Then we had a talk about how I need to get permission BEFORE I started cutting things up. She collected a pile of odds and ends that I was free to sew together anyway I wanted.
Fraught family memories: When hurricane Andrew hit Miami, my family packed up our home in Virginia and moved to rebuild my Dad’s family’s homestead. The destruction that I saw from the winds was eye opening. I heard so many survivor stories that year that it shaped my respect for the force of nature, how impermanent our housing can be. We went down together as a family and worked in physically challenging conditions. As a 12 year old, I was working on construction sites with families living in tents while they put the roof back on their homes. Neighborhoods growing stronger by helping each other. Our family walked together through hard times and came out stronger because of it.
Favorite youthful haunts: There was a bar, Belly of the Beast, on the outskirts of town that did not serve alcohol on Thursday nights so they could host slam poetry. Nikki Giovanni was a regular, shaking up the joint with her radical words. I wasn’t old enough to drive, but Zephren didn’t mind picking me up. Probably, because Mom always had something delicious on the stove and was known to feed all of us teenagers. I’d work all week on my poem, filling pages of handmade journals with all sorts of bits that I’d find. Anything from terrible teenage poetry wanderings of the universe to cicada wings taped in place, and SO many emotions. While I read my poems at the bar, my book would rain tiny pressed bits that I’d try to catch, making my voice crack and nerves rattle. One night, Nikki saw my struggle. She sat with me and slid one of my bits to me and told me not to worry about them, and to let them just fall.
Formal education and lessons I learned from enduring it: My approach to formal education was from a recognized position of privilege that poverty afforded me. I attended college during the Clinton years, when funding for school was plentiful to folks like me whose families were below the national poverty standards. My FASFA provided for my tuition/books and gave me enough left over to pay my bills. During the last two years of High School, I did dual enrollment at the community college (paid for by my FASFA) and graduated with most of my foundation classes completed. This freed me up to take classes that interested me, rather than a degree track. I did not let the pursuit of a degree dictate what I spent my time learning. I have stacks and stacks of credits that shaped my education and still no finished degree. What I learned from this experience was how to learn something completely new and the confidence to start at the novice level and make mistakes until I get better, to apply other skills to new things. I learned how to think critically and to constantly evaluate things and see growth.
My family members would have described me as ____________ when I was a:
Child – curious
Teenager – rebellious
Adult – creative
Unique talents I possess that impact my art: I’m not sure how unique it is, but I have always been able to easily access that “other” part of my brain. The creative track that is always a smolder can be coaxed into a flame. I do this through playing and removing all expectations of productivity. I’m usually thinking on a few different tracks at the same time and somehow doing this while I’m sorting my stuff and making associations and rearranging my things. Making bundles. My workbench becomes a true wonderland, filled with the evidence of this play. This activity is what births the real magic within my studio. I spend quite a bit of time walking the woods and doing a lot of thinking and listening. And, collecting – usually what is in abundance. I carry treasure back to the studio and in this time of play, I listen for what is to become.
I also have the ability to focus on tedious meticulous tasks. I love finding the rhythm of a task, losing myself in it. Again, this is a huge part of my play.
Unique talents I possess that DON’T really impact my art: what a fun question! “I’ve always depended on the kindness of a stranger”. In all seriousness, I’ve been blessed so many times by the kindness of a stranger that it’s almost a family joke.
When I want to curl up with a good book, I grab …. : My folks would take us to the public library and they’d let me get anything I wanted. My stack of books usually has a little bit of everything in it. My mom had to get the branch to make me a special library card that allowed me to check out ANY book I wanted – rather than just be restricted to the Juvenile section. I love books, all books! So this is a tough question. The books that I read now are what I’m obsessively learing about at the time. Right now, my stack looks mostly like field guides for mushrooms, weeds, and edible wild plants. Always in the strata of books are ones about the arts and wild dyes, and Mormon feminism and/or history, and of course, Exponent II Magazines.
I got in trouble once for: I’ve never been in trouble! 🙂 Nah, that’s not true. You know, I’ve been caught trespassing more than I care to admit, abandoned houses, restricted sections of libraries, old city buildings. If there is a sign about not entering, I’ve just gotta see what’s in there.
Three accomplishments I’ve been most proud of:
1 – Personal: When I moved back home after college, I was able to find a tiny apartment that I could afford all by myself. It did not have a kitchen, but it was all mine. I took this time to focus on living an authentic life and getting to know myself. I learned what my foundation is built from and I spent time looking inward. I was determined to be authentically me, whatever that meant. I learned to tell people “no” and to set boundaries. I worked hard to be authentic in my relationships and acquaintances – even when it meant disappointing someone I cared about. This work became effortless during these 5 years. I am proud of the time I devoted to myself and learning how to live with her.
2- Professional: This one should cover both 2 & 3. I am so PROUD to be included in the incredible groundbreaking book, 50 Contemporary Women Artists. Sharing space with the 49 other artists still feels like a dream. I never imagined my Mormon Feminist sculptures would be recognized next to Kara Walker and Judy Chicago and the rest.
About a decade ago, one of the editors walked into my downtown studio and saw my work. I had my studio open all day for an event and was packing up and he popped his head in asking if he could look around. I absolutely paid him no mind and offered him a look for as long as it takes me to pack up. He pressed his nose to the glass and gasped. He handed me his card, told me that he’s never seen anything like my work and that it makes him feel things. Said he was going to do something about it. He reached back to me a few years later about this collection, it took a lot of work for him to find a publisher who wanted to feature women artists and a few more years for the book to flesh out.
3 – Personal & Professional: I am so proud to work with Exponent II Magazine for the last 5 years as the Art Editor. And that I get to work with the new editorial team. I went from lost in the wilderness, to learning that there were women who live their faith authentically. I’ve loved learning our history and getting to know the special women in EX2. It is truly an honor to work with Mormon or Mormon-adjacent women artists and to share their voices with our sisters. I love that it’s my job to seek out and build relationships with our artists. Each quarter, it is pure delight to read the essays and poetry and find art that pairs or that is juxtaposition to the written. I’ve been supported and provided space to grow. I’m proud to be a part of publishing in print a beautiful collection of Mormon Women. I love to see the crossovers between Exponent II and Segullah and how our history is intertwined. The way both organizations are doing important work.
Love story/Zephren/making a real partnership work:
Aww!!! We have been in love for so long! We celebrated 16 year of being married this past May. We met in HS while we were both working at Chuck E. Cheeses hosting birthday parties. His girlfriend worked up front and their 2 year relationship lasted only a few weeks after I started working there. I was kinda dating a few boys from different schools. Zephren and I would team up on the birthday parties and we’d make sure the kids all had a great time – and split our tips. We got along and seemed to laugh together at all the gross clean up work. He left CEC to work on a film set with his dad and I didn’t think I’d ever see Zephren again. For the next years of HS and college, we’d run into each other in the strangest places. We’d spend time together and couldn’t seem to get enough. We both moved to different parts of the world for school and to work on other films. but we always managed to bump into each other and did not want to leave. After doing this for about a decade, Zephren asked me to marry him. It always felt right to be together.
When we married, Zephren had just graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design. I worked at a tiny non-profit building environmentally sustainable homes. I worked so he could focus and build a body of work. I had never considered myself to be an artist, but rather that I enjoyed doing things and being crafty. Zephren prepared large charcoal drawings and worked his sketches and concepts that we had discussed until the wee hours for months. He really made it look like fun, but I didn’t think I had anything to say or that anyone would want to hear it if I did say it. Zephren has this way of nudging without pressure. We devoted the largest room to his studio and when I’d come home from work we’d sit back there and talk about the work and about my day.
I had a couple of craft projects that I had carried to his studio – filling up one of his tables. I was making these strange collage pieces from scrapbook paper and other contemporary craft materials. We’d take walks in the woods (we moved to my family land) and I’d carry back bottles and bits from the old barns. My treasures filling the window sills of our home and the porch littered with the big heavy outside treasures.
During this time, Zephren encouraged me to set aside the scrapbook papers and to use my collections. I resisted, of course, these were my treasures. Zephren promised me that I could continue to collect if I would put the stuff to use. Deal! He also planted Joseph Cornell books on my workbench. We worked together building his portfolio and knocked on all the gallery doors. I worked to promote his work and exhibits, while Zephren was encouraging me to push my work. We participated in an Open Studio tour and opened our home to the public. Zephren insisted that I share my work, and I reluctantly agreed.
Folks really responded to our work and our studios. I booked a few shows from the event and sold most of the work I had made. This propelled my dedication to making art. I focused on the defining women in my life and created “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.” This work is predominantly about Mormon women, and Zephren continued to nudge me to share the work with Mormon Women, which led me to learn of Exponent II Magazine and Segullah.
We share our entire life together and work side by side. It’s a true blessing to share my life with someone who I can work with. We are both pretty smart on our own, but together we are brilliant.
Awakenings: Learning more about spiritual gifts has been a great awakening for me. Learning that my hands are capable of blessing others, even though I don’t have words, has opened my eyes to the fact that all spiritual gifts are unique. This makes me look at others differently, searching for a flicker of their gifts. I’m learning to love deeper through this search. I have had the honor of participating in women’s blessings, I have images and symbols that come to my mind, not words. For a while, I tried to force my brain to give me words and felt like it was a big fumble. I decided to let the images have their space and I’ve been exploring these gifts by creating visual blessings. When a dear friend would ask for prayers, I offered my visual blessing. As word got around, folks would contact me and request one for and on behalf of others. I started by spending time in play with a collection of treasured sculptural elements (bits that I’ve manipulated in some way. each object has my hand work) and holding space in my mind for the prayer request. I let the person fall from my mind and busy my hands with the elements until the composition settles. During the pandemic dozens of requests were made and blessings offered. I learned that the role of witness is heavy not to be taken lightly. The connections I felt even when separated physically are powerful and speak to the power of proxy.
I loved learning of Segullah’s 2021 call for art! The scripture about a perfect brightness of hope was just what I needed to hear – press forward with steadfastness! The pandemic was exhausting and at the same time, filled with awakening for me. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore it through my offering of a visual blessing. I love the sense of support this piece shares. I saw so many communities strengthen and grow through the pandemic shut down. I saw folks check in and take care of each other, helping to maintain the brightness of hope. Zephren and I were the recipients of so much grace, love and charity that the brightness of hope never flickered here on my mountain.
What is it about women? This is a wonderful question that caused me to pause and consider. I find women absolutely fascinating. I love to hear women’s stories, the ones they tell and the one’s they didn’t mean to tell. I think my work focuses on women and sisterhood because of the beauty I find captivating. Growing up in a community that spanned generations reveals to me the connectivity and strength of a sisterhood. I love the elements of material culture and especially women’s objects, because they are imbued with the residue of sisterhood. I think one of my gifts is a willingness to learn and hear a sister’s story. I love to learn from women – anything! I love to inquire about a recipe or fiber technique. It’s magical how the questions reveal so much more than expected. There are so many ways women communicate without the use of words, and I see now that I’m pretty focused in on that. For many years I spent time loving and learning what it means to be a woman in an attempt to learn my authenticity. This is a good question.
Skills I taught myself: I love to learn and especially anything that I can do with my hands. For most of my life, when I need something – I ask myself if I can make it. I have spent ten thousand hours making knots, all kinds of them. I love macrame and fibers of all sorts. I stole a macrame book from the library when I was 10 and taught myself how to do all the knots, even if it was just once. I obsessively macramed about anything I could get my hands on – plant hangers, jewelry, clothing, shoes, bags & totes. If you look in my work, you are likely to spot a bit of macrame, I just can’t stop.
Most important skills for being a well-functioning adult. For me, it is getting a good sleep/rest. It is easy for me to walk freely in the creative space of my brain; it’s not so easy to come out of it. I am learning ways to slowly back out of that space and decompress from the creative ride, to turn my brain off. When I am successful at this, I am better prepared to meet the next day.
If you want to make me miserable, do this: Keep on driving past that Estate Sale sign! or the Flea Market sign! or the Yard Sale sign!
If you want to make my heart sing, do this: show me a treasure, something you found.
The most practical thing about me is: The way I reuse scraps of scraps of scraps from scraps to make magical bits.
Why I do assemblage art – as opposed to or in addition to painting/printmaking/sculpture/drawing? This is a great question, one I hadn’t thought much about. From my early years of assembling my own Big Wheel to the many years spent working with my dad’s construction company, I learned how to build things and make things. This coupled with my obsession with material culture, assemblage is a natural fit. I really love STUFF! I love a good junk drawer, and am delighted to discover what is saved by someone. For me, personal objects carry through them something a bit deeper, an emotion or memory or feeling.
Another dimension. I am drawn to work with the object and its richness more than I am drawn to work in painting/drawing / traditional visual representation. I like to do some visual art, but I usually end up adding it to an assemblage. I speak in “stuff”.
How I juggle the practical aspects – marketing, outreach, teaching, etc. I drop balls all the time and beg for forgiveness. I set a few reasonable goals for a quarter and have those written down and check on them often. I am pretty casual about marketing and outreach. I spend more time making work. I like to show a series of work after it has been finished rather than let deadlines drive the work. I try not to book too many exhibits and events into a quarter – and it’s easy to over-book. I find the google calendar helpful with the tasks checklist. I also fill notebooks with gibberish. The act of writing it down is most helpful to me even if I don’t re-read the note.
My feelings about my LDS heritage: My parents were converts in the tiny ward made up of mostly kin, they were welcomed and have been in the same ward over 50 years. I grew up feeling very much part of a family who traced their Mormon heritage far back. I knew the family history of both my parents and of most of the ward. It was after I moved to Idaho to attend BYU that I saw the uniqueness of my community. A small community of families who had lived on the same mountain for generations, building relationships and helping each other. It holds a sense of pride in our heritage and a willingness to do things a little different. I never thought I had to be like anyone or that I had to see things in one way. Maybe because we all knew each other and knew each other’s stories? Things are different now, in my life-time the church’s culture has homogenized more, and I’m starting to forget what it used to look like.
How I think earth life is distinct from pre-earth and post-earth life: I love the idea that I am the same unique creature and that – just like any experience you walk through, you are the same creature and yet also changed uniquely by the experience. Those experiences weave and stack up in a person. If this continues without end, so would the change/growth. As an artist, I get to walk through this everyday. The sculptures that I make are unique to me and my perspective, they have remnants of my experiences, their residue is what connects them to each other- bundles them. Our bundles have strands that connect to other bundles of unique creatures with unique experiences. I like to think in the post-life, maybe we will get to see/know how connected we are, to be able to view the multidimensional knotted blanket of bundles.
Here is a video I created called “Sacredness of the Bundle”.
Major disconnects about life goals/traditions/expectations I have wrestled with –…And where I came out on them.
I explored much of the divide between righteousness within the faith and women’s personal power in my sculpture series, Power & Restraint: A Feminist Perspective on Mormon Sisterhood. In my attempt to reconcile my secular Feminism with my Mormon Feminism, I learned that my Mormonism deeply informed my secular feminist perspective. When I looked at the treatment of secular women compared to women within my faith community, the doctrine and the practice did not confirm each other. Women in the church were getting excommunicated for asking to practice with equality, while being told they are a more spiritual gender. I dug into the history and learned of the traditions of women’s blessings and of the autonomy of the Women’s Relief Society (and of its work/mission/financial autonomy). I learned of the erasure of women’s voices inside my faith community, as evidenced by my own ignorance of those voices. I knew 100 years of women from my hollow, but I didn’t know more than the names of a few women from my faith’s history. I knew the stories of secular feminists, I knew their voice and had seen them walk with their power. I set out to learn as much as I can about Mormon women. I found the Exponent II Magazine and organization and found a sisterhood that was foraged from the same fire I used to make the Power & Restraint sculptures. My Mormonism informs my feminism and I choose to be active within the Mormon community. Now that I have been entwined with Exponent II, Pilgrims retreats, Dialogue: a journal of Mormon Thought, and Segullah, I am beginning to see more of the strands that connect our bundles.
Artists I admire and why: I could talk about this until the cows come home. Here’s my short list:
Rachel Farmer – her ceramic work depicting her pioneer ancestors is soulful and perfect in every way. She works hard at her craft and the depth of communication with only bisque white figures is amazing. https://rachelfarmer.com/
Danielle Hatch – I love the way she dreams BIG. Her projects are multifaceted and often involve many collaborative elements and artists. The projects look seamless and obviously show good vision and direction. https://www.daniellehatch.com/
Megan Knobloch Geilman – I love her audacity to blend famous works with Mormon theology and symbols. The work is deep and rich, well thought out. https://meganknoblochgeilman.com/
In 40 years I imagine I will…: At 80, I’ll start being that little old lady in the woods that I’ve always dreamed of becoming. I imagine my collections would be bigger and maybe more rich. I imagine the home studio, the out building and the outside studios to have merged into one giant art mountain. Zephren and I are walking the deer trails, tending gardens, our mountain still being the gathering place.