Artist's Tiny Sculptures Bring Back Big Memories

01/17/2018 11:25 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2018

Using materials that most people would throw away, Philadelphia artist Lydia Ricci creates miniature sculptures that are nostalgic wonders.

The impressive pieces are featured on her website, From Scraps.

For any child of the ‘70s/’80s, Lydia’s work is like a walk...or maybe a lap around the roller rink...through childhood/teendom. I spoke with her about how she got started, her inspiration, and what it’s like to work on something as massive as a cigarette machine that you hold in the palm of your hand.

I’m always going through my pockets/my kids laundry and throwing away little bits and pieces from the day/week…I imagine you hold on to a lot of that stuff? Where do your supplies come from?

For over 30 years I have collected everyday ”artifacts” old office supplies (I LOVE STAPLERS) flashcards, all sizes of boxes/packaging, string, instructional manuals, the free items at the end of the yard sale. I love vacuum cleaners and vacuum cleaner bags.

What is your work space like?

It is a disaster when I am working on a piece. A disaster. I clean up between each sculpture but in the interim it is a crazy mess. All of the scraps that I use are in piles, boxes and stacks along one side of the room.

I can be working on a tiny sculpture and drop it and actually lose it! That happens a lot. This thing I have been working on for hours/days, it rolls off the desk into the chaos of the floor an I cannot find it anywhere since it kinda blends in. Once I do I kinda clear away a “safe zone” and continue on.

What sparks creating a piece?

It is an everyday moment that collides with a memory from the past. I was about to go to bed with soaking wet hair and remembered how “dangerous” I was told this was. That memory sparked the inspiration for my hairdryer.

I was out with a couple of girlfriends that smoke maaaaybe three times a year and feel so guilty about it. I was brought back to the hours of playing with the cigarette machine. Buying a pack for my mom when we were out to dinner and then just pushing and pulling the levers in and out until our food was ready.

It was the night before my birthday last year and I was thinking about some of my best birthday gifts ever and I remembered unwrapping my boom box. I then stayed up all night to make that piece.

It makes me nostalgic just seeing some of the materials you use do they offer inspiration?

Oh yes, out of circulation library cards, dictionaries, flash cards, manuals, old birthday cards, records, cassette tapes everything is up for grabs. Lately I have located all of my families taxes and records.

I try not to make any of the scraps that are used TOO obvious in the piece. I don’t want them to distract too much. It is more for me to know. But it is very deliberate what scraps get used to create each piece. I cant’t exactly articulate what makes a material work but many times this is the most labor intensive part…the search.

Your sculptures can capture a specific memories. For instance the film projector sends me screaming back to 6th grade, having a substitute teacher in class. When I see the roller skate I hear “Open Arms” by Journey and think of couple’s skate. And the boom box makes me think of my boyfriend break-dancing on a piece of cardboard. Are you a nostalgic person? You gotta be, right?

I feel like objects are what help me capture certain memories. And since I have begun this process I realize how many more tangible objects I used to have in my life. The staplers, calculators, rotary phones, cash register, big fat TV, that movie projector. I have the same stapler my parents used in the ‘80s. We go through objects more quickly now and maybe do not have the time to form as strong a connection with them. So maybe I am nostalgic or maybe my most meaningful relationships with objects were just just formed a while ago?

Working on things that are so small is impressive. How do you focus? Have you always been obsessed with tiny things?

Once I begin working it does become a bit of a trance. The small-ness makes it so that I am not distracted by getting up and moving around too much. Typically I hate to sit, but this process is an exception. I do not want to stop until it is completed.

I’m not sure I have been obsessed with tiny things. But there is something satisfying about creating a refrigerator or a pinball or cigarette machine that you can hold. You can have more of an intimate connection with it. You start to daydream about it and the time you spent with it in a way you might not have.

What’s next for you/From Scraps?

I’ve been experimenting a lot with putting them in motion. I’m finding they are capturing people’s attention a bit more and it is giving me more tools to tell “a story”. I would like to continue to work this way and create longer videos. I’ll keep posting them on Instagram to see what is working. I have started working on a book but that will take some time. Some of the pieces will be in some shows this Spring (at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art and The Indianapolis Art Center) and there are journals available wherever you buy books.

You can see more of Lydia’s work From Scraps here and follow her on Instagram here.

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