Aimee Empey is a fine artist and owner of Paper, Gowns, & Glory in Charlestown, Massachusetts. She specializes in creating customized cake toppers and special occasion sculptures out of paper. After viewing photos of Aimee’s amazingly detailed paper brides, grooms, and floral arrangements on her website, we reached out to her for an interview to learn more. Aimee was kind enough to take the time to discuss her astounding designs, as well as the history behind Paper, Gowns, and Glory.
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A transcription of the interview is provided below.
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Aimee, please begin by telling me about yourself and your creative background.
I started, you know, as a kid drawing. The only thing I ever wanted to do was be an artist; I’ve done it since I was five, and I went to study at the Art Institute and Mass College of Art here in Boston. I have a fine arts sculpture background. I spent some time teaching K-8 art in South Boston, and I would primarily consider myself just a fine artist. This company that I started was sort of a means to an end, and when it started out, I didn’t expect it to take the form it has now. I am still doing my own mixed media and textile painting, so this kind of all came as a surprise to me, but I’m loving it, and it’s interesting, and I really enjoy the business aspect of it. Learning how to take that shape and run with it as an artist is really fun.
You used to teach? You don’t still teach do you?
No, I don’t teach anymore; every once in a while, if there’s an opportunity that comes around. Last Spring, my studio group received a grant so I taught a couple classes to kids in Charlestown. It was an afternoon workshop on the weekends for part of the Spring, and that was a really fun experience. So through the grant we were able to offer the class to the families for free. You know the studio was paid for, the teaching fees, and all of the supplies, which is great. So if those types of opportunities come about, you know, I’ll get on board, but I don’t each nine to five anymore, or you know, eight to three.
So art is your primary profession at this stage.
Yes, this is my only business and career.
Ok, will you tell me a bit about Paper, Gowns, and Glory; how it got started; and what you offer?
Yeah, I had a friend – actually a family member – get married a little over a year ago, and they asked if I could do something special for them for a cake topper. I have always worked with paper, in all of my mixed media work. I’ve done a lot of work for Children’s Hospital, and do a lot of cut paper for those pieces, so I said, “do you mind if it’s made in paper?” and I said “send me a picture of your dress and we’ll just go from there.” The first one I made is on the website, and it’s a picture of my cousin Jen who got married in Hawaii. It was really simple. She had a J Crew dress, and I kind of just went for it, and once I showed everybody they were like “You need to make this into a business!” So, I started making samples and going from there and offering them gratis for a few months to people who I knew were getting married just so I could get the word out. Once I got engaged this past fall, I started making flowers for my own wedding in preparation and thought that it would be a great idea for other people, making arrangements. I did a couple events that I made arrangements for, and then it really started to take shape last Fall with the floral department and now, it’s more of a streamlined tiny machine.
So this is all fairly new for you?
Oh yeah! I mean, this all developed in the past year. (oh, wow!) Yeah, I haven’t been doing this type of paper design, where it’s very focused on events, and the wedding industry in particular. I’ve been primarily a fine artist working with paper in other forms.
Now, is each sculpture custom made for the client, or do you have a pre-made selection that people can choose from?
They’re absolutely custom made. I think that’s, you know, the real draw to them, is that they reflect such a personal vision. It’s very much about the dress; it’s about her hairstyle, even down to the silhouette of your face; you know, the height difference between you and your groom; his shoulder width; how the proportions of the body are. It’s the tiny little anatomically correct fine art sculpture.
They’re amazing! I can’t even believe you make them out of paper. (Thank you!) When I saw the photo, I was like, “oh my gosh!”
Yup, they are a lot of fun to do, and like I said, my background being in sculpture, I has the best time in these anatomy sculpture classes making, you know, heads out of clay with live models, and that was sort of always what I found – for whatever reason – I really understood and was able to replicate and excel at. Some kids were really great at the graphic design aspect. Some kids were drawn towards illustration. For some reason, just a 3D sculptural element was very natural for me, and its kind of stayed and always been that way.
Will you tell me briefly about the process of making one of these?
I use all different papers but they start with basically a paper skeleton structure. You know I am always concerned with the integrity of the piece and the engineering behind it, so that you can pock them up and they are very sturdy. They’re actually fairly heavy for paper. So I always start with a base like the frame of a house, you know, that you can then build off of. So usually the inner pieces are heavier paper – a Bristol board, or some form of hearty stock paper. Then the outer elements are built around that and they are selected by – you know it’s the material that best repeats the real fabric that’s used on the dress. So, some paper is too brittle for certain elements; some paper is too thin and delicate, so it’s a lot of trial runs and investigations, and ripping it apart, and starting over again, and really trying to figure out visually what works the best. When you’re trying to match something that’s very special and very real to a person, which is a gown, it takes quite a bit of trail and error to get that. But I’ve now done enough of them to know that this paper is the best for making lace; this paper is the best for doing pleats; or, you know, making it look like there’s ruching on a dress, or there’s little buttons down the back. So now I have an arsenal of information that I figured out and it’s a lot easier for me to produce them in a more timely manner to get them out to the clients. When I first started it would take me an entire week, and now, I’ve got it down a little bit less than that.
I’m curious about your flower arrangements. Have you ever had a client use paper flowers for their entire wedding, or are they more for decorative purposes?
No, no, I have entire weddings that are going out including the bridal party flowers, the centerpieces. I’ve had just elements of them used in different events. You know the nice thing is that I’ve had brides who will gift them you know, maybe all of the women in their family, or to certain people as keepsakes to take home because they are never going to die, and you can take the out of their containers and rearrange them however you like – in smaller bud vases, or putting some in the dining room, and some in the living room. They are not stuck in any sort of material that is going to hurt them so they’re reusable forever.
From the pictures I’ve seen, they’re very nice; very life like.
Yeah, thanks. It’s a, it’s a good time at the studio. Put it this way, I always have fun going there and getting to do just the work. It’s really a fun and rewarding – you know, it sounds kind of cliché, but. . .
No, no, not at all. It’s something that you love to do, and you get to do it every day. Now I read that you do some children’s room decor. Will you tell me more about this?
I’ve done a handful of children’s rooms all over the Eastern Massachusetts area, and like with everything, before the economy went there was certainly a lot more call for that. It is, you know, not something that people go out and seek every day but, I still do that. It’s more for friends and people who know that I do that and find me. It’s not something I advertise on my site, but it’s definitely something that I love to do. It leave a lot of room for play and interpretation, and really creating fantasy, and depending on boys or girls, or what they’re into – whether it’s sports, or fairies, it’s a great way to express the 3D elements. I use a lot of paper construction, actually, in the rooms that I do for kids.
And you mentioned you created a piece for the Children’s Hospital?
I did a large instillation in their refurbished emergency room, and that opened in 2008, 2009. It’s a fifteen foot by five foot instillation into the wall, and it’s a mixed media collage of the city of Boston. So it goes all the way from Charlestown, through the city, and it leads out past the gas tower with the rainbow on it, and heads down to the Cape and Islands. It’s a pretty big piece. It took me three months, but it’s my favorite and largest work to date. Then they also had commissioned me over the years to do several other pieces, not quite that large, but they’re in Children’s Hospital Waltham, Peabody, and Boston.
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LCI would like to thank Aimee Empey for taking the time to discuss Paper, Gowns, & Glory. If you’d like to provide feedback on this interview, post a comment. If you enjoyed this interview and would like to hear more audio interviews, subscribe to the LCI Paper Podcast in the iTunes music store.