Artist Challenges Public To Puzzle Over Her Creations

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When people look at Pam Webb's work this weekend at the Payson Art League's Spring 2001 Show and Sale, a typical reaction might be, "What a puzzle."

No, the Payson resident is not one of those contemporary artists whose work leaves you totally perplexed. Her art is literally made out of puzzles.

An ex-salesperson who has only been practicing her craft since September, Webb was inspired by her brother-in-law, a mixed-medium artist from Prescott who also does "collage-type" work. "I've always enjoyed photography, and have found a way to combine that love with my enjoyment of doing jigsaw puzzles to create fine artwork," Webb said.

Beginning with a simple theme, Webb tries to find a jigsaw puzzle that has something in common with it and then enhances the effect with items she finds at yard sales, swap meets and antique stores.

"These items might be wood, metal, plastic, stone or fabric," she said. "I often utilize pictures I have taken, or those that I find in old magazines and books and newspapers. I blend all those items together to produce the finished product."

Among her many works are pieces created around Halloween, cowboys, trains, aircraft and board games, and each incorporates at least part of one puzzle.

"How much of the puzzle I use depends on the piece I'm working with," she said.

Panoramic blow-ups of Webb's photographs are usually included in her artwork, along with actual items and elements that help develop the theme. The train piece, for example, features real electric train tracks, the cowboy work has an actual horseshoe, while a work with a kitchen theme incorporates antique kitchen utensils like a cherry pitter and a can opener.

The board game work is one of Webb's more complex pieces. It includes real Monopoly, Scrabble and other game boards, as well as checkers, Scrabble tiles, Monopoly money and other game pieces and items.

"I have a junkyard of pieces and components, but I also go out and look for what I specifically need," she said. "Then when I get all the elements together, I sit and look at them and move things around, and it just seems to come together."

Webb often spends 10-12 hours a day at her labor of love, with her smaller pieces taking about a week to complete. "It really is a time-consuming process," she said.

While she is not trying to convey any esoteric message like "life is a puzzle," there is definitely a creative element to her work.

"It's all in the blending taking all the different elements and bringing them together as one," she said.

In addition to the themed pieces one can see at the PAL show, Webb also does commissioned pieces where people provide the theme and a lot of the memorabilia. "One, for example, was for a girlfriend who wanted a work done to commemorate her wedding anniversary," she said.

The finished piece incorporated a diverse range of elements, including the original wedding invitation, photos of the subjects' house and children, as well as items that represent their hobbies and interests.

In fact, the only thing that's a given in Webb's work are the puzzles.

"Being from Michigan, I have a love of puzzles," she said. "In the wintertime when the snow would get so deep, there wasn't much else to do but put puzzles together."

Joining Webb at the PAL show, which runs May 4 through May 6 at the Tonto Apache Activity Center, will be some 40 other artists. The show opens Friday at 7 p.m. with a special two-hour reception. Admission to the opening reception, which features music and refreshments while offering first pick of the artists' work, is $5.

There is no admission charge on Saturday and Sunday when the show is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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