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Week of July 11, 2011

Staff Spotlight

Library conservator featured artist for Ann Arbor Street Art Fair

Julie Fremuth is about the best friend an old piece of paper could have.

As a conservator trained in preservation at the William L. Clements Library, her job is to save aged books, manuscripts, letters and documents. But her love for old paper goes beyond the walls of her workplace. Fremuth also likes to incorporate vintage documents she finds in resale shops, particularly 100-year-old letters with handwriting on them, into her collages or found-art pieces.

Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services.

“Handwriting has an emotive quality.” Fremuth says. “It always gives me a mood when I look at it. It can be exaggerated or craggy, it can be soft, it can be sensitive. I like those energies in my work.”

The style of the writing often suggests what Fremuth will create. “I will try to connect to that person who made the handwriting by painting on top of it with a lot of washes and a lot of layers,” she says. “I like to connect to a stranger who struggles like I do.”

This year Fremuth, who has exhibited at The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair for the past six years, was honored by the fair’s selection committee that chose her as the featured artist. As the featured artist, Fremuth’s designs will appear on the official 52nd Annual Street Art Fair poster as well as the fair’s T-shirts (the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is one of four fairs that comprise the Ann Arbor Art Fair held July 20-23).

“It’s the first time for a U of M employee to be the featured artist,” Fremuth says. Her design features a drawing of empty khaki pants incorporated with an image of Burton Tower (the original fair’s icon and a required element in the design). The symbolism of the pants is open to interpretation. “It might be a physical remnant of a human being, but the human being isn’t really there,” Fremuth says, “or it might be that the person is physically present but not emotionally present.”

In addition to being named this year’s featured artist, Fremuth’s work also was recognized in the new book “Masters: Book Arts,” released this past April, where she was included as a featured artist and she was highlighted in the book’s introduction.

Fremuth grew up in Birmingham and attended U-M, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1986 and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1989. She started working at the Clements while in school, honing the skills of her trade she still uses today. She says her interest in historical items may stem from her joy of going through family heirlooms stored in her grandparents’ attic. Among the items she found were stacks of letters from her grandfather to her grandmother, and her father’s 1930s Wayne State University tracksuit and track medals.

“Digging through the old stuff in my job fits into my personality.” Fremuth says. “My job and my art are an extension of that as well.”

When drawing, Fremuth prefers pencil. “I like to use pencil line because it can be very descriptive and sensitive,” she says, “I’m known for painting a lot of portraiture; I feel compelled to honor everyday human beings.”

In addition to contributing art to the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, Fremuth also has represented the fair during a trip to Japan in October of 2009, paid for by Japanese organizers who were seeking to establish an outdoor art fair in Yokohama. She says the Japanese were trying to present art in a more accessible setting where customers could speak with the artists directly rather than a formal gallery setting.

Fremuth lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, Lon Horwedel, a professional photographer, and their three children Olivia, Ella and Eamon. “The kids all play baseball and softball, and I love sports,” says Fremuth, who played on the U-M Women’s Golf Team. When they’re not too busy shuttling their kids to ball games, she and her husband enjoy long walks.

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Julie Fremuth, conservator, Clements Library, on finding inspiration in old handwritten papers: “I will try to connect to that person who made the handwriting by painting on top of it, with a lot of washes and a lot of layers. I like to connect to a stranger who struggles like I do.”