Livonia artist spins string from dollar bills

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Livonia artist Jay Knapp cuts pieces of paper and other materials into really, really tiny strips.

How tiny? Two millimeters wide, if you must know.

He then braids and spins these into string, creating artworks that are both metaphorical and labor-intensive.

Knapp’s work is on display through Sept. 29 at West Bloomfield’s Janice Charach Gallery, in the amusingly titled show, “Connections: The Artistry of Bits and Pieces.”

The two-person show also features the colorful sculptures of Nanci LaBret Einstein.

Nanci LaBret Einstein’s “If Castles Had Wings” in “Connections: The Artistry of Bits and Pieces.”

But back to the Knapp’s enterprise. One of his pieces that stretches across the Charach Gallery, “Wringer,” was made from denim, and is impressively long.

“The string is 957 feet long,” he says. “It’s installed so it runs right down the middle of the gallery and then back.”

How long did it take to make? “Oh, about 700 hours.”


By contrast, his “Best Way to Stretch a Dollar” — green string crafted from 13 dollar bills — took a mere 30 hours.

“The Best Way to Stretch Your Dollar,” Jay Knapp spun string from dollar bills.

“You get about two-and-a-half feet per dollar bill,” Knapp says, “and the string is strong enough to hold 20 pounds.” Most of his string constructions are wrapped around turned-wood spools he makes.

Other materials that have gone into his string-work include pages of art criticism and retirement-account statements.

Knapp’s technique is low-tech. He cuts the initial two-millimeter strips with a ruler and razor blade. “Then you take two strips, twist them together, and then twist that together with another,” he says. “It’s reverse double-ply.”

If he’s working with fabric rather than paper, Knapp meticulously strips out all the threads, and then re-bundles and spins those by hand.

The inspiration for the series he calls “String Theories” came from science-fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke, who postulated that string or its larger cousin, rope — essential for clothing, shelter and other basic human needs — was likely one of humanity’s first inventions.

“That idea stuck with me,” Knapp says.

“String Theories” is a departure from his previous work, which involved highly polished, turned-wood sculptures that referred in one way or another to nuclear weapons in American society.

“I was born in the late 1970s,” he says, “and grew up in during the 1980s rearmament phase. So I was pretty terrified.”

As for the metaphor behind the string work, Knapp explains: “Strings are the things that tie our lives together,” he says. “Each string I make reflects a different aspect of my life.”

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘Connections: The Artistry of Bits and Pieces’

Through Sept. 29

Janice Charach Gallery, Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thurs.; noon-4 p.m. Sun.

Artists’ talk: 1 p.m. Sun.

(248) 432-5579