Blurring the Line Between Art and Kraft
by Mark F. Kane
You could say that Sacco Marone is on an arts and kraft mission. Woodworking has always been his hobby, but lately he's had a tough time deciding whether he is an artist or a craftsman. "I guess I am an artist of sorts with wood as my medium," he admits, "but I still see myself a just a woodworker who likes making odd pieces."
His latest works are odd indeed. They are wood sculptures that look astonishingly like paper bags, right down to the painted surface mimicking the color, texture and even painted-on logos of common grocery store sacks made of kraft paper.
"I originally got the idea to make wood look like other materials from a piece called Ghost Clock made by famed sculptor and furniture maker Wendell Castle. The piece, which is made of bleached mahogany and looks like someone draped a grandfather clock with a sheet, is part of the Renwick Collection that I saw on a visit to the Smithsonian Institution. I figured if he could make wood look like cloth, I could make it look like paper.
"The first ones I made were pretty clunky. Because the walls of the bags were so thick, you could see the edges, and they were anything but convincing. Eventually, I learned to work thinner and taper the visible edges so that they fooled the eye and looked more like the real thing. I guess I am doing a good job" chuckled Sacco, "because at one gallery that showed my work, I watched a maintenance worker pick one up and try to fold it and put it in his trash bin."
Born in New York's "Little Italy," Sacco's parents moved just a short distance across the water to Hoboken, New Jersey when he was still in grade school. "Originally, I wanted to be an artist," Marone recounted, "but my father, who was always a blue collar worker, thought that was impractical. After high school, I went to a local community college to study art, and did fairly well, but after one year I dropped out because of money problems. I took a job as with the official title 'sanitation engineer,' which in reality means I was a trash collector.
"It wasn't as bad as it sounds," Marone insists. "I got to work outdoors, got paid well, and since we started work early in the morning, I had the bulk of the afternoon free while it was still light out. That meant I could pursue my twin hobbies of art and woodworking." These days he has moved indoors, and up the corporate ladder; he is a dispatcher for Allied Waste Services, coordinating trucks and drivers instead of hauling trash.
"For a time after college, I lived at my parents' home, which allowed me to save up the money to buy woodworking tools. Although I never did any woodworking other than seventh grade shop, it came fairly easily to me, and I certainly enjoy it. Making three-dimensional trompe l'oeil appeals to my sense of whimsy," he admitted. Trompe l'oeil, from the French "to fool the eye" is the term for art that looks convincingly like the real thing. The term is usually used referring to two-dimensional artwork.
"Making the walls thin enough is very tough indeed, and I sometimes lose two or three bags for each one that makes it, but harder still was getting the finish just right. While it may seem easy to make paint look like paper, getting the color and texture just so is actually quite challenging. Fortunately, most bags are printed in just one or two colors, so getting the logos right is the easiest part of the finishing.
"When I started making bags, I did it just to amuse myself and see if I could make something completely convincing to wow my friends. However, after a rather tentative show at a SoHo gallery in NYC, my work took off among the wealthy TriBeCa set. Most of my bags fetch between six and eleven thousand dollars each. Lately, I have been thinking of ditching my job and concentrating on my art alone, but I suspect before long the bag thing will have played itself out, and to be honest, I don't really know how to make anything else.
"I guess that decision will come later," Sacco said with a grin. "For the time being, I like what I do and am not yet ready to bag it."