By Cindy Atoji Keene
When you make 3-D paper sculptures as bridal cake toppers, expect the fire department to possibly get involved. So for Charlestown designer Aimee Empey, it came as no surprise when two elaborate paper wedding centerpieces had to be sprayed with fire retardant chemicals before they were approved for use in a reception hall. It’s only one of the hazards of the trade when working with an impermanent media like paper; the other being that one ill-aimed snip with the scissors can easily ruin a paper tabletop centerpiece or chandelier. And what about the time Empey turned around too quickly with a paintbrush in hand and accidently nipped a paper arrangement with a blob of red paint? “There’s no fixing that,” said Empey, who always lets the natural texture and beauty of recycled, imported, and locally sourced papers shine through. Any paper will do for crafting, including a paper drop cloth from a hardware store; the brown masking paper is often repurposed by Empey as a design element for flowers or wedding favors.
A piece of cake can be one of the most overpriced items at a wedding, up to $20 or more a slice, so a topper made out of paper might seem as cheesy as a plastic bride and groom from the local party store. But with her background in sculpture, Empey prides herself on creating anatomically-correct paper drama that imitates not just the dress shape and design, whether J. Crew or Vera Wang, but also the facial silhouette, body proportions, hairstyle, and lace or pleating. “I study the paper’s integrity and engineer the skeleton so it’s sturdy and acts as a base,” said Empey.
Q: You’ve done paper sculptures for places like the Children’s Hospital. How did you decide to start Paper, Gowns, & Glory for weddings?
A: My cousin knew I was a mixed media artist and asked if I could do something special for a cake topper. I asked, “Do you mind if it’s made in paper?” since it’s a readily available material and fairly easy for me to work with. She sent me a picture of her dress, and I created an over-the-top intricate miniature replica 3-D paper bride and groom, sort of a dreamlike portrayal.
Q: What’s the most unique request you’ve gotten from a couple?
A: One bride wanted a life-size replica of her dress in paper, a strapless ball gown that will stand almost five feet tall.
Q: Your own wedding is coming up – will you be using your paper designs for your decorations?
A: Oh yes, the whole kit and kabboodle is done, including 700 single paper floral stems. I made chandeliers out of paper for the dance floor. It will be a down-and-dirty Cape Cod wedding. We’ll try to keep it down to a dull roar. But I am not making a replica of my own dress. It’s the “chef who won’t eat his own food syndrome.”
Q: Is it true what they say about the starving artist?
A: Oh yes, I have had every odd job on the side, including waitress, bartender, babysitter, and making aprons for restaurants. But someone once told me that female artists don’t start making a living until age 30 or 40. That statement is holding true for me.