Where does all that junk mail go? Vernita Nemec’s repurposed hers.

Tucked away on the first floor of Westby Hall sits the Center for Art and Social Engagement. Rowan’s permanent group of 11 paintings collectively named “The Sister Chapel” is within. The exhibits change throughout the semester often. Currently, the exhibit is Vernita Nemec’s “The Weight of Paper: The Endless Junkmail Scrolls.”

“So many trees… 100 million trees a year are destroyed to create junk mail,” said Nemec. “The average family theoretically gets about 800 pieces of junk mail a year and almost all of it gets thrown away… I thought this is a perfect material for art.”

Nemec began creating this in 2006 and with every year that passes, the scrolls continue to grow. Currently, the scrolls combined span over 400 feet long. 

Each scroll is made from her recycled mail and pages taken from her favorite fashion magazines. Looking closely at the exhibit you may find envelopes, checks, credit card advertisements to name a few.

She combines the papers together with glue in a mix-match random pattern before using predominantly gold, red, and blue paint. The gold paint, she thought, would add value to an otherwise discardable pile of junk mail.

Artist, Verna Nemec a.k.a N’Cognita standing amongst her scroll art. / Photo via Chelsea Valcourt.

“I’m fascinated to see the patterning on the inside of the envelopes especially because it’s like a security apparatus,” said Tyler Kline, a professor of art at Rowan. “I’m reading it as these different mark-makings that are allowing me to almost look under the hood… I’m enjoying seeing all the varying patterns [especially] at this scale.”

“I think it’s really interesting how the Weight of Paper came together,” said Jessica Roders, a junior mechanical engineering major. “As a person who studies science and [who] hopefully [will create] things that end up changing the way we deal with technology and the way we mass-produce things in the United States, it’s inspiring to see there are actually people here who understand ‘Oh this is a problem.’”

It’s that problem specifically that inspired Nemec to create this piece and others similar. While attending the National Recycling Coalition Conference in 1993, she saw a small exhibit that changed the way she viewed art. A collection of children’s art made out of recycled materials such as milk cartons was displayed. Nemec immediately thought adults should be creating recycled artwork as well and thus the art collection “Art from Detritus” was born.

Nemec’s top piece of advice for new artists was to keep and maintain a day job. Don’t solely rely on your art’s income because you could find yourself creating art that others want or like. Instead, you must let the art that is within you manifest itself. Nemec was able to create the displayed work as art gallery director for Viridian Artists Inc.

“[Endless Junkmail Scrolls] is very hard to sell this kind of art and I know that and I don’t care because I do have another job. I am the director of a gallery,” said Nemec. “I’m always telling my artists because they always get upset if their work doesn’t sell. I say, ‘Listen you really shouldn’t be focused on that. You should be focused on the making of it and having people see it, but not to sell it.’ It’s wonderful if you can sell it but all that does is corrupt art.”

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