Tompkins Weekly

Monica Franciscus: Found Objects



Monica Franciscus dumpster dives to find material for her art in July 2023 at a body shop in Varna. Photo provided.

Many of us know Monica Franciscus, whose art we may have discovered for sale on a street corner Art in the Yard sale or fell in love with at local shows, or as prized possessions hanging in friends’ homes. Or we attended the opening of Cornell’s Biennial Art Exhibit at the Cherry Gallery.

Others worked with Franciscus at Cornell, while she was raising her daughters, Isabelle (completing her pre-med program in Groningen, the Netherlands), and Emma, (at college in Cork, Ireland). Franciscus’s friends and fans are in awe of her lengthy bike rides in lieu of car transport. And her very independent daughters’ longtime devotion to rowing (with years of 5:30 A.M. practice on the lake, with a 5 1/2-mile bike commute to the lake from Mount Pleasant, Varna) throughout their school years, and still part of their lives in Europe. 

By Marjorie Olds

After establishing a successful artistic life for many years as a figurative visual artist, Franciscus has embraced a wilder, bolder, brasher form of art to reflect the times. As a voracious reader and deep thinker, Franciscus’s analysis of our way of life is now conceptualized in her provocative sculptures created by repurposing found material. 

As she observed the human impact on our fragile environment, Franciscus’s methods took a dramatic turn, wildly careening into new territory. The aerodynamic, highly engineered forms and metallic colors grabs our attention, and then we consider the consequences of emissions, landfills, plastic, travel, industry, tire-wear particles, fast fashion (for starters).

“The mirror pieces I cut up purposefully,” she said. “Of course they are reflective. We see ourselves, and hopefully will seriously reflect on our role in the world, our effect on the environment”.

Known for her flair remaking castoffs; her classy wardrobe, house, garden makeovers all carry her signature style. So, it is no surprise that Franciscus has embraced and articulated who she is and what she believes with Found Objects:

“When I have an idea for my next art project I refuse to buy anything. I buy no canvas. No stretcher bars. No paint. No Gesso (primer for canvas applied before paint is added). I may visit Inlet Glass and the obliging staff will wave me on to the throwaway glass remnants they put aside for me, otherwise headed to the landfill. About every two weeks I visit the  dumpsters at The Body Shop in Varna, for colorful plastic car parts. I head home with 4-5 bumpers–some parts crashed and others in perfect condition, which fit tightly into my compact car.”

“I create my sculptures to offer an alternative to America and industrialized nations’ prioritizing profit over its people and the environment,” Franciscus said. 

“Four Together,” art by Monica Franciscus made out of repurposed plastic car bumpers. Photo provided

“Unexamined, we are headed toward robots in the workplace, as we rush headfirst toward increased automation with fewer people at work, with resulting unemployment, poverty, and inequality… Bigger cars and  trucks are being produced,” she added. “SUVs get 12 to 18 miles to the gallon. Ironically, although cars are safer, pedestrian deaths are sharply higher. Some electric cars quietly and dramatically accelerate instantly from 0 to 60 miles per hour. This creative engineering has not correlated with more safety, nor is it needed for drivers. (Perhaps this will come in useful for space exploration.)”

“As I repurpose throwaway items with my jigsaw, I think about what a mess we and future generations are in…70 years ago, the Car Industry knew, and the politicians understood, the dangers of emissions, and that trains were competing with car transportation. The subsidies for trains were cut dramatically and rails were torn up…We do enjoy the Rails to Trails bike and walking paths, but the damage from our dependence on cars and other indicia of profligate pollution, has affected the air we breathe in the few miles of breathable oxygen (20,000 ft. above sea level) we have in our atmosphere.”

“We have snowdrops and aconites blooming in February and daffodils coming up months ahead of their usual cycle. Rising temperatures already in February, with the hottest year on the planet being repeated, and warnings of yet more wildfires are becoming the norm,” Franciscus said, adding that the landfills are overflowing with the overproduction of goods. 

“We read or experience unusual flooding, volcanoes, tornadoes and “clean cities” have citizens walking with gas masks to cope with smoke-filled air hovering as far away as New York City from wildfires originating just across the border in Canada. We are inextricably bound together in our fragile environment…Something has to change. Quickly,” she said. 

“I am enthralled by this chapter in my art world,” she added. “I never know what the next piece will be, because It all depends on what I find. I feel grateful to be able to create pieces that reflect the times and the challenges that are changing the world as we know it. It is my desire that this art might engage the viewers in concern for prompt changes and preservation of people and planet and all that thrives therein.”

You can find Monica Franciscus on Instagram @worksbyFranciscus or on her website, ArtByMF.com

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