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Fallen Leaves

Artist Eric Rhein's Wire Leaf Project Has Been Shown All Over The World. It Is A Tribute To The Friends Who Have Died–And A Reminder That AIDS Is Still A Part Of Our Lives. -Richard Walsh

From the time he was a boy, growing up along Kentucky's Appalachian Ridges, Eric Rhein has been an observer of nature. In the words of his friend Jack Nichols, "I remember him as a tiny flowerchild smiling in the wilderness and soaking up the Earth's rich wonders."

Rhein was diagnosed with HIV when he was 27, almost two decades ago. In autumn of 1996, during a fellowship at the MacDowell Artist Colony in New Hampshire—his health restored with the help of new protease inhibitors–Rhein walked the grounds gathering leaves, and his Leaf Project was born. "One by one," says Rhein, "I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms. [To me] the leaves recalled the qualities of those who had left their physical form."

As such, each of the wire-on-paper leaves, or "Tributes," is different, each one is named: Jay's Sweet Joe, Blue-Eyed Mark, Seth the Potter, Open-Hearted Larry, to name a few. When the project began, Rhein had 80 individual tributes. Today he has 170.

A recent show at Lincoln Center was wonderfully received. But Rhein's work has appeared in Galleries from Stockholm to Provincetown. Rhein reserves the right to remake any purchased piece, so that his own personal archive remains intact. "In death," Rhein says, " [my friends] continue to be the teachers they were in life, sharing with me the gift of their individual attributes."

Richard Walsh
February/March 2006

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