Meet the (ND) Maker: Stella Moon '20 Draws Parallels Between Sculpture and Buddhist Rituals

Author: Shannon Rooney


Moon models her piece Untitled (Armor), 2019: "This sculpture of paper, wire, chains, and steel hexagons was a wearable piece meant to represent the phrase 'beauty is pain.' I wanted to make a fashion piece that would restrain body movement and be non-functional," says Moon.

Senior Stella Moon has always been passionate about making things, whether through artwork or simple crafts. It was only in her second year at Notre Dame that she began to think about art more seriously—as a passion and as a possible career. 

Moon, who hails from Roseburg, Oregon, will graduate in May with a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree and a concentration in sculpture.

A simple material led to her focus: paper. 

“Paper is a material I have been playing around with since I was a child. Its seemingly fragile yet durable quality allows me to sculpt and fold it in many different ways,” says Moon. 

At Notre Dame, she has experimented with paper as a medium, creating everything from handmade books to viewer-interactive paper mâché sculptures. 

In her first year at Notre Dame, Moon took the art course 2D Foundations, part of a series required for all students majoring in studio art or design. The class was taught by professor and artist Justin Barfield whose own use of paper as a medium influenced Moon’s interest. She asked him to be her thesis advisor three years later. 

Students who pursue the BFA degree have the opportunity to complete a year-long, self-driven thesis project. Works are shown at a collective exhibition in Riley Hall on campus at the end of students’ senior year. 

For her thesis project, Moon chose to explore the idea of meditating through repetition. “I place great value on order and precision in my manipulation of material and am visually drawn to logically sound geometric patterns and tessellations formed by mathematically symmetrical structures,” says Moon. 


Untitled (Dress), 2017: "This life-size, wearable
piece was the first paper sculpture I made. Before
this, I had been mostly creating flat, two-
dimensional works with paper," says Moon.

Through her work with paper, Moon says, “I discovered a conceptual correlation between my way of making and Buddhist practices.” Her artistic process of folding paper and amending its surface requires repetitive, often tedious action, which she finds similar to some sacred Buddhist rituals, like “meditation, bowing, and repetitive acts of suffering through bodily actions—all themes found in Buddhist practices in the search for enlightenment and clarity,” says Moon.

She was attracted to the correlation when studying topics around Buddhism in her Introduction to Arts of Asia course. This led her to apply for the Gero Family Summer Travel Award, which supports travel and related expenses for a research paper, senior thesis, or capstone studio project for students pursuing a BA or BFA degree in studio art or art history. 

Last summer, Moon traveled to South Korea and Thailand. She visited temples throughout both countries and stayed in one Korean temple, Yongmunsa, with Buddhist monks, living alongside them and observing or participating in their daily rituals. This gave her a new perspective on her work with paper. 

“Korean Zen Buddhists in particular bow 108 times daily to the Buddha, and actually going through this physical endeavor really showed me the importance of process and every bit of effort I need to put into each tiny fold,” says Moon. 

In a physical space, Moon’s thesis project manifests as intricate, monochromatic paper sculptures, delicate, but grounded by precise geometric shapes.

In addition to the chance to pursue her art, Moon appreciates the art community at Notre Dame, which is tight-knit and inclusive. This allows for close connection, conversation, and support from other artists, says Moon. She also appreciates the wide selection of art courses available at the University. 

“Notre Dame offers a variety of art courses using different materials and installation methods, so I took classes I never thought I would be interested in and learned so much from them. It really broadened the list of materials I now have the knowledge of using and opened up more possibilities for my art,” says Moon. 

Those lessons and materials now make up a toolbox that Moon can take with her as she pursues her next steps: a possible artist residency and graduate school, where she'll pursue a master of fine arts degree.



Left: Untitled paper sculpture, 2019;  Right: Fragility, 2018, one in a series of photographs in which Moon juxtaposes paper tessellations with nature