A New Dimension To An Old Children’s Classic

Apr 9, 2019, 9:57 PM | Updated: 10:48 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Jorgen Madsen, in his first year of medical school and in the midst of a personal crisis, turned to an unlikely source of help…  Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He ended up with a new identity and an intricate, three-dimensional piece of literary art.

When he was 13, Madsen, who grew up in small town Utah, realized he was different than most of his peers.

“I knew that I was gay since about the age of 13. But I thought it was a phase I thought it would go away,” he says.

“As a kid, I think I struggled a lot with depression growing up because of it,” he says. “I always thought that I was this evil, bad person, because I had this bad secret.”

Jorgen Madsen works on a book sculpture

Jorgen Madsen works on a book sculpture

He kept his sexual orientation hidden until his first year at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He wrestled with whether to come out.

At the time, he’d watched a movie, “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl,” featuring a book sculpture — a book carved into a piece of art.

“I thought it was the coolest thing,” he says and he picked up a book — Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” — and with his dissection tools, started cutting.

A therapist suggested the book art might serve as more than a hobby. It might help him process his thoughts and feelings about his sexual identity.

Carroll’s story, many have said, is really about a girl growing up and searching for identity.

So, Madsen pulled out quotes from the book, literally cut them out, and, over three or four months, created an elaborate sculpture that’s about more than a girl named Alice.

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat

“’I could tell you my adventures,” Alice says to the Mock Turtle and Gryphon, “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

“This book” Madsen says, “talks about being different from who you were yesterday, or even this morning, and how life is constantly changing, and you need to move forward.”

“Nothing’s quite as it seems. And sometimes you just have to kind of move forward and sometimes it’s scary, but it’s exciting.”

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ Alice asks the Cheshire Cat. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the cat says.

“I didn’t know which path to pick. And then I had finally asked myself, what what do I want it? Where do I want to end up?” Madsen says.

Madsen ended up out.

“To me, it’s better to live honest than to live a lie,” he says.

Sculpture inspired by Tom Sawyer

Sculpture inspired by Tom Sawyer

He now volunteers at Encircle — an LGBTQ youth and family resource center, the Homeless Youth Resource Center and the PrEP clinic he helped establish. It distributes a medicine that prevents the spread of HIV.

“I felt like I could live quietly and, you know, maybe be more comfortable that way” he says. “Or I could try to make a difference.“

And occasionally Madsen, who soon graduates from medical school and moves on to a residency in pediatrics, creates a new book sculpture.

In one sculpture Peter Pan and Wendy Darling float high above the classic “Peter Pan.”

“What if I fall?” Wendy asks.

“But oh, my darling,” Peter says, “What if you fly?”

Jorgen Madsen fell down a rabbit hole and came out, he says, feeling just fine.

“While I’ve changed and chose paths, I actually for the first time in my life, feel like I’m not a bad person,” he says.

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A New Dimension To An Old Children’s Classic