Press-Republican

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October 5, 2008

Keene artist had hard time getting back into US

Keene artist struggles to get back into US

KEENE VALLEY -- Keene Valley resident Jerilea Zempel was detained at the U.S. border this summer because she had a drawing of a sport-utility vehicle in her sketchbook.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers told Zempel they suspected her of copyright infringement.

She was released after more than an hour in custody at the Houlton, Maine, port of entry from New Brunswick, Canada.

Her release came only after she persuaded border guards she was an artist doing a project that involved a crocheted SUV as a statement against America's dependence on oil and love for big vehicles.

SHROUDED CAR

Zempel's adventure began when she was returning from the Cultural Capital Festival in Sackville, New Brunswick, where her submission was an SUV cozy on a rented Hyundai Santa Fe.

"I wanted to turn an oversize, macho, gas-guzzling vehicle into a technological ghost by shrouding it in a white, fuzzy cover reminiscent of women's handiwork from another time, another place."

After the festival, Zemple headed for home in her own Toyota Prius hybrid and stopped at the border crossing on Interstate 95 in Maine.

"What happened when I re-entered the U.S. made me ponder what my lowly art project could mean in a larger political sphere.

"And it gave me an idea for a title: the Homeland Security Blanket."

SEARCH AT BORDER

Zempel's passport showed she'd been to Africa, Australia, Central and South America, Mexico, Turkey and Europe in the last nine years.

"U.S. citizens who've traveled to the places I've been need to be looked at. A half hour at the computer gave the agent cause to put me into another suspicious category, meriting a full car search. She (the agent) took my keys and went through my car.

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