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‘Making It’ contestant’s paper designs gave Amy Poehler chills

An NYC-based crafter tried his luck on the NBC reality show.

Jeffrey Rudell appeared on the debut season of

Jeffrey Rudell appeared on the debut season of NBC's "Making It" with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC / NBC

Jeffery Rudell is a paper engineer, and, no, it’s not a fictional career.

The New Yorker’s talent for the cuttable, bendable craft has landed him gigs with some of the top retailers in NYC, and most recently, a television appearance alongside makeshift crafting experts (err, “Parks and Recreation” comedians) Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

Rudell, 55, of the East Village, was one of eight “makers” (people who can take a block of wood or stack of loose leaf and turn it into something magical) chosen to compete on the premiere season of NBC’s “Making It.”

The East Village resident, 55, has been commissioned for his life-size installations, made of paper, for the Tiffany’s windows, the New York Botanical Garden and the annual Macy’s Flower Show. But that didn’t make his reality show stint alongside fellow professional crafters any easier.

“Oh my god, there are so many challenging things even to do with paper,” Rudell says. “I’m going to tell you a secret about craft people. We seem like really huggy, granola happy people, but we’re incredibly competitive.

“When you’re working, glancing over at the other tables, your first thought isn’t, ‘Oh, look what they’re making.’ It’s, ‘Oh my God. That’s so good. I wish I’d done that.’”

Though Rudell was sent home during the second round of cuts on Tuesday, his time on the series left him with unique projects — like a photo quilt and a photo album that placed portraits of the sky behind each headshot, which gave Poehler chills.

“I’ll often look at a finished product and go, ‘How did I do that? Did that come out of me?’ and that’s a great feeling,” he says.

Below, the competitor chats about what it was like to compete on the series, to work alongside Poehler and Offerman and how he made a career out of paper.

“Making It” airs new episodes every Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

How did you first discover your talent for crafting intricate designs out of paper?

I come from a family of people who crafted sort of because they had to. I grew up poor on a farm in Michigan and so my mother made quilts, my father was a woodworker. I grew up where making things, it was just how you got through the world.

I’d love to say I came to New York for it, that would make me sound driven. But I took a job (in 1989) as an economic development officer at the United Nations. It was such boring work I would make things in my free time as a way to regain my sanity. One day someone saw a greeting card I had made and asked me if I could make it larger, like three or four feet tall. I said I guessed I could and he gave me his card. It turned out he was the chief visual merchandiser at Tiffany and Co. they hired me to design their windows at the Fifth Avenue flagship store.

And that was the very first time you were commissioned for your art?

The very first time. My advice to anyone wanting to get into crafting, I highly recommend starting at the very top. It really makes everything much simpler. The first work I did at Tiffany led to me on a whim applying to be on “The Apprentice” with Martha Stewart in 2005 . . . and from the show I got a job with the New York Botanical Garden, designing flower sets. They wanted me to do 50 three-dimensional flowers.

Making a greeting card is probably very different than turning paper into flowers or anything that stands four-feet tall, though. How did you know you could do it?

You’re going to force me to have to answer truthfully. I didn’t know. My response to any request has always been sure. Say yes, because what’s the worst that can happen? Of course, the worst is you fail miserably in front of those you admire. But I know myself well enough to know I’m not afraid to fail. And if I fail, it doesn’t mean I give up. I tried again until I made it work.

Why did you decide to try your luck on a reality TV show again, this time with “Making It”?

Let’s see, Amy Poehler and her producers call up and say, “Hey, would you like to get on TV and do what you love to do in front of America?” I was like, wait, let me think about that. That sounded great. I mean, of course, I wanted to be on once I found out about it. I was truly jazzed because what I do every day, most people don’t understand. Even my husband for a while was like, “I know you make things, but what exactly do you do?” To have the chance to be there in front of my peers and take up challenges with my craft is an amazing thing . . . challenging, but amazing.

What was it like to work with Nick and Amy?

You see a celebrity on TV and you think they’re probably just being nice on TV. But we were really lucky. Amy and Nick were very involved and it was incredible.

The workshop, it was actually really lovely. When we finished filming the whole thing, I kind of had the thought maybe it’s time for me to bring in a studio mate or something professionally. Because I liked the idea of a sort of creative cross-pollination. It’s fun to work with other smart creative people who are different than you.


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