Sculptures

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crow’s foot woman

black walnut on sandstone, 28″ tall. circa 1975. private collection

This piece of walnut was a thick slab, maybe 6 or 8 inches thick. The back is rough sawn, so this piece reads like a relief from the front and sides. I played with textures: smooth polish from hours of sandpapering versus the marks of a small chisel. Black walnut is not only prized for its gorgeous grain, but it’s got just the right density so one can deviate slightly from the rule to always carve “with” the grain by carving across the grain at a diagonal without risking tearing the wood. I found the sandstone base during a trip to Dinosaur National Park.

black walnut head

black walnut on soapstone. 20″. 1975. private collection

Years ago when I was 3 oe 14, I remember seeing many carved or modeled heads in a woman’s house in the DC area. The carvings weren’t the work of my pottery teacher, Judith Simmons, but it could be that this sculptor woman was her friend. I remember being gob-smacked by all the faces looking at me from the shelves and pedestals in the woman’s home. The sculptures were emitting their own personalities, moods, and emotions. Even at my young age I’m sure I glimpsed how much time and effort would have been required, but I probably had no idea of the depths of devotion it takes to create such a body of work. Now, at age 69 with many sculptures under my belt, I have a much better sense of the required time, effort and devotion, and I feel a kinship with that unknown sculptor.

don quixote’s horse

bronze on marble from an original carved in oak. 10 ” tall. 1972. private collection

I remember my great aunt Edith Truesdell was much perturbed with Don Quixote’s horse when I first carved it. “You’ve got the head on backwards,” she chirped. “What’s Gordon teaching you? You should go to a ‘real’ art school.” I tried to convince her that with carving, you have to work within the limitations: there wasn’t enough room to fit the horse’s head on frontwards. But more importantly, I pointed out that the horse is turning back to face its rider, or its fallen rider, as if to say “Oh my goodness, what’s the matter now?” I thought that was clever and hilarious, but Aunt Edie wasn’t sold. I’m not sure why I chose to cast this piece in bronze. Some people have an affinity with bronze; over time, I do not, at least not when it’s solid. I only love bronze when it’s molten. But just as Gordon was pressured to cast his work in bronze as a sound financial decision, I was too. How else will you ever make money at this, people would ask, unless you make editions of your original work? I couldn’t argue with that logic. But I ralso remember chasing a pile of these wax horse: the ultimate in nitpicky, anal-compulsive work. I was completely bored. Bronze is not my medium. Furthermore, at the risk of ranting, a lot of shitty work is cast in bronze, as if dressing up in an expensive material makes up for what the sculpture itself lacks. And to add insult, most of the public falls for this ruse, pointing out that bronze has greater longevity than wood or stone. Maybe, maybe not. Weren’t the colossal bronzes of old melted down to make cannons?

Cracked Woman

black walnut on limestone. 50″ tall. 1973-75. private collection

I write extensively about the process of carving this piece (also known as The Split Woman) in my memoir Seeing Into Stone: A Sculptor’s Journey. After the Sculpture Center was torn down in 1971, David and I moved to Oregon where we built me a hexagonal studio in which many sculptures were hatched. On every level, the Cracked Woman was a breakthrough piece for me, a self-portrait that, once I claimed and celebrated it, says much not only about my journey, but also the journeys that many women travel in this difficult world. How do we put ourselves back together, embrace ourselves, stand strong, see clearly and express our truth in a world which persists in humiliating and denigrating women and our contributions? It starts with claiming, and celebrating our so-called “flaws”—the splits and cracks which we hide because we fear they will divide and dismember us, until we come to realize that they actually offer a great gift: the honesty, vulnerability, and spirit of the wounded healer. As Leonard Cohen sings, “there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light comes in.” That’s what makes us “flawesome.”

eucalyptus woman

Eucalyptus wood, 30″, 1971. Private collection

Gordon introduced me to the mystery of carving, a subtractive process quite opposite to working with the plasticity and malleability of clay. He lent or gave me hand chisels and an old mallet, showed me how to sharpen the chisels on a whetstone and machine buffer, and conveyed the essence of carving with cryptic statements such as “Go with the grain.” Eucalyptus is very dense and hard to carve. My interest in asymmetry is evident in the figure’s contrapposto—lopsided hips, breasts, arms, and especially eyes—an asymmetry that mirrors my own crooked eyes, and a theme that I have pursued in many pieces since this one.

camel

Sawdust fired clay, 6 inches tall, 1971. Status unknown

from 1971 to 1972, I was the youngest member of Gordon Newell’s Sculpture Center in Monterey California. I was also the only woman. Because I was familiar with clay, I started out making clay sculptures and firing them in a homemade kiln in the same way famous potter Maria Martinez did. Sometimes it seems to me that some of my older work is stronger, fresher, and more confident than more recent work. Certainly this little piece is more raw and gestural, beautiful in its incompleteness than some later “finished” work. That’s a good lesson to bring forward and apply.

joyousclaywoman

pregnantclayfigure

mournful clay woman

terra cotta, 24” tall, circa 1968, Status unknown

After starting with wheel-thrown and slab-formed pottery, I turned to clay sculpture. Looking at this work from a distance of over fifty years, I feel compassion for the misery expressed in this carving—not just typical teenage misery, but also the angst of living in a family with more than its share of physical handicaps, and in full awareness that the world at that time was threatened by racism, pollution, the Cold War, and nuclear annihilation.