UC Santa Cruz in 1976 was heaven on earth. With its luscious Mediterranean climate, campus perched overlooking the gentle Monterey Bay, and the intoxicating fragrance of living in a redwood forest, it couldn’t get any better. The rents were cheap and the small town was a perfect size, comprised of locals, retirees and students. And… it was the 70’s, which was one of the most liberating times of my life.
I had completed all my lower division requirements in community college, so aside from a couple of academic classes I was able to fully immerse myself in studio art classes. The first class that I stumbled into was a clay class taught by a young instructor, Bob Strini. His first words to the class were “Are you ready, because I’m going to blow your socks off”? And he did! We made gigantic relief sculptures out of clay that filled an entire wall. We worked in groups of 5 on that project, learning to collaborate. Instead of glazing our pieces, he taught us how to spray paint clay with texture or flocking instead of glazes, the way you would paint a hot rod. Bob was energetic, untiring, and left us all in a frenzy. I took as many of his classes as I was allowed.
I loved the plastic and organic nature of clay. I was equally excited when I started taking sculpture classes with Jack Zajac. We started by making lots of small models, just a few inches tall in microcrystalline wax. We chose our favorite, and increased the scale. I learned how to bend and shape steel rods and weld them into armatures to support the sculptures. We would then apply freshly made plaster, warm and smooth, and shape and form it as it began to harden, until it was necessary to move the material with hatchets and rasps. I loved dancing around those pieces with my tools, adding and subtracting, smoothing and texturizing until they were just right!
Jack gave me one of the most important lessons I ever learned in that class which I have applied to many areas of my life, especially my Tai Chi practice. He stressed the importance of the integrity of an armature. If the form and structure was right, it would be more certain that what you build around it would work. If the armature was weak, it would be very difficult to pull your piece off.
I loved working in his class. He was a magnificent story teller. He lived and worked part time in Italy, and was an internationally accomplished sculptor. I loved his work and my early sculptures were influenced by his bronze goat series. My infatuation with bones began in that class.
Wax and plaster sculptures became the foundations for making molds and casting the pieces into bronze. Working in Doyle Foreman’s foundry was a magnificent experience. It took a team of instructors, assistants and classmates to melt the bronze in the large crucible and pour the molten metal into the empty molds half-buried in sand pits, using overhead cranes. Breaking the pieces out and doing the finish work of grinding, welding, polishing and putting on patinas was both meditative and exhilarating.
It took me 3 years to finish the requirements for my BA in Art. I graduated in 1980. I didn’t have a job, didn’t have a studio, and definitely didn’t have a foundry to work in. Uh Oh…………..
Next chapter……Cake Art!
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Unnamed Cast Bronze Sculpture 1978