In the beginning . . . Self Portrait, my first wire sculpture, 2000
When I started at Cabrillo Community College in 2000, I took a sculpture class with Jamie Abbott. The first assignment was to make a self portrait in any medium. As we sat in a dark room watching a slide show of relevant art I found myself bored and disinterested. I never liked slide shows! I was sitting atop one of the work tables when I noticed a large spool of bailing wire and a needle nose pliers sitting next to me. I grabbed them both and methodically started twisting and forming a foot, then the two bones of the lower leg, the femur, or thigh bone, the hip bones, back down toward the other leg ending at the foot. I was shocked and surprised that forming the anatomy came so easily to me with wire. The 20 years I had spent studying Tai Chi, doing bodywork, and the intricacies of bones, muscles and internal organs in acupuncture school gave me knowledge and experience that I lacked in my earlier years of making art. What a revelation!
This set a fire under me! Working anatomically in wire felt natural and familiar. There was a deep sense of connection between several facets of my life and experience that I was able to weave together with my hands. I began working at home in my garage on a very large piece, using copper wire. “Copper Guy” aka “A Song in my Art” is 8 feet tall. He has all of his internal organs. He’s very complex and took about 6 months to complete. I used some puns in his guts, a small flock of “pancreatic ducks (ducts)” swim through his pancreas. He has a bird in a nest as a heart (a song in my art (heart), and a cloud in his head (his head in the clouds.)
A Song in My Art (AKA Copper Guy) is 8 feet tall!
I spent hours and hours on details. The ear alone took me one day.
There were so many things about wire that I loved. The process was direct: wire, pliers, hands. Most of all, it was quiet and simple. I could work in my kitchen, or in my bedroom. All those years of studying anatomy paid off in deeply creative and satisfying manner. I found something that was unique to my skills and interests. Oh man, was I happy!
During my second semester in the sculpture class with Jamie, I started using copper sheet metal to make the flat bones like shoulder blades and pelvis. Jamie walked me around the art complex to the small scale metals and jewelry studio. He introduced me to Dawn Nakanishi, who was teaching the class, and asked if she would show me how to solder the forms of copper sheet together. That was the beginning of a 4 year immersion in every class Dawn taught, from metal fabrication to mold-making and casting. Dawn was a perfect teacher for me and became a close friend.
Fabricating metal forms allowed me to add dimension and interest to the wire figures. Using a hydraulic press I made kidneys. I cast hearts in silver with the lost wax casting technique. Some of the other techniques I learned were piercing, chasing and repousse, fold-forming, riveting, applying color one metal, and weaving and crocheting wire. The sculptures became more complex and intricate. The piece below was one of the most intricate of that period.
One Body, Two Souls
In the early 90’s, I was working as a massage therapist in a chiropractors office. There I saw a Life magazine cover with conjoined twins Brittany and Abigail Hensel on the cover. Their loving and sweet faces and beautiful life story was so inspiring to me. 10 years later when I started to make anatomical sculpture in wire, I remembered the girls. I retrieved the Life magazine, studied their anatomy, and got to work. They were a perfect subject for me! From the waist up, they were divided into two people, from the waist down they were one. They had 2 hearts, 3 lobes of lungs, 2 stomachs, 1 liver and gall bladder, 2 left kidneys and 1 right kidneys. I loved making this piece. The girls are still healthy and strong, living in a supportive small community in the midwest.
I spent 5 years at Cabrillo College, balancing my work life, home life and immersion in metal. I met so many creative and wonderful people, devoted and talented instructors, and supportive and accessible technicians. The time came where I felt I had outgrown the structure of classes and assignments. I was ready to cut the cord and see what I could do on my own. When I left UCSC in 1980, I didn’t have the wherewithal to continue working on my own. Leaving Cabrillo in 2005, I wondered . . .
Coming up next . . . on my own!