By | Robert Brown
Internationally collected and award winning, Godmother of wire sculpture, Elizabeth Berrien opens up her studio to show her latest creations in wire.
“No one has the body of work that I do, or a track record of fulfilling such big jobs, so I get a lot of them, and it’s fun,” Berrien said.
Some of her clients include The BBC, The American Museum of Natural History, The Los Angeles Zoo, Louisville International Airport, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Disney. Her work can be found in Brazil, France, Spain, Sweden, Morocco, Belgium, Australia, China, Japan and in many other countries throughout the world.
Until recently, wire sculpture was a rare and under-appreciated genre. It started as a folk art thousands of years ago. Ancient Egyptians refined metal and drew wire to create hand-crafted wire jewelry and other useful items. Slovakia invented many wire items that are still in use today such as mouse traps, bird cages, wire baskets, and kitchen utensils.
“All artists do what they like to look at,” Berrien said. “For me, thats animals. I would have loved to be a zoologist. I have done thousands of wire animals.”
By exploring wire for over 50 years, she has developed her own unique style, and brought her pieces up to the level of museum quality.
“They say it takes 5,000 hours for someone to master an art,” Berrien said. “In my case, it’s more like 95,000 hours, and counting.”
With the extensive amount of experience and knowledge she has gained from working with wire, Berrien designed and released a free Wire Sculpture Tutorial and Lesson Plan on the internet. They can be found at http://www.wirelady.com/berrienwirehowtopage.html. Today, wire sculpture is taught universally in almost every art school and art curriculum.
“Every year I push it to somewhere it hasn’t gone before,” Berrien said. “A client will show me what they like, or an example, but it’s up to me how to interpret that into wire.”
Berrien is currently working on two large pieces. One is a 20-foot tall space shuttle for a space center, and the other is a giant wall piece depicting ferns and wildflowers for Kaiser headquarters in Seattle.
“By the time I get the 20-foot shuttle done, it will have all of the details, the NASA logo, the American flag, all of the little nuts and bolts, and rivets,” Berrien said. “I feel like a detective sometimes having to figure all of the details out.”
Wire sculpture comes in 2D, an example would be a flat wall piece, and 3D, which would be a stand alone or hanging piece.
“In 3D you get different dynamics as you move around, shadows shift and change, you get more depth and emotion,” Berrien said. “Not everyone has the room for a 3D piece, but everyone has wallspace, so 2D is having a nice renaissance right now.”
Two different forms of wire sculpture, closed and open form, are merged together in Berrien’s abstract piece, Mitosis. The blending of neatness and wildness, to depict the perfect imperfection that is the essence of the human body.
The one and only rule in wire sculpture that has stuck with Berrien since her high school art teacher announced it in class is, “Don’t put your eye out!”
“There are no rules,” Berrien said. “A client asks me for a technical piece, a polyhedron, twists/no twists, I just figure it out. There are lots of ways to connect wire together.”
Clients come with requests that allow her to explore new techniques and methods creating with wire. Her series of Kung Fu fighters for a restaurant in Dubai had Berrien watching hours of Bruce Lee movies in order to get it right.
“I don’t know if I would have done that if it wasn’t for a client requesting it,” Berrien said. “I really got into it.”
Berrien’s work can be seen every first Saturday of the month during Arts Alive at 208 C Street in Eureka’s Old Town, and on her website at WireZoo.com.