Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · ARTIST WEAVES WONDER IN WIRE
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.


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Andrew I. Jones For the Times-Standard

EUREKA -- An awkward high school girl sold a bumpy 2-inch wire cat sculpture for 38 cents to a classmate in 1968. Thirty-six years later, that woman is still living and thriving with wire.

Elizabeth Berrien's wire sculptures can be found today in museums, galleries, zoos and parks throughout the world.

The Freshwater artist sells most of her work in galleries outside of Humboldt County, but will be demonstrating her sculpture technique from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Salon Eclips at 685 F St., during Arcata MainStreet's Arts! Arcata event.

Berrien got her start in art at 17 from a school counselor who didn't know what to do with her.

"I had emotional problems, spending time with psychologists and harangued by teachers for not applying myself," she said. "I was the class misanthrope."

The school counselor placed her in a sculpture class which she promptly tried to leave.

"The instructor told me to sit quietly for three days and then he'd let me go," Berrien said.

But, something in the class sparked her interest and she soon found herself creating tiny sculptures for friends.

After high school, Berrien worked office jobs and sold her creations at craft fairs until one day, in 1980, she realized she could make a better living working from home designing her wire works.

Survival of the artists

Berrien occasionally teaches an "Artist's Survival Series" marketing workshop, emphasizing that artists must make a "deliberate living."

"Humboldt County has wonderfully knowledgeable collectors, but they frankly cannot support all of us," Berrien said. "Artists can't be bashful and wait for the world to come to them. They must deliberately make a living and market their work further afield."

To be successful, according to Berrien, artists should understand the needs of art galleries.

"They want to be able to sell your work and come back and order more," she said.

Berrien accomplishes this with an established set of "bread-and-butter works" -- small pieces such as cats, horses, dogs, hummingbirds, foxes, hawks and owls -- she can easily create and knows will sell.

"The danger is if artists find a successful genre and then don't push themselves to grow. They get complacent and stale producing the same old stuff," she said. "Every artist has an obligation to themselves and to the people who buy their works not to get stagnant. Look at what you were making two, four and 10 years ago. You should see a difference, a growth."

Preposterous Tiger Woods

A method Berrien uses to force artistic growth is to "never turn away preposterous commissions." Jim and Nancy Hale of Eureka provided such a commission earlier this year, requesting a sculpture of a golfer.

"My husband loves golf," Nancy explained.

In the past decade, the Hales have commissioned a number of works from Berrien for friends and family.

"Her work is very expressive, very true to the animal itself," Nancy said. "She watches her subject and absorbs it. She doesn't plan it out on paper. She goes from the brain into the fingers into the wire."

To begin the golf sculpture, the Hales provided Berrien a book containing numerous photos of Tiger Woods in varying poses.

"Elizabeth wasn't comfortable with the movement, so I went out to her house and swung golf clubs so she could take her own photos and understand how the clothing moved and wrinkled," Jim said. "I'm excited to get the sculpture. It will be a cross between me and Tiger, so it will be fun to see what she comes up with."

The finished sculpture will be a first of its kind for Berrien.

"I find that a good collector challenges you to do something more. I would not spontaneously decide to create a golf sculpture, but doing so will open doors to new ideas," Berrien said.

Pegasus reborn

Berrien's first big public commission came in 1985.

"A guy working in the liquor industry in Kentucky saw my work in a San Francisco gallery and wanted to meet me at my studio. At first I was wary," she said.

The man turned out to be the president of the board of directors at the Louisville International Airport. He wanted to give the airport a gift on the occasion of the christening of a new airport terminal.

His request was for a 2-year-old thoroughbred in a leaping pose, appropriate for Louisville, which is horse racing country.

"He asked me for a life-size flying horse. Mind you, this was one of my earliest negotiations for large work commissions," Berrien said.

They agreed on a price of $2,500. The piece was later reappraised at $30,000.

Because 2-year-old horses don't have bones formed well enough to sustain the impact of jumping, Berrien said, she worked from a photo of a horse winning its first race that jumped when flash bulbs went off. Upon completion, Berrien was flown to Louisville for the installation.

"I thought I would just be hanging the Pegasus up, but there was a week of ceremonies covering the airport's opening," she said. "I'm kind of a hermit, but it was a painless process mingling with ever increasing crowds of people."

It began with a lunch with the benefactor's friends, then bigger and bigger gatherings. By the end, she'd danced with the mayor and eaten brunch with the governor.

"I was wined and dined. It was every artist's fantasy adventure," she said.

This past November, Berrien returned to the airport to supervise a renovation of the sculpture, which hangs from a high ceiling above a row of escalators. There was 18 years of dust to remove, and the horse's uplifted wings were now drooping.

"When I made the Pegasus, the wings did not have the same 3-D structure as the horse. So I ended up spending a few days on a ladder weaving struts, like arm bones that birds have in their feathering, onto the horse's wings. The Pegasus looks more natural now. I had thoughts as to whether some folks might think I was violating art laws in the process, but I see it as an especially long work in progress that I was finishing."

Another life-size horse is on display at Salon Eclips -- located in Jacoby's Storehouse in Arcata -- this month. The Jim Hale-Tiger Woods golfer will also be completed in time for a reception with the artist on Friday during Arts! Arcata.

Berrien's artwork can also be found at the Blacksmith Shop in Ferndale and Gallery Dog in Eureka.

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World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 10, 2010 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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CLIO 2008
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