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WE ACCEPT CREDIT
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
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.
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,"
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Class Wire Sculpture
· Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email firstname.lastname@example.org
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© 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved.
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