Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · WIRED (Panda Article)
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.


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The message is in the metal...

REDLANDS -- January, 1987 -- The thick piece of wire in Elizabeth berrian's hand could have spent eternity as a part of someone's fence.

But, because it came into her possession, the length of aluminum will be part of a commanding piece of artwork, a large and commanding phoenix.

Using just her fingers, a small pair of wire cutters, and rolls and rolls fo wire, Berrian, a Mendocino artist, has created a metal menagerie.
panda wire sculpture.
Elizabeth Berrian and her wire Panda
Examples of her work are on display at the San Bernadino County Museum, creating a lacy fairyland in the circular second story gallery.

From the ceiling hangs a winged dragon, looking fierce but with a delicate spider-web design highlighting its silver skin.

To one side sits a hulking bear, roly-poly but seeming to smile. At the back of the room, two lady centaurs, half woman, half horse, carry on a light-hearted conversation.

Add to the mix a winged Pegasus, an elephant, cat, armadillo, camel and a swan.

Most are black, silver or gray, but two pieces, a pelican and an eagle, are in full color, made of colored telephone wire.

All the work is delicate and whimsical, seeming to be lighter than air - and at the same time, sturdy as steel. They bounce when touched, as though mounted on springs.

Each piece of wire is wound by hand; Berrian uses no mesh. "If you see a fish with a thousand scales, I made all thousand scales myself."

Her work is one of two art displays at the museum. In the lower gallery hang the paintings of Alexander Ross, a Los Angeles artist whose primitive style and bright colors capture the street scenes of his New York youth.

Berrian has spent 20 years twisting her lengths of wire into painstakingly correct models of animals - and an occasional car or spaceship.

Her first attempts were tiny animals. "They were small and flimsy and tended to fall apart if you looked at them", she said.
Her current creations are engineering masterpieces, each twist either pulling, to hold the work together, or pushing, to create the tension that helps the piece to hold its shape.

"Apparently I've taught myself engineering, because these things are a lot stronger than the wire would allow."

Berrian encourages people to touch her pieces, to feel their bounce. They are virtually indestructible, she said.

"Once I actually drove over a couple pieces and turned them into pancakes. They fluffed right out again."

Some of the largest pieces roll up into small balls, allowing her to pack the entire musem show in her Datsun station wagon.
camel wire sculpture.
Berrian's wire camel
Berrian speaks eagerly of her work in a soft voice that has all the delicate strength of her animals. She is a petite woman, but with the strength in her fingers and arms to wrestle some fairly thick wire into incredibly complex positions.

Her work allows her to indulge her fascination with animals, which have captivated her since childhood.

"When I was 3 years old my sister taught me to catch bumblebees in my bare hands," Berrian says. "I found out 15 years later I was allergic."

She uses photographs, taxidermy models and live animals to help design her sculpture. As artist in residence at Northern California's Marine World, she has many opportunities to work close to a number of living models.

But she also works in the realm of fantasy. One of her current commissions, for science fiction author Larry Niven, will be a 13-foot model of the alien in his best-seller "Footfall".

Berrien said she had to read the book four times to find enough information to turn Niven's fantasy into a wire design. The figure will sit in Niven's Tarzana yard.

Berrian's work sells for as little as $30 for a hummingbird, up to $5,000 and beyond for her corporate commissions.

She works mainly in her home, or out in her yard in good weather, but she can take her wire and wire cutters anywhere. "I have been known to wire hummingbirds in the darks in movie theaters."
One of her creations, a Pegasus with a 17-foot wingspan, hangs in the Standiford Field air terminal in Louisville, KY.

"It had to be so accurate because in Kentucky everybody, including the cleaning lady, knows horses."

The sculpture is a major conversation piece in the airport. "Actually, they've told me that people look at it and get mesmerized and miss their flights."
pegasus wire sculpture.
Pegasus scale model,
collection of William F "Buddy" Thompson
Elizabeth Berrian's wire sculpture and Alexander Ross' paintings will be on dislpay at the museum, 2024 Orange Tree Lane, Redlands, through Feb 1, 1987. Museum hours are 9 AM to 8PM Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5PM Sunday. For information call (714) 825-4823

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

Content and images © 1968-2009 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 22, 2009 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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