Author Archives: vsperry

About vsperry

I am a sculptor working in steel, polymer clay and other materials.

August newsletter

Things are popping in the studio! I have recently returned from three weeks of classes, I have a new assistant, and I am so excited to be creating again! Read on for more details!


Natural Dyes class

I took a week long class at Common Ground on the Hill at the beginning of July. CGOTH takes place in Westminster, MD for two weeks every summer. They have classes on traditional arts and crafts and lots of chances to play and/or hear good fiddle and banjo music.

I chose to take the Natural Dyes class with Pat Brodowski. Pat is the vegetable gardener at Monticello and knows a huge amount of information about the plant world. I have been wanting to learn how to dye things using the plants around my house and so I was thrilled to spend five mornings gaining lots of useful information. To be honest, I’m not sure I will take the time to harvest and prepare the natural dyes, but it was thrilling to see the magic that is involved with changing a simple piece of white fiber into an awesome color.

 


 

Sculptural Weaving Class

The day after the natural dyes class I packed up my car and trundled off to Penland School of Crafts  in NC. I have been wanting to take a class here for years. After doing some research, I found that Nathalie Miebach was teaching a two week class on Sculptural Weaving at Penland. I signed up immediately and was fortunate enough to be first on the waiting list. I was thrilled when I got into the class!

First of all, Penland is a magical place. The setting is awesome, it is nestled on the side of one of the mountains. I won’t go into all the history of the place, you can read about it on their website. It’s goal, however, is to foster creativity in all the craft media, from glass to iron to jewelry…and on and on. To spend two weeks surrounded by other excited artists having to answer to no one but myself and to create something amazing…well it was just heaven. And the food is really good too!

Nathalie is a great teacher, very organized, passionate and curious. Every day there were at least two demonstration lectures plus a series of power point presentations. The studio was open 24 hours and I made use of many of them.

I learned many traditional basket weaving techniques which has already sparked some changes in how I think about my work. My mind is swirling with new terms: spokes, weavers, twining, plaiting, hexagonal weave, paper rush, reed, etc. We were encouraged to push the boundaries, discard the idea of basket as vessel and create wonderful sculptures.

I could write for hours on my experience, but instead I will leave you with some visual reminders of my time there including my finished sculpture. The creative process was fascinating, lots of angst, some problem solving at 3:30 a.m. and a lot of letting go of preconceived notions. (Check out my blog post about the process of creating this piece.) The title of the sculpture is Contemplation of a Life. All I will say about it is that it is a response to having to clean out my parent’s house last summer. For more pictures of this sculpture, go to my website.


Studio Assistant

And my final bit of news is that I have a studio assistant! Willy Mueller just graduated from high school and works full time for a kitchen cabinetry company until he starts college this fall. He knows how to use power tools (a definite bonus in my world), is big and strong enough to lift heavy objects (another bonus) and works very hard. In the short time that he has been helping me out, we have finished the frames of the last two sections of the ribbon piece and prepped four baskets. If this keeps up my production is going to be through the roof! Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but it is still thrilling to get so much work done in a weekend.

hard at work on the belt sander

hard at work on the belt sander

 


Look for my next newsletter to come out at the beginning of September!

 

Drawing in air

I recently attended a class at Penland School of Crafts on sculptural weaving with Nathalie Miebach. I purposely chose this class as I thought it would be a really good addition to my knowledge base about basket weaving. In the class, we were taught the traditional methods and materials of weaving a basket, then urged to “think outside the basket” almost literally. In other words, our assignment was to take the knowledge that we gained and create a non-vessel expression of a story that we had brought with us to class. 

The class presented a problem from the beginning as I don’t usually work by starting with a story, I tend to allow it to write itself as I create. Many artists have an idea, a sketch and then reproduce it three dimensionally. I don’t seem to be able to do that. I usually start with a shape or a material that intrigues me. I then let it grow. Sometimes the growth happens smoothly, sometimes I have to tear away large sections and start again…in essence I have to go backwards in order to go forwards.

This morning I told this to my friend Melinda Byrd of Byrdcall Studio. She made the observation that what I do is sketch three-dimensionally. I really liked that way of describing my process. Since I find it difficult to sketch a three dimensional piece, I must do it on the piece itself. I am hoping that his mindset will diminish some of the frustration I feel when I have worked myself into a corner. Perhaps if I realize that everything is just a sketch until I actually sign the piece, then I won’t be so hard on myself for having to tear stuff off and start again. As my teacher said, sometimes you have to actually put something there before you can find out that it doesn’t work.

Allow me to show you a few of the fits and starts of the piece from Penland. I tried so hard to make it about my story (I had picked The 13 Clocks by Thurber) but I decided to let that go after a couple of days. Then I was trying to figure out what to do with the start of the basket form and problem solved one night at 3:00 a.m. (Problem solving at night does not usually work, but I tried it anyway.) I struggled with that 3-D sketch for a few days and then tore away two thirds of it and started over. It was at this point that some objects that I had brought from home “jumped into my hands” and the story began to tell itself. There were some more sketches that didn’t work before I finished the piece. Some of these did not get photographed unfortunately, but I think you’ll get the picture (pun intended). To see the finished piece, visit www.virginiasperry.com/contemplation-of-a-life

the beginning of an open based basket

the beginning of an open based basket

twined with fiber rush

twined with fiber rush

drawn at 3:30 a.m.

drawn at 3:30 a.m.

fiber rush, fabric yarn, steel welding rods

fiber rush, fabric yarn, reed dowels

totally different

totally different

a very little basket made from twine

a very little basket made from twine

trying to add color to the backside

trying to add color to the backside

As a final thought, I am still intrigued with the shape I drew in the early morning hours and am looking forward to starting a new sculpture with that shape.

 

June Newsletter

Classes, studio help and sneak peeks…read on!


 

Like most people, I am always searching for ways to stretch myself personally and professionally. Sometimes that means perusing the museums/galleries/internet for artists who catch my eye or artwork that intrigues me and that I want to try to incorporate into my own work. Sometimes it means having exciting adventures like going to see wolves in Yellowstone. Next month this search is leading me to take two workshops, one close to home and the other in North Carolina. Three weeks of learning, developing and growing…what a treat!


 

The first workshop is taking place just up the road in Westminster, MD at the annual Common Ground on the Hill. This is a wonderful gathering of artist, craft people and musicians who get together and teach, learn and perform for two weeks. There are also seminars and guest speakers on social and environmental topics. I will be taking a class on Natural Dyeing with Pat Brodowski where, according to the catalog, I will explore “ancient traditions of foraging for color from natural materials and…techniques to manipulate their application to surfaces using printing, clamping, and resists, for use in making authentic colors for historic clothing, fiber arts, and basketry, and for creating drawing and printing inks.”

Recently I have wanted more control over the colors in the fibers that I use to weave my vessels and I think that I can learn some amazing things in this workshop!


 

The second workshop that I will be taking is at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. The school is located in the Appalachian Mountains and is one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

This two week class is taught by an amazing weaver/sculptor named Nathalie Miebach. It is super difficult to describe what she does, I am showing a picture but I advise you to check out her web-site.

Nathalie Miebach

Nathalie Miebach

She was also featured on the cover of the Dec/Jan 2014 issue of American Craft Magazine. You can probably guess why I am excited to be taking this particular class. The focus is on learning techniques of basket weaving (which I am actually in need of) and playing, tinkering and generally having fun weaving a sculpture. I would be very surprised if I don’t come away with total brain overload of ideas and new directions for my work!


 

June’s sneek peak:

painted steel and fisherman's wool

painted steel and fisherman’s wool


And finally, I wanted to remind you that my piece, “Contained” is at the Rouse Gallery in Columbia Maryland. The artist’s reception is Tuesday the 24th of June from 5:30 to 7:30. For more information about “Things That Scare You” and The Columbia Festival of the Arts, click HERE.

in situ

in situ


 

Keep a lookout for the July newsletter where I will show off all the things I learned…it may be a little late in coming because I won’t be back until the middle of the month but be patient, I promise a fun-filled newsletter! Don’t forget to “like” my Facebook page to get more recent updates and sneak peeks of my work!!!

May Newsletter

Such excitement in the studio! Read on to find out what’s what.


 

DEADLINE ACCOMPLISHED!!!

I was commissioned to make a piece for an exhibit that is running concurrently with the Columbia Festival of the Arts. The title of the exhibit is “Things That Scare You”. I have to admit that I was resistant to even thinking about this subject at first, I spend a lot of time purposely trying NOT to look at the things that scare me. I also didn’t want to make something too personal or too scary as it might not invite anyone to purchase it (which is, after all, one of the goals of this business). So I took that idea of hiding one’s fears and tried to portray it in a more abstract light. Despite my penchant for hiding my fears from myself as well as from others, I know from experience that doing this makes them more scary. Anyone with an imagination can dramatize that which isn’t seen, known or understood. Contained is my way of embodying that concept.

(Click on the picture to see this piece on my website)

Contained

Contained

For more information about “Things That Scare You and The Columbia Festival of the Arts, click HERE


 

HIRSUTAE VOLUCRI

Along with Contained, I finished a second piece this past month. Hirsutae Vólucri, which means Shaggy Bird in Latin, was somewhat of an antidote for the intensity of Contained. I just started weaving fuzzy stuff onto this round little form. Eventually the bird face was added (no, it was definitely NOT intended to be a bird at the beginning) and voilà! Silliness abounds!

(Click on the picture to see this piece on my website)

Hirsutae Vólucri

Hirsutae Velucri


 

RIBBON

The second section of the ribbon piece is finally finished and installed!!! Section three will be started soon.

I’m loving the pink color during the spring, it compliments the yellow of the buttercups so nicely don’t you think???

 

in situ

in situ

spring is almost finished!

spring is almost finished!

 

See you in June!

April Newsletter

Tax day has come and gone, the cherry trees are bursting and if we’re lucky, we won’t see any more snow. (But don’t hold your breath.) It’s time to let you know what’s happening this month at Virginia Sperry Studio! I’ve been very busy, as evidenced by the colossal mess on one of my work tables…

messy

messy


  In the Exciting News Category…

I have been asked to participate in an invitational art exhibit running concurrently with The Columbia Festival of the Arts this June and July. The Columbia Festival of the Arts is a long-running program that showcases local, national and international talent in all the arts forms, in Columbia, MD a thriving community located between Baltimore and Washington, DC.

I was contacted by the head of the gallery space at Howard Community College which is hosting an invitational exhibit titled “Things That Scare Me”. The director, Rebecca Bafford, and I go back a few years, when she was the director of the Columbia Arts Center and I was just starting out as an artist/crafter. So when she e-mailed me to ask if I would participate, I was delighted. Of course, I don’t have anything that works for this particular theme, so stay tuned for the development of a new piece…I”ll try not to make it too scary! The Rouse Gallery is located on the campus of Howard Community College and the exhibit runs from June 12 to July 27. The opening reception is on June 24 from 5:30 to 7:30. For more information on the exhibit and the festival CLICK HERE.


Newest Basket…

If you think this newsletter seems a bit on the late side…you are right. It is because I have been ever so close to finishing a basket and wanted to wait until I had something to show before I sent this month’s issue out. This particular basket has kicked my butt from the very beginning and the end was no exception. I spent four frustrating days trying to figure out what the story was about. I actually went off on one tangent that was really exciting until I realized that for some reason I couldn’t pull off the idea that was floating around in my head. I despaired of ever finishing it but a trip to Michael’s (and a night out with a friend) gave me a whole new lease on life. Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest of places and this one was found in the wedding decorating aisle in Michaels…who knew??? Anyway, I digress…here it is, the newest in the collection. Titled “Pod”, this piece measures approximately 30″ high by 10″ diameter. For more details, click on the picture.full view

Pod, full view


The Next Generation…

I have been busy in the welding studio creating some new forms to weave. There are different shapes and sizes, from the small and round to the tall, thin and wispy variety. I am pushing my comfort zone and am working on one that will be five feet tall…I expect that one to take a while. To peak your interest, here is the smallest of the lot, measuring about 12″ tall.

little puff ball

little puff ball


The Ribbon Piece…

And finally, the second section of the ribbon piece is at the painter’s and hopefully will be positioned next to the first section by the time the next newsletter rolls out of the printing press. See you in May!!!

how long does it take?

“How long does it take you to make one of these?”

This is the most often asked question and the most difficult one for me to answer. I was asked it again the other day in response to my new basket sculptures. So I pondered it this morning while I was weaving my newest basket sculpture. I decided that there are two answers to this question. One is short and somewhat flippant, the other begs to have an “hour analysis”. This is similar to a cost base analysis, except without the money aspect. It simply takes into account the hours I spend creating a basket. Not making it, creating it. And here is what I came up with:

Ordering steel: 10 minutes

Waiting for steel to arrive: two to three days, depending on weather, when I order it and when the delivery truck is in the area. This usually can provide steel for up to 10 baskets.

Designing/drawing shape to make: 30 minutes to a week…or two. Depends on how inspired I am and how much research I have to do. I start with a shape and sometimes the story comes with it…but it’s usually just a glimmer.

Letting the steel warm up so that I can work with it: three hours.

warming up the rods for the ribbon piece and a couple of baskets

warming up the rods for the ribbon piece and a couple of baskets

Cutting steel rods and base to size: 30 minutes to one hour.

Taking abstract pictures of the materials on the studio floor with my iPhone: two minutes

studio floor

abstract: studio floor

different sizes of round rods

different sizes of round rods

Grinding/sanding rods and base: 30 minutes to one hour.

Curving rods to form the spines: three to four hours depending on quantity and difficulty of bends.

Basket spines

Basket spines; “Forest Floor”

Welding spines onto base: three to four days. This is a tricky part of the process and requires lots of magnets to hold the spines in place. I also have to hold my breath a lot…and no sneezing allowed.

Grinding/sanding welds: one hour.

Delivery time to the painter: one hour there and back.

Waiting for the painter to sandblast and paint: two to four weeks depending on the weather and how many jobs are ahead of mine. The painter only primes the pieces and can work on several baskets at once.

Pick up time from the painter: one hour there and back.

Figuring out what color to paint spines: three to four days.

Painting a color onto the spines: two to three days

spines and shadows

spines and shadows, “Forest Floor”

Figuring out what color yarns to use, trip to yarn shop/Michael’s/JoAnn: three to four hours.

Weaving basket: two days until I figure out that the color choice and yarn choice are all wrong for the basket and I need to try something different.

weaving

weaving…the first time

Unweaving basket: three hours.

Repainting the spines: one to two days.

Another trip to the yarn store to pick through every possible combination: two hours.

Research of other baskets to find inspiration: two hours.

(Please note, the above five steps are sometimes repeated once or twice more until the basket has finally told me which way to go. This often requires finding out which way NOT to go.)

Weaving basket: five or six days.

Finishing the “story”: one day to two weeks depending on how quickly the creativity happens and I find the exact right objects to add.

just a little different than the first try

“Tree House”…just a little different than the first try

Coming up with a title: one hour to several weeks.

Taking pictures to put on website: one to two days.

Adding pix to the website: one hour.

And it’s done!!! Now you know why it’s so hard to answer this question. I can safely say it takes me at least two months if not more to finish a basket.

So if you are still reading this, you’re probably asking what was the short answer?

The short answer is 51 years.

Don’t forget to check out my website for the most recent additions to my basket sculpture collection!

March newsletter

My calendar says it’s March, but by the looks of things outside, it might still be the middle of winter. To say I’m tired of snow would be an understatement. However, there is no doubt that spring is here, the crocuses are blooming, the birds are nesting and I am waiting patiently for the peepers to start their singing. Soon enough the swallows will be claiming their barn rafters and the gardens will start to bloom. And in the meantime, I will wish you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, (despite the fact that I’m not Irish, nor do I like green beer or corned beef and cabbage). So, now that we have the weather and the holiday greetings out of the way, what’s new in the studio? LOTS! I have finished not one, but TWO baskets this last month. I am excited about both of them, they were each inspired by nature and yet they are very different. I have also finished the second section of the ribbon piece and am waiting for the afore-mentioned spring weather to actually get here so I can transport it to the painter’s. Read on for all the details…

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The first basket that I finished is a direct result of my trip to Yellowstone. One evening we were driving along the road in the Lamar Valley and when I looked behind us I noticed an amazing sight. One of the mountain peaks was lit up by the setting sun, while the other range directly behind it was a stunning dark blue.

drama

drama

I was lucky enough to be able to stand and watch this scene for quite some time. As a result, when I got back home, the evening was firmly imprinted in my psyche. After a false beginning, I came up with what I think is a stunning basket using the blues and whites that were there that night.

Spiral Basket

Spiral Basket

To see more pictures and details of this basket click on the picture.

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As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the second basket was inspired by a book named The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. This is a charming book about a twelve year old girl who lives in northern Texas in 1899 and who struggles between the expected norms for a girl of her time versus her intense love of the outdoors and learning everything about it. Yes, you guessed it, this book really spoke to me and without my consciously thinking about it, the basket that I have been struggling with for the past month evolved into a wonderful portrayal of this story. I was so taken with the book that I wrote the author and she said she would be honored if I were to give this piece the same title as her book. So…

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

To see more pictures and details of this basket, click on the picture.

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And finally, I wrote about my trip to Yellowstone in the February newsletter but I thought I would share my proof that we saw wolves. They are a shy sort and very smart. But if you are quiet and patient and good and kind…

wolf in Yellowstone

wolf in Yellowstone

This picture was taken by one of our guides through the telescope with my iPhone. If you are interested in reading more about my trip, visit my blog, Muse-ings or click on this link  “gone and back”. This is the first of several posts about my trip.

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So, with some warmer weather on its way (please?) and some more space in the welding studio, I am planning on creating a few more basket forms and starting the third section of the ribbon piece next month! Wish me luck…