Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sandra Berlin: Inspired Sculptress in the smART Exhibit at the Gotthelf Gallery

By Joe Nalven

The JCC Gotthelf Gallery is currently featuring twenty artists in its current exhibit. One of those artists is Sandra Berlin-Kroll, a retired instructor of ceramics. 

I was drawn to her sculpting Mayan-inspired figures when I visited her studio just after I came back from visiting Machu Picchu and other Pre-Columbian Andean places. 

Early stage in Sandra Berlin-Kroll's scupting of a Mayan-inspired figure / Photo credit:  David Kroll

Joe Nalven:  What moved you to create the Guatemalan figurines in this exhibit?

Sandra Berlin-Kroll:  A recent art centered trip to Guatemala inspired me to create a new series of ceramic art pieces that would blend elements of the Pre-Columbian cultural life depicted in their art to present daily life in this colorful society.

I chose a Guatemalan woman to sculpt as she represented the strength and tradition of the country. I was also fascinated by the numerous ceramic burial vessels I saw in the museums and chose to create the Warrior Vessel, incorporating ancient ritualistic details with contemporary new motifs.

Joe Nalven: Are these ethnographic Mayan images or have you worked these in novel ways?
Sandra Berlin-Kroll: These sculptures are Mayan inspired. The Mayan woman for example wears an elaborate head dress which I've interpreted in a contemporary way. However, it is commonplace to see large baskets of fruit or colorful fabric wrapped around their heads carrying all sorts of produce and other items for sale.

Sandra Berlin-Kroll, later stage in the sculpting process / Photo credit: David Kroll

Both pieces have large circular lobes which is depicted in pre-Columbian ceramic pieces. I was able to see many of the archaic ceramic pieces that had been preserved with their original painted color decorations on them and wanted to airbrush my work with underglaze and pigment as well.

Ceramic press molds and stamps were used to create patterns on the surface to depict the beautiful traditional patterns woven and worn by men and women daily.

Joe Nalven: Did you sculpt these as you have your other work or are you reinventing your process with each new piece?
Sandra Berlin-Kroll: I taught ceramics at Grossmont Community College and Southwestern Community College and after retirement developed a recreational therapy ceramic program at Alvarado Rehabilitation Hospital.

Every piece I sculpt depends on skills and techniques utilized in the process of hand building, firing the piece and then the final process of glazing or decorating the surface. Each new piece challenges the creative process. Once the structural integrity is intact I explore ways to develop my concept through movement, texture, color, additional clay slabs and forms, incised lines or geometric shapes.

Sandra Berlin-Kroll, Mayan Woman at Gotthelf Gallery / Photo credit:  David Kroll

Joe Nalven: What makes these pieces different from every other piece?
Sandra Berlin-Kroll: : The Mayan woman represents the female role in Mayan society. She is strong and proud. Her round face is characteristic of facial features from this area. Her dress is hand woven and displays designs worn for centuries.

Warrior Vessel is a funerary urn with the likeness of the warrior on the surface. He too, has design elements depicted on pre-Columbian pieces that blend and contrast the ancient art styles with contemporary ideas.

Note:  The author is one of the artists in this exhibit. 

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