“Sherry Owens: Tied to This World” Cris Worley Fine Arts - Questions About Process
Coming upon a picture of Sherry Owens in a hard-hat reminded me that making sculpture is not for the wishy-washy. One sees in the picture, petite, genteel Sherry, in the pose of a high-rise construction worker, overseeing installation of her bronze sculptural grouping at Love Field Airport. The City of Dallas commissioned the bronzes, which are of monumental scale.
I recently took a close look at Sherry Owens’ newest sculptures in Sherry Owens: Tied to This World at Cris Worley Fine Arts in Dallas, through October 12, 2019. The beauty of these artworks, as well as their complexity, got me to wandering about the process. How did she do it? So I contacted the artist, asked a few questions, and learned a few things I want to share with readers.
Virginia Billeaud Anderson: First of all, you’re a witch! I was so envious when you traveled in India, in 2015, at the time you exhibited at the National Academy of Art in New Delhi. The pictures were fantastic. Gawd, how I wish I could’ve tagged along with you, and Sharon Kopriva, and Christy Karll and the other artists, and toured architectural and archaeological sites. Must have been cool to see temples with Amita Bhatt, she’s so bloody knowledgeable. What’s it like to ride an elephant?
Sherry Owens: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU VIRGINIA
VBA: Sherry, I’m thinking back to 2015 when Octavia Gallery paired your sculptures with Suzi Davidoff’s drawings of West Texas flora, hardly dumb, given how effectively Davidoff’s plant images reinforced the sculptures’ botanical essence. Regarding the new works, they’re downright elegant, particularly where you elevate vegetal matter into the realm of bronze. Describe the process of creating a bronze sculpture with crepe myrtle branches as its source.
SO: First I construct the piece in crepe myrtle. Then take it to the foundry where it is cut apart into smaller sections, then dipped several times in ceramic shell, then the original wood piece is burned out and bronze is poured into the ceramic shell mold. Then the shell is removed, all the sections are welded back together and it is finished with a patina and wax.
VBA: Where do you cast?
SO: Primarily I use Ken King Foundry in Houston. I have also worked with David Isles of Bolivar Bronze in Bolivar, TX.
VBA: The airport commission makes the point, you frequently work in large scale. Thinking about the size of those bronzes made me wonder about structural accuracy. Do you perform any type of structural engineering so the taller pieces don’t plop over?
SO: Taller pieces have a stainless steel structure inside the bronze for support. But if you are talking about only the crepe myrtle pieces, then I use cross bracing within the structure of the piece for support.
VBA: Do you create a preliminary sketch?
SO: Almost always, just to get an idea of the gesture of the piece and to start searching for sticks that move and turn with the linear qualities of the piece.
VBA: In pieces that combine branches and metal, how do you attach branches to metal?
SO: If you are talking about bronze, then all the bronze sections are welded back together. I have done a few pieces attaching wood branches to a metal armature with bolts.
VBA: The Dallas Morning News once featured a picture of you in your studio, and you were up to your ears in branches. I gather there’s a great deal of chopping and carving going on. How do you use pegs?
SO: The pegs I use are all hand carved and made from the small straight shoots that come up in the spring at the base of the crepe myrtle tree. When 2 sticks intersect, I glue in a peg to hold the sticks in place.
VBA: Wax is one of the materials.
SO: For the crepe myrtle pieces - I use a wood furniture wax after I have colored the carved wood to seal it. For the bronze pieces - I use a bronze wax after doing the patina (the chemical coloring) to seal it.
VBA: Describe the paint for coloring branches.
SO: Sometimes I use paint, and sometimes dye to color the sticks. I have used a variety of paints - acrylic, latex, milk paint - then burnish back through the paint to bring out the carved edges on the surface of the wood (where I have whittled the bark off). If I am coloring with dye, I use a lacquer based wood dye that penetrates the grain of the wood. Both applications are very transparent as I want you to see that the piece is made of wood, so I am not using a totally opaque finish. There are also times when I do a controlled burning of the wood to blacken the surface.
VBA: According to Cris Worley Fine Arts, the crepe myrtle has been providing sculptural inspiration for over 30 years. Was it embedded in your childhood, did crepe myrtles surround you when you were a kid?
SO: I was an only child and played alone a lot......making mud pies in the back yard and sewing a lot of clothes. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas but my favorite memories as a child were my times with my grandfather in east Texas out in the country riding my bike and horses, going fishing, taking long walks all across meadows and fields. I remember watering 2 rows of pine trees for a dollar a day. I still love pine trees and have planted one in my yard. I don't specifically remember crepe myrtles growing up, but took notice of them when making a mixed media piece about 30 years ago and wanting to carve the bark off of the crepe myrtle sticks to make a construction. To me they are the most beautiful in the winter when bare. I think I have always loved being surrounded by nature and it continues to inspire my work today.