Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Life Lived in Exclamation Points

While some artists seduce you quietly with their work, drawing you in to their private world, others come at you full force, pronouncing and exclaiming with an approach and vision so bold and unique it stops you in your tracks. Welcome to the world of Harriete Estel Berman.

Harriete’s studio is filled floor to ceiling with her raw materials: tin cans, tin doll houses, vintage cans, tins collected by others and sent to her, flattened sheets of printed metal sorted by size, shape, and color – everywhere. Often it feels like you are falling down Alice’s rabbit hole with the visual stimulus of bright shiny materials wherever your eye turns. In sharp contrast (no pun intended, though there are sharp edges everywhere), Harriete’s attention to the tiniest details is evident, and the laborious nature of her work requires her jeweler’s focus precision.

Harriete is a jeweler and metalsmith who long ago traded working in fine metals for recycled materials, particularly printed and patterned tin cans. Having learned about Harriete’s work over a year ago and then meeting her, I knew I had to visit her studio and get a better sense of what makes her tick. Oh. My. God. In spite of having seen Harriete’s exuberant work, nothing – NOTHING! – had prepared me for her studio, her energy, her wonderfully obsessive commitment, and the social commentary in her work.

What first drew me to Harriete’s work was her teacups, masterfully created from cans flattened, meticulously sliced, re-formed, precariously stacked. Harriete does nothing on a small scale, and the teacups are no exception; once part of a series of 200, only a few remain in her possession now.

Large scale, multi-year projects do not daunt Harriete. Her grass project used 32,000 separate blades of tin grass, and it was her commitment to the social commentary on American’s obsession with their lawns and the environmental impact of maintaining green lawns that drove Harriete to create this project over several years. For the past four years she has been working on a piece which uses thousands and thousands of used No. 2 pencils, a piece which comments on the role of standardized testing in the weakening of the American education system.

It is extraordinary to have this kind of zeal and passion, and to be able to take an issue which concerns so many of us and turn it into provocative work which is bound to have a social impact. And that is, perhaps, the most amazing aspect of this mighty woman - this woman who lives her life in exclamation points of imagery and exuberance, that she can take the ordinary around us and turn it into forms which question our beliefs, challenge our senses, and cause us to stop and take notice.

If you want to see her work, go to Her website is incredibly thorough.

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