Animals have always been a passion for me. We have a lot to learn from them; they are practical, hilarious, love their offspring, conserve energy, are never obese, and emotionally honest creatures. Whether illustrating children's books or sculpting in porcelain, I use animals to tell stories. Each of my sculptures are one-of-a-kind and hand-modeled. I roughly sculpt my figure from a sketch and then deconstruct the limbs, refine the details, hollow out each piece, and reassemble the sculpture. It seems like a lot of work, but in the end it's the only way I found that works for me. The uniqueness of my work is in the fine details.
I was raised on Long Island, New York in the 1960's. This was a time when mothers let their children roam freely so long as they were back by dinner time. I was grateful for this, as I had a curious mind and loved to wander. Our family lived near a pony farm, a woodland, and a meadow. I spent my days exploring seed pods in the meadow, lady slippers in the woods, and the wildlife of ponies. This is where I learned about the cycle of life–sex, pregnancy, and ultimately birth and death. I was amazed and spellbound.
As a youth, I spent many hours drawing with my mother at the kitchen table. She would draw Betty Boop and I would draw made-up plants and animals. Always making messes in the house with my painting and sculptures, my dad finally built an art studio for me in the basement. This allowed me to explore the world of art undisturbed without being obligated to clean up the creative mess! I would use whatever I could get my hands on cheaply–house paints, India ink, self-hardening clay, and found objects to create my own oeuvre.
As a young adult, I had a passion for storytelling through art. I would spend days thumbing through art books and going to museums with my mother. My earliest influences were Maurice Sendak, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. Constantly needing to be creative, I went to art camps and studied printmaking at C.W. Post College (Long Island University). I knew that being an artist was the only choice for me, as my mother and grandmother before me. Encouraged, but not wanting to be a starving artist, I decided to go to Parsons School of Design to study illustration. While there, I had the opportunity to study with many talented artists, including Maurice Sendak.
After graduating, I made a living as a children's book illustrator. I worked with several major book publishers for many years, including Schoolastic, Simon & Schuster, and Viking-Penguin. Some of the books I illustrated became quite popular, such as the Nancy Drew Files (see my illustration website). I also enjoyed painting many cult-classic movie posters for Troma Inc.
Eventually, I decided to stop illustrating. I was tired of telling someone else's story–it was time to tell my own. My love for the outdoors became a strong theme at this point in my life. In my spare time, I volunteered as a native plant re-forester in a 2000-acre forest reservation in Essex County, a densely populated area in New Jersey. This is where I founded The Wildflower Sculpture Park, which is located in front of the forest preserve. It is now a thriving sculpture park, with many well-known or emerging artists, and each year I search for new artists to exhibit their sculptures. While working in the woodland, I became concerned about the pollution and lack of native plants negatively impacting the indigenous ecosystem in this reservation. This reforestation work coincided with my learning ceramics at an art center in Summit, New Jersey. My passion for animals finally had a medium that I felt could tell my story–ceramics. I wanted to show how animals persevered, despite living on top of us in an urban environment. I sculpted many of New Jersey's endangered species that live in and around the metropolitan area, including the brown bat, the pack rat, and the barred owl. This series culminated in many gallery shows, including solo shows of paintings and sculptures at both the New Jersey Historical Society and New Jersey State Museum.
Loving a challenge, I decided to switch my clay from stoneware to porcelain. While porcelain is strong and transparent, it is also persnickety and sometimes an unforgiving medium. After traveling to Germany and discovering Meissen porcelain, I felt I had found something truly special. I decided to sculpt the classic Sins and Virtues in my own contemporary narrative, using baboons inspired by early 18th-century artist Johann Joachin Kändler's orchestra series. According to Thomas Michie, senior curator of decorative arts at Boston Museum of Fine Arts, "this has never been done before." Subsequently, after seeing Rembrandt, Franz Hals, and other Dutch masters at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I was inspired to create a painted body of work to compliment my porcelain sculptures.
I enjoyed using Chacma baboons (also called "Cape baboons") in my work because of their important Meissen heritage, their human-like expressive faces, and, of course, their opposable thumbs (good for holding stemware). Some of my sculptures are rather humorous. I believe that this is an important feature and adds to the discussion. Sculptures similar to these were originally created in the 18th century for dining tables to stimulate provocative discussion. I hope my pieces inspire the same.