Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · TOOLS: FINGERS AND WIT
elizabeth berrien's bbc cables wire sculpture illustration wins the BIG WON award for #1 Innovative and Alternative 2008.
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wire animals at museum
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, 1985 - Elizabeth berrien's first museum exhibit of wire sculptures. Since then, she's been invited to exhibit with many other museums and fine art venues.

Elizabeth Berrian Weaves a World of Wildlife in Wire

Arts & Entertainment Magazine, Nov 1985

Most would-be artists approach their prospective medium - painted, written, composed, performed - through a first impression (I like that! I want to be like that!) and then a tortuous process of education and, hopefully, innovation that might have the artist eventually ennobling the art.

Elizabeth Berrien went through the process, but with one shortcut: she invented her own medium.


Berrien weaves with wire, mostly wildlife, in stunning variety - from aardvarks to zorillas with the occasional bear (seven subspecies), eagle (five), gazelle (three) and warthog (fortunately, one) added in for artistic and alphabetical balance. Her work list of animals is approaching 400, and she considers it a beginning.

And Berrian compounds her own challenge by creating art in public: accompanied by an observant wit, her fingers work strands of wire at parties, talking with friends, or during day-long stands at Mendocino's This Is Not Art gallery, where she made an impressive progress on an emerging horse during a conversation with A & E Magazine.

Elizabeth Berrian at least started as a traditionalist: "when I was five, I invented knitting". In 1968, she combined her experience with lace-making techniques, line drawings, and a passion for animals into a nascent art form: hand weaving with wire. She describes the breakthrough simply: "I got into wire after many years of seeing beautiful lines in animals, and not being able to draw worth a damn."

She describes more standard wire sculpture as "too stiff and unsatisfying," calling her own work "more like three-dimensional line drawings, entirely a product of self-education".

As she says this, standing in the gallery courtyard, she gives a strong twist to the neck of what's emerging as a horse. Do her hands get tired? "well, when I'm back in the Bay Area I practice ju-jitsu a lot, and I'd like to think that makes this easier."

As with the horse, she starts literally at the beginning, with the crossing of two or three wires near the forehead, and works right on down to the tail (or whatever the creature ends with). The detail that appears on the way is extraordinarily intricate: "I sometimes use as much as 300 yards of wire in a project... I weave and twist additional strands onto the initial nucleus and follow the wire as it spreads outward to encompass the whole creature."

Berrian's research is intensive: Looking t the five-foot horse emerging in her hands, she says, "The neck is just a tube with variations. Now I have to crack the books to study the muscles and withers... the whole process might take a month to six months." She estimates spending as much time watching and studying wildlife as she does actually working with wire; and when she visits a new town, the zoo is her first stop. "At first I did little misshapen things," she says. "but now I study the real thing. I don't have any real anatomy books, but I have some 300 cross-indexed works and tapes so I can really study a moose. The main thing is not to wire anything I can't actually see. I don't make assumptions. And it's fun: Marine World would give me a staff pass and just turn me loose."

And 1985 has been a big payoff year for this attention to detail. First, she was artist-in-residence at Marine World: then, this spring, she was given a prominent one-woman exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. And on June 28, her 15-foot-wingspan Pegasus was unveiled as the centerpiece of Louisville, Kentucky's new Standiford Field airport. And she was playing to demanding audiences: "Preparing for Los Angeles, the most hair-raising thing was that everyone including the janitors knew what each animal looks like in life. Louisville... remember, this is horse country. I couldn't be breed specific with the Pegasus, or all the other breeders would have been up in arms."

While at first glance, Berrian's works might seem scarily delicate, they turn out to be surprisingly durable. They resonate softly when touched, then bounce back into shape. One large Pegasus, currently on hand, has a "lifetime crushproof guarantee... good for the life of the artist. The buyer will get it folded up, delivered in a Toyota station wagon, and delivered anywhere in California." To deliver her work for the Los Angeles exhibit, she just pried open a five-foot elephant and stuffed it with 40 to 50 smaller pieces.

Berrian's flow of commissions has grown to the point where she's now fully self-supporting as an artist: "My blood pressure is better, and I'm in great physical shape". But she doesn't clock the hours: "I could panic, fudge, avoid the books, and it would still sell. But I'd know the difference". She adds, "So far, nobody's proposed an animal that I couldn't wire, and one of my working rules is never to turn down a preposterous commission. The results of this maxim have included the infamous Snake/Rat battle, Two-Headed elephants, a Marsupial Tyrannosaurus, and the currently pending Seven-Foot Rampant Pig Playing Pan Pipes".

[Berrien recently wrote from Los Angeles, where she's on the trail of corporate assignments: "I attended a party at a friend's house; we once collaborated on a centerpiece for some shifty and slinky wire cats for a Halloween centerpiece; I went in hopes of drumming up some custom commissions. Rather than march in wearing a happy-face name-tag saying, Howdy! I'm the one who did the wire cats! I knitted up a simple four-inch cat face and wore it as a neckpiece. And now the owners of Geary's, a very prestigious jewelry store in beverly Hills, would like to carry my entire alleged line of neckpieces.."]

How do people respond to her working in public? "a lot of people just ask, 'why are you doing that?' and all I can say is, 'because nobody else will'".

Giving the hose another healthy wrench, she adds, "then there was the quintessical rudeness. When I was at Gump's, closing a large sale, this kid held up one of my cats and said, 'Hey, mom, look what she wants $250 for!' And mom reacted the same way. I just told her, "This is a museum piece, makable by only one person in the next 90 years or so. But it takes great artistic integrity to own it.' Then I went back to close the sale."

She continues, "some people are surprised by my range of tools. Some expect welding or soldering, others think I have a wire-spinner hooked up to my computer. What I have is cutters.

"And it's fun: I can just say I'm out here twisting slowly in the wind, or twisting the night away..."

Has anyone else tried to imitate her? "No, but anyone who's into lacemaking, drawing, spatial relationships, and bridgebuilding is welcome to give it a runthrough. And if my 14-year-old daughter ever wants to knuckle down and suffer several years of aggravation, I'll keep this going as a family treasure."

[Berrian's daughter already plays a major role: "When she was four, I left her and an adult friend to anchor an exhibit in San Francisco while I ran for coffee. I came back to find her surrounded by a knot of people, giving an astonishingly clear and informed lecture on myself and my sculptures. Since then she's often stepped in as a secretary/agent/manager/backrubber... she's indispensable to all of this."

Putting the horse aside to work on a bird (she keeps multiple projects going to stay fresh), Berrian summarizes her work: "Above all, I'm an amateur naturalist. Each sculpture is an attempt to capture the individual essence of the animals by following its natural lines, choosing the feather, bone, or muscle patterns that best represent it in terms of spirit and energy. It's a never-ending process of self-education."
World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Apr 18, 2010 · this page valid HTML 4.01

elizabeth berrien's bbc cables wire sculpture illustration wins the BIG WON award for #1 Innovative and Alternative 2008.
THE BIG WON
#1 Worldwide
Alternative/Innovative
elizabeth berrien's bbc cables wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.
CLIO 2008
elizabeth berrien's bbc cable wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted cannes gold lions in 2008.
Cannes Festival
Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's bbc cable wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted ADC gold cubes in 2008
ADC
Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's bbc cable wire sculpture illustration wins the coveted Obie Best of Show award 2008.
OBIE
Best of Show
elizabeth berrien's bbc cable wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted Andy gold awards 2008.
Andy Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's bbc cable wire sculpture illustration wins one show gold pencil awards 2008.
One Show Gold Pencil
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins double grand awards at London International Awards2008.
London International
Double Grand
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