World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien · BIOGRAPHY
elizabeth berrien's bbc cables wire sculpture illustration wins the BIG WON award for #1 Innovative and Alternative 2008.
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wire sculptor Elizabeth Berrien
Early Years | High School Exploration in Wire | Wolves and Other Animals | Young Marriage and Motherhood | Evolution of a Career | Site Specific Public Works | Living on a North Coast Farm | | Earth
Early Years

Elizabeth Berrien, godmother of the contemporary wire sculpture movement, was born in 1950. All her life, she has had an intuitive affinity for animals. As a small child she would stretch out on the lawn for hours, studying the goings-on of ants and other small insects. She would gently catch honey bees in her bare hands, hold them awhile, and let them go again. At age five, gazing at the ceiling during nap time, she visualized a long line looping back on iteslf. Picking up two pencils and a ball of string, she invented a crude form of knitting to make a tiny blanket for her pet turtle. The turtle rejected the gift, but Berrien continues to pioneer new uses for fiber.
wire sculptor elizabeth berrien
dragonfly wire sculpture

By kindegarten, Elizabeth was an avid reader. Her scores for spatial relationships and math were "off the scale;" later she skipped fourth grade. At age thirteen Elizabeth Berrian was admitted to Mensa, the "genius society", where she had a memorable meeting with Buckminster Fuller. As a high school sophomore she came in sixth in a statewide math competition, against a field of juniors and seniors. Her love for plane geometry and topology were vital to her later explorations of wire sculpture.
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High School

In high school, Elizabeth had difficulty expressing herself creatively. She could see the energy lines that made animals beautiful, but couldn't translate them on paper. Decades later, she would learn that she was born left-handed. When her efforts at drawing and painting ended in frustration, Elizabeth abandoned all hope of ever expressing herself as an artist.

And then, a miracle. Placed in a sculpture class against her vociferous objections, Elizabeth came under the influence of teacher Kenneth G. Curran. Under his astute tutelage, Elizabeth developed a whole new approach to art - to stop struggling against that which did not work, and start exploring areas which did work. Mr. Curran trained Elizabeth to train herself, using a lifelong technique of creative problem-solving (one good problem, properly solved, should spawn at least ten good new problems).
picasso cat wire sculpture Curran made Elizabeth class monitor, freeing her from fixed class assignments and stipulating that she learn to use all the equipment (kilns, looms, welding torches, etc). While her efforts in these areas were more satisfactory than works on paper, Berrien was still seeking a comfort zone. At last, Curran gave her a roll of wire, telling her, "Here, kid, take this wire and mess with it". Using wire as a mobile inkline was comforting - if a line wouldn't do what she wanted, she could tweak it around til she liked it better. Berrien still has her first crude wire sculpture, from 1968: Picasso's Cat. Her parents hid it for years so she wouldn't throw it out.
While Kenneth Curran recommended art school to many of his pupils, Elizabeth Berrien was not among them. In his words, "You'd have a lousy time, kid. They'd think you were too obsessive over the wire, and they'd want you to balance it out with all that other stuff that gave you so much grief. Besides, you're a non-conformist. You're doing a good job not being influenced by Alexander Calder, but most college art teachers have a personal mandate to influence the hell out of their students. Just go out there and have a life, the wire will take care of itself."

[In the 1980's, Kenneth G. Curran passed away. Elizabeth stayed in touch after graduation, and is grateful that she had the opportunity to thank her creative mentor for setting her on the journey of life. In her dreams, she still visits Curran his classroom and gains new insights].
Early Years | High School Exploration in Wire | Wolves and Other Animals | Young Marriage and Motherhood | Evolution of a Career | Site Specific Public Works | Living on a North Coast Farm | | Earth
wolf head wire sculpture Wolves and other Animals

In her teens, Elizabeth became involved with the wolf preservation effort when John Harris, "Wolfman of Hayward," introduced her to his urban wolf pack. Her favorites were Clem and Jethro, ambassador wolves John eventually took on tour to school auditoriums around the country. Because of Clem and Jethro, a new generation of nature advocates came into existence. Later, Berrien would become a volunteer at the Oakland Zoo.
berrien Elizabeth divided her focus between learning about her animal subjects and learning to control wildly temperamental wire. She spent hours in the school's sculpture lab, making animals with wire and torch. When her parents vetoed plans for a torch at home, she embarked upon several years of problem solving: how to make wire joins hold firm without heat? Early efforts involved dipping wobbly wire forms in liquid plastic. The bubble-like shell held the wire in place, and made pretty ornaments she could give as Christmas gifts.
ornament Young Marriage and Motherhood

Marriage and motherhood absorbed most of Elizabeth's energies in her twenties. She spent evenings poring over animal books, making tiny wire animals to sell at fairs. To her chagrin, customers called her wire animals "sculptures," and wanted them bare, without the plastic, so they could see the lines! This meant more hard work, stopping at every intersection of two lines to somehow loop and twist the joints into stability. Slowly and gradually, drawing upon past experiments with weaving, basketry and lace-making, Berrien's initially random loops and twists evolved into an orderly system of hand-twisted, textile wire sculpture. She gained a smoother facility, and the once painstaking sculptures started to evolve more easily.
The 1970's were a bleak time for Elizabeth Berrien, when she lived in Oakland, California. Isolated within a repressive marriage, she didn't handle money or drive a car. In this time of loneliness, she was befriended by a neighbor who shared her love for animals - painter Susan Seddon Boulet. At the Boulet home, Susan would serve up mugs of herbal tea or spicy Brazilian fish stew. As they chatted, Susan would share her lore of myth and metaphysics, while Elizabeth shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for the inner workings of the animal kingdom. Susan's wise and gentle nature. Their friendship endured til Susan's death in 1997 and Elizabeth believes, beyond.
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Early Years | High School Exploration in Wire | Wolves and Other Animals | Young Marriage and Motherhood | Evolution of a Career | Site Specific Public Works | Living on a North Coast Farm | | Earth
horse wire sculpture

Evolution of a Career

In her thirties, as a divorced single parent, Berrien supplemented office income by staying up late twisting wire dragons and unicorns for San Francisco boutiques and Harvest Festivals.
dragon wire sculpture When a department store commissioned 3 life-sized Pegasus sculptures for Christmas window displays, they literally stopped traffic as viewers flooded the Union Square sidewalk and overflowed into the street. The breakthrough allowed Elizabeth to walk away from the day job. Her wire animals have supported her ever since. Elizabeth Berrin's wire sculptures were discovered by Gump's, and then a steady flow of museum curators offering exhibits.
cat wire sculpture Site Specific Public Works

Next came public works - first a Pegasus landmark for Louisville, Kentucky airport. When the Pegasus was unveiled, traffic patterns within the airport changed as passengers circled the flying horse over and over. Some became so mesmerized they missed flights - but didn't complain! Entering a juried art competition at Mendocino Art Center, she further validated her self-taught art with the first of numerous blue ribbons and "best of shows."
hawk wire sculpture Working large, Elizabeth enriched her link with wildlife as Artist in Residence at Marine World/Africa USA, where she created life-sized giraffes, elephant and other animals while working directly from life.
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oryx wire sculpture Her encounters with cheetahs were especially useful toward making an accurate cheetah wire sculpture for the Los Angeles Zoo. When all the California Condors were gathered in from the wild, the zoo commissioned Berrien to sit in blinds and study the massive birds from life, then create a California Condor wire sculpture with 9 1/2 ft wingspan to soar over the zoo's entry. When Berrien asked keepers to critique her sculpture, they said it was so accurate they could tell which condor it was!
cheetah wire sculpture The zoo commissioned a total of six Berrien wire sculptures, funded by Arco and IBM grants and private donors.
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Early Years | High School Exploration in Wire | Wolves and Other Animals | Young Marriage and Motherhood | Evolution of a Career | Site Specific Public Works | Living on a North Coast Farm | | Earth
blue farm house Living on a North Coast Farm

In 1988, Berrien embarked on her second marriage, which lasted 20 years. Today Elizabeth lives on her ten-acre farmstead on the outskirts of Eureka, on northern California's rugged redwood coast. She keeps horses and raises poultry, extending her self-education in animal behavior by studying the dynamics of her chicken flock. Her horses give her the insight needed to create breathtakingly accurate equine wire scuptures. The region's wildlife, including raccoons, foxes, herons, hawks and mountain lions, lend plenty of artistic inspiration, at the cost of an occasional careless chicken lost to predators.
raccoon mask wire sculpture 40 Years as a Wire Sculptor - and Still Twisting

For her first twenty years in wire, most viewers had never seen works by a wire sculptor besides Alexander Calder, Ruth Asawa or Elizabeth Berrien. Many people innocently assumed Elizabeth was using pre-meshed "chicken wire" - where the astonishing truth is that she weaves single strands, using only her bare hands and a pair of wire cutters. Even after 40 years as a wire sculptor, Elizabeth demonstrates often - dispelling those "chicken wire" myths and inspiring a whole new generation of wire sculptors. In 2004 Elizabeth Berrien founded Wire Sculpture Internation, a guild whose mission is to gain greater recognition, respect and validity for this highly diverse medium.
arabian horse wire sculpture
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T Rex wire sculpture In 2006, Berrien shipped several to Europe for the owner of a topiary garden in Belgium. Wire sculptures by Elizabeth Berrien are especially prized by architects, interior designers and feng shui consultants for their ability to harmonize and balance difficult spaces, enhancing rather than dominating the locale. Her distinctive, immediately recognizeable works are collected worldwide. You may have seen them at fine stores. Neiman Marcus, The Nature Company, Gump's, airports, parks, zoos, restaurants or sculpture gardens - even Disney World has a 13-ft T-Rex by Elizabeth Berrien.
jumping elk Elizabeth Berrien's life has been full of adventure. She makes a steady but limited flow of works for a handful of galleries and private collectors. Every year she pushes the envelope further, creating unique and unforgetable wire sculptures for collectors, museums, and site specific applications.

Due to the extraordinary requests for biographical information about the life factors that shaped Elizabeth Berrien as a wire sculptor - in a class entirely by herself - she has written a draft manuscript of her memoirs. When it is completed, we will announce its release on this website.

cat wire sculpture
Early Years | High School Exploration in Wire | Wolves and Other Animals | Young Marriage and Motherhood | Evolution of a Career | Site Specific Public Works | Living on a North Coast Farm | | Earth
World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 8, 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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