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is in the metal...
REDLANDS -- January, 1987 -- The thick piece of wire in Elizabeth
berrian's hand could have spent eternity as a part of someone's fence.
But, because it came into her possession, the length of aluminum will
be part of a commanding piece of artwork, a large and commanding phoenix.
Using just her fingers, a small pair of wire cutters, and rolls and
rolls fo wire, Berrian, a Mendocino artist, has created a metal
Berrian and her wire Panda
Examples of her work are on display at the San Bernadino County Museum,
creating a lacy fairyland in the circular second story gallery.
From the ceiling hangs a winged dragon, looking fierce but with a
delicate spider-web design highlighting its silver skin.
To one side sits a hulking bear, roly-poly but seeming to smile. At the
back of the room, two lady
half woman, half horse, carry on a light-hearted conversation.
Add to the mix a winged Pegasus, an elephant, cat, armadillo, camel and
Most are black, silver or gray, but two pieces, a pelican
and an eagle, are in full color, made of colored telephone wire.
All the work is delicate and whimsical, seeming to be lighter than air
- and at the same time, sturdy as steel. They bounce when touched, as
though mounted on springs.
Each piece of wire is wound by hand; Berrian uses no mesh. "If you see
a fish with a thousand scales, I made all thousand scales myself."
Her work is one of two art displays at the museum. In the lower gallery
hang the paintings of Alexander Ross, a Los Angeles artist whose
primitive style and bright colors capture the street scenes of his New
Berrian has spent 20 years twisting her lengths of wire into
painstakingly correct models of animals - and an occasional car or
Her first attempts were tiny animals. "They were small and flimsy and
tended to fall apart if you looked at them", she said.
Her current creations are engineering masterpieces, each twist either
pulling, to hold the work together, or pushing, to create the tension
that helps the piece to hold its shape.
"Apparently I've taught myself engineering, because these things are a
lot stronger than the wire would allow."
Berrian encourages people to touch her pieces, to feel their bounce.
They are virtually indestructible, she said.
"Once I actually drove over a couple pieces and turned them into
pancakes. They fluffed right out again."
Some of the largest pieces roll up into small balls, allowing her to
pack the entire musem show in her Datsun station wagon.
Berrian speaks eagerly of her work in a soft voice that has all the
delicate strength of her animals. She is a petite woman, but with the
strength in her fingers and arms to wrestle some fairly thick wire into
incredibly complex positions.
Her work allows her to indulge her fascination with animals, which have
captivated her since childhood.
"When I was 3 years old my sister taught me to catch bumblebees in my
bare hands," Berrian says. "I found out 15 years later I was allergic."
She uses photographs, taxidermy models and live animals to help design
her sculpture. As artist in residence at Northern California's Marine
World, she has many opportunities to work close to a number of living
But she also works in the realm of fantasy. One of her current
commissions, for science fiction author Larry Niven, will be a 13-foot
model of the alien in his best-seller "Footfall".
Berrien said she had to read the book four times to find enough
information to turn Niven's fantasy into a wire design. The figure will
sit in Niven's Tarzana yard.
Berrian's work sells for as little as $30 for a hummingbird, up to
$5,000 and beyond for her corporate commissions.
She works mainly in her home, or out in her yard in good weather, but
she can take her wire and wire cutters anywhere. "I have been known to
wire hummingbirds in the darks in movie theaters."
One of her creations, a Pegasus
with a 17-foot wingspan, hangs in the Standiford Field air terminal in
"It had to be so accurate because in Kentucky everybody, including the
cleaning lady, knows horses."
The sculpture is a major conversation piece in the airport. "Actually,
they've told me that people look at it and get mesmerized and miss
collection of William F "Buddy" Thompson
Elizabeth Berrian's wire sculpture and Alexander Ross' paintings will
be on dislpay at the museum, 2024 Orange Tree Lane, Redlands, through
Feb 1, 1987. Museum hours are 9 AM to 8PM Tuesday through Saturday, 1
to 5PM Sunday. For information call (714) 825-4823
Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931
· email firstname.lastname@example.org
1968-2009 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated
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