Hera, Sculpture: Connectors, Outdoor Installations, World Traversing Installation Art Personal Narrative

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Personal Narrative

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Artwork has always been central to my life. Drawing and painting watercolors lifted me out of family tension into a world of my own. My parents supported my talent by sending me to Saturday art classes at the New Orleans Museum. My early sense of space was developed in the trees I climbed, enclosures I built, places I explored and the environmental fantasy of Mardi Gras. After finishing high school in 1958, I was selected to represent the United States in a worldwide encampment of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Greece. The sharp contrast of Greece and New Orleans impressed me in a way that drew me back many years later.

At the end of my freshman year as a scholarship student at Mount Holyoke College, I returned to New Orleans and a scholarship to Newcomb College that fall. I soon married and gave birth to the first of my three sons. Managing the house, my work and studies and nurturing my three sons gave me early training in the director / producer role my work currently requires. I attended classes on a half time basis, in order to have enough time with my children. By the time I entered graduate school at Southern Methodist University, I was twenty-nine.

My work was winning first prizes and museum purchase awards. As the work progressed, it became obvious that it did not fit in the gallery context. My main concern was the effect the work had upon the viewer / participant. I was making large scale airbrush paintings, which I called WAY paintings. My goal was to surround the viewer with color. The paintings were too big for most galleries, and I was dissatisfied that viewers could control the visual field by their positions within the exhibition area.

In an early morning vision, I conceived of a series of translucent inflatable environments. These 'VINYL AND AIR EXPERIENCES," physically surrounded the participant and guaranteed "immersion" in the color field. As they won purchase awards in competitive exhibitions, they came to the attention of Henry Hopkins, Director of the Fort Worth Art Center Museum. Hopkins' offer of a 1973 solo show catapulted my work to a new level. An artist friend suggested I put the grandest dream I had on paper as my proposal for the show.

The air-filled structures of the inflated work had been vulnerable and fickle. To maintain the shape of my new design, LABYRINTH 73, I used gravity and hung the twenty-five foot diameter environment of translucent cloud-colored vinyl from the ceiling by two hundred monofilament lines. Although the LABYRINTH 73 was symbolic of my internal search, it was expressed in a formal, poetic manner. A friend commented that the LABYRINTH 73, as an abstract form, could have been designed by a man as well as a woman and challenged me to create works which were more personal, involving more of my identity. I created WOMAN MOLDING a photo-mural, which is an autobiographical statement using black and white photographs of myself, nude and clothed, in sixteen paper doll poses. My 1974 MFA exhibition of this work was so unsettling that organizers of a Ladies Tea which was held in the lobby outside of the exhibition, insisted that the show be closed. When I discovered this, I was supported by Robert Murdock, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum in reversing this "censorship".

In 1975, I purchased the old Baptist church in Georgetown, Massacusetts as a place to work and build a safe home for my children. Boston area exhibitions of my work led to a solo show with the Sunne Savage Gallery at Bartol Old Farm, south of Boston. The series of environments called FARMWORK were forms I drew in space using ribbons of translucent and clear vinyl laced through the trees, enclosing volumes, delineating mazes and creating rhythmic passageways.

Sydney Rockefeller, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, offered to show WOMAN MOLDING in 1976. Gabriella Jeppson, who followed her as Director, felt that the exhibition should be updated to include my environmental concepts and videotapes. I welcomed the opportunity to incorporate these diverse elements of my work in one exhibition.

LIFE WAYS, a multi-media environment and performance expressing the evolution of female sensuality, filled the ICA's second floor. The series of environments included a maze, and I realized that I would be asked why my work so often included mazes. In my research of mazes and labyrinths, I was stunned by the similarity between LIFE WAYS and the spaces and rituals within the Labyrinth of Knossos in Crete. Since the matrifocal, neolithic culture had been led by women, it was natural that they would have created a series of ritual spaces with a celebration of female sensuality as its core. I felt a wave of recognition as I realized I had drawn upon a connection which was deep in the subconscious. I made a commitment to visit Crete and Knossos.

I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to set up an arts program in the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. While I was there, I chose my new name, "Hera". I identified with her role as the protectress of women's rights, her ethical strength and her ancient identity as goddess of abundance. On my return to Massachusetts, while sailing up the coast of Maine, my left thumb and the tip of my left ring finger were amputated in a sailing accident. Determined to carry on, I installed the LIFE WAYS maze in a trial hanging at Phillips Exeter Academy where I was an artist-in-residence. Adjustment to the amputation was difficult, and took several years. The ICA exhibition of LIFE WAYS was a huge success. Viewers experienced the environments as an archaeological site, using their personal references to sense the previous use of the space. A videotape of the performance played in the final area of the exhibition, serving as a "rosetta stone" which explained the uses I had made of the environments. Chris Cook, Director of the Addison Gallery of Phillips Andover Academy, described the show as having "synthetic historical time". With the demands of the exhibition over, I began raising funds for a Women's Slide Archive I initiated at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. As I battled depression over the loss of my thumb, the offer of $1000 for a day's work, building a temporary environment for Salem State College, renewed my sense of self worth, and the grey numbness began to leave.

When Carl Belz offfered me a show at the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University in 1977, I produced three new works: SWEET SKIRT, DEATH SINGER and VINYL SWAG. VINYL SWAG transformed the rectangular facade of the Museum with an overlay of the parabolic vinyl curves. SWEET SKIRT was a walk-in skirt, exploring the social meaning of skirts. Its seductive exterior contrasted sharply with the fertility symbols of the interior. DEATH SINGER expressed a similar seductive dynamic with its exterior of rich purple velvet and gold fringe enclosing the "deathday cake" of a wooden box filled with earth. Writing in Art in America Michael Leja' commented on the dynamic of "seduction and repulsion" in these works.

My concern with the basic issues of life extended to religion and the hypocrisy of the Christian church. Richard Koshalek, Director of the Hudson River Museum at Yonkers, advised me to show my BUTCHER SHOP environment at Iolas Gallery in Manhattan in a 1978 solo show. This dramatic juxtaposition of butchery and Christianity was an environment which filled the gallery. As my personal psychological awareness developed, I built and toured FAMILY ROOM, a multi-media environment, to the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, Nexus Gallery in Philadelphia and the Women's Interart Center in New York City. Judith Stein, speaking on WHUY in Philadelphia described the work as "a visual exposition of family dynamics, successful precisely because of its specificity."

My long awaited trip to Crete in September of 1978 was transformative in many ways. Ancient Crete is as a contrast to everything in our patriarchal western culture. The trip to Crete gave me a vision of the possibility of a powerful and peaceful world, with the woman culture of ancient Crete as the model. I replaced my socially critical attitudes with a desire to heal, share and show the way. The work I was making assumed the form of meditative spaces (arbors, sitting places, mazes and gardens) and psychological connectors of the earth's people. I have returned to Crete every year to recharge my psyche.

In 1979, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts provided funding for SNAIL SHELL MAZE, a fifty foot diameter triple spiral hedge maze which was a reflection of the snail shell shaped houses indigenous peoples of the area had built. Childhood memories of hurricanes led me to design STORMFLOWER, a flowering hedgemaze patterned after of the eye of a hurricane, for the University of New Orleans, with funding from NEA. STORMFLOWER serves as a fetish for the University, sending other storms away. FLORIBUNDA for Creedmoor Psychiatric Center was in the form of the cross section of a ripe piece fruit, with brightly colored flowering plants on the exterior, and darker evergreens on the interior. My message was that the vitality of life was to be found outside the institution. FLORIBUNDA was the first work for which I raised funds through my non-profit organization under the auspices of Cultural Council Foundation. The reward for these efforts came when a catatonic patient spoke for the first time as he saw the maze.

My work expanded to a worldwide context as a major project artist at Artpark in 1982. NIAGARA-KNOSSOS-CARRANZA CONNECTOR, stimulated world awareness and a broader view of our environment, using Artpark as a staging platform for global sensitivity. I pointed a 62' walk-in compass arrow toward Knossos to expand our vision of the possibilities for a peaceful society, using the ancient woman culture of Crete as an example. The arrowhead projection booth showed a film loop of my water colors depicting a northeasterly orbit of earth. The Artpark work confirmed my role as a competent designer / producer/director and has received worldwide attention.

The 1983 New York Art Parade included my ORBITOR parade vehicle representing female consciousness orbiting the earth. The ORBITOR parade vehicle depicted the concept of global overview, exploration and sharing. She was a version of the larger fiberglass orbital female figure 32 feet long, which is my new project. Visitors will enter THE ORBITOR'S padded interior to view three video monitors displaying her mythological, ecological and sociological overviews of the earth.

SPIRIT HOUSE was first installed in Brooklyn with sponsorship of the New York State Council on the Arts and the American Indian Community House. Floyd Hand, a Sioux Spiritual Leader, conducted smoke ceremonies during the dedications in Brooklyn and in St. Louis' Laumeier Sculpture Park where the work is permanently installed. Joanna Wissinger of Progressive Architecture salutes the work for "recognizing the original inhabitants of the landscape who are seldom officially acknowledged by current residents."

With sponsorship of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I received a grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and HUD, to design and construct VAULTED ARBOR, a 44 foot diameter and 22 foot high galvanized steel wisteria arbor at Glenwood Houses in Brooklyn. Ann-Sargent Wooster, in an article for Architecture & Urbanism, described VAULTED ARBOR as "one of the most remarkable structures erected in New York City in recent years". Michael Brenson of the New York Times commented "when the vines cover the steel completely, the work will resemble a natural temple." My relationship with the tenants of Glenwood Houses has been a delight. Tenants refer to the work as their "Statute of Liberty", dream about it and honor it with poetry. The success of this work stimulated the New York City Housing Authority to commission ORBITAL CONNECTOR in 1986, a permanent public sculpture for Governor Smith Houses in New York's Chinatown.

ORBITAL CONNECTOR reveals the connections of Smith Houses' multi-ethnic residents. The great circle route that connects China, the Caribbean and the Smith Houses is indicated by a 42 foot galvanized steel arrow pointing northwest. The arrow passes through a sphere of six orbital rings of steel letters spelling out the names of the tenants' places of origin. The project was awarded a 1986 grant from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and additional funding from the Chinese community. In 1987, the presiding Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins awarded ORBITAL CONNECTOR a Unity Day Citation for its celebration of Manhattan's multi-ethnicity. In 1988, I also received an award for SINGING ROCK SITTING PLACE, a permanent installation in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park.

After serving as a member of the Design team for the Public Art Plan of Tampa's Transit Parkway, I was invited to compete for and won a clock-tower commission in 1989. I designed a 28 foot high free-standing steel and aluminum clock and weather tower, TOWER AS INLAND LIGHTHOUSE, as an echo of the towers of the University of Tampa. It offers a visual transition from the horizontality of the bus shelters to the verticality of Tampa's towering mirrored buildings. It also reconnects the buildings' hermetically sealed occupants and the public with weather elements and the time of day. I am working in collaboration with Adele Naude Santos Architects on a 1991 commission we were awarded in an open competition sponsored by the Philadelphia Art Commission, with funding from the NEA. The work utilizes public and environmental sculptural skills in the design and construction of a park in North Philadelphia. We are transforming vacant lots into a vital public space in which GREEN GATE and SPIRAL CLIMBER, an arbor and a play sculpture of my design, will be installed. The planning stage has included the community and their concerns, involving them through the use of their knowledge, skill, support and leadership as the project evolves.

After twenty years of visits to Crete, I am committed to deepening my relationship with the culture I love by working in Crete and contributing to its culture. As a finalist for the Fulbright Artist-in-Residency to Greece, for three sucessive years, I have designed and am in the final phase of fund raising for the construction of the MONUMENT TO THE WOMAN CULTURE OF ANCIENT CRETE and its park, to be built near Heraklion, Crete using local labor and technology. The MONUMENT celebrates an amazing culture which we now must emulate in our search for ecological wholeness and worldwide peace. In order to design and build an artwork which speaks to contemporary Greeks, the people of Crete and visitors to the area, I have immersed myself in the culture, intellectually, artistically, sociologically and spiritually.