Polish artist sculpts new life out of marble
By Patricia Minichiello
Staff Writer | July 11,2014
Joanna Sokolowska is the artist in residence this summer at The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center in West Rutland.
Growing up in Warsaw, Poland, her family lived in a modest home they inherited from her grandfather. The home had a garden filled with clay and stone sculptures created by her uncles. As she grew older, she began to fill the garden too.
At night in the city, houses were clustered and quiet was precious. But during the day, out back in the garden, noise was made – with angle grinders and chisels. This is where Joanna Sokolowska cultivated her passion for sculpture.
“We always had a place to work,” she said. If not the garden out back, another, half an hour from Warsaw, in a tucked-away city, silent and cozy, where her talented uncles worked on sculptures and she followed suit.
She carved travertine, granite and soapstone — molded clay as if it were an extension of her fingers — and, in her work, explored the range of emotions that humans experience.
“I actually feel like we are like clay,” she said. “We can be shaped and formed and we develop with time.”
At the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center in West Rutland on a warm July day the petite Polish 30-year-old faces a 600-pound piece of marble — a stone she admits she has never faced before.
“This is like a symbolic first piece of marble for me,” Sokolowska said. “I will start my first piece as a female and I will call it ‘My Eve’ as a first woman.”
She arrived at the Carving Studio in June — accepted as one of two international artists in residence — and began carving her block with an electric saw, before switching to pneumatic tools for shaping. Within weeks a full-size body emerged.
“So when I’m carving stone I think it’s such a beautiful material, I just really like to leave those rough untouched surfaces,” Sokolowska said. “I like to show this contrast. I call it respecting the stone.”
Her piece details a woman standing, one leg bearing the body’s weight and another lifted, knee to the torso. The arms are folded, almost hugging the body.
Sokolowska said she formed a clay sketch first to realize her work, and then used veins in the marble to dictate her form.
“I’m interested in human emotion,” she said. “When I’m doing a piece I’m focused on getting a particular mood. In ‘My Eve’ I am trying to show a little shyness and loneliness. There’s something beautiful in this story of Eve being deprived of paradise.”
Sokolowska said she uses her own personal experiences to draw out emotions in the pieces she is working on.
“I don’t know why, but in Poland I did pieces focusing on the rather sad part of human emotions — longing, quandary. These were pieces with a heavy message of this inner split — inner dilemma — of us as humans.”
When she came to America she decided to try something different.
She asked her professors and peers at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design to describe their paradise. She then took photos of them thinking of an answer and used those images to make several busts in a cycle she calls “Paradise.”
“I was looking for the facial expression in the eyes that was indicating something happy, something positive,” she said.
Sokolowska is on a Fulbright scholarship to the United States, in a two-year program, working on her second master’s degree in Boston. She found The Carving Studio — a gem in the mountains of Vermont — online when she was looking for a place to spend her summer in a meaningful way.
“There is this beautiful place, this surrounding — it’s a great opportunity for sculptors to come to make noise, not to be worried about neighbors,” she said.
Before coming to America, Sokolowska graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, a five-year program, of which she spent a year studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome.
“Once I began to travel on my own and went to Italy and France I immediately fell in love,” she said. “That was my pilgrimage to see all the Michelangelos to see David, to see all those works with my own eyes.”
She said she was taken by the fact that a sculptor could actually convey emotion and speak through their art.
Sokolowska said true art has the power to inspire and say something positive or just force reflection.
“I think we live in such a world that is faster and faster. The pace of life is just crazy,” she said. “Art is one of those things that can just stop us. My biggest dream is to have people stop and think.”
In addition to making art, the 5-foot-4 brunette has been speaking English since childhood. Her articulation is flawless and her words are polite. She is not too timid to speak her mind, particularly when the question of price comes up.
“I think it wouldn’t make sense to do art just to sell it,” Sokolowska said. “It’s an inner need, I would say. It’s something that I have always wanted to do. It’s definitely a passion.”
As far as what’s next for her marble piece, if she can find a way, she will take it to her exhibition in Boston next year. For now, she will keep carving.
“I have three more weeks. So I have a restriction of time,” she said. “It’s really hard to say when it’s done. It’s like you never feel the end.”
The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center
Artists in Residence Joanna Sokolowska’s work is featured at The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, 636 Marble St., West Rutland. Hours are: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; call 438-2097 or go online to email@example.com. For a video of Sokolowska’s work go to vimeo.com/83615437 or view her portfolio at joannasokolowska.wordpress.com