Copper in the Arts

April 2010

Phoebe Adams Fine Art: Finding the Balance

By Rebecca Troutman

Buster Buster. Cast bronze and concrete

Photograph courtesy of Phoebe Adams

Phoebe Adams is a visual artist who has had a high-arching career in fine art and sculpture. In the very same museums where she first saw the original Picassos that inspired her to become a sculptor, work she has designed out of blown glass and cast bronze can be found on display. Her work is seen every day in collections in the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan and the Guggenheim. Often conceptual, her work is inspired by organic imagery and pokes fun at the ambiguity of language. Whether evoking a strand of DNA or ironic turns of phrase, her sculptures echo a love of science-fiction; the bulbs of color often serve to soften the metallic, sci-fi edginess.

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City and fascinated by the natural sciences, Adams originally played with the idea of becoming an archeologist. She cracks herself up telling the story of her first expedition, organizing a gaggle of neighborhood kids to dig up her backyard. Her father, who clearly had a sense of humor, arrived home to find an open pit with catwalk planks suspending the now-uncovered sewage system. "I had dug up all the septic system and pipes and everything else," says Adams, remembering that her father had laughed until he had tears in his eyes. "That was the end of archaeology for me."

Phoebe Adams Phoebe Adams at her KU studio

Photograph by Paul David

Having had a high-soaring career in fine art, Adams—now in her fifties—is finding a lot of her political, personal and feminist joy teaching her craft to young people at Kutztown University in eastern Pennsylvania. Although she never originally set out to teach and has admittedly sacrificed in order to do so, her passion for teaching is clear. Especially when she tells stories of teaching her sculpture students to avoid the runaround and negotiate for scrap in the junkyard.

"Politically," Adams says, "teaching is one of the most important things I've done in my life." She boasts about her students' matriculation to VCU, Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, some of the finest art schools in the country. But she is also quick to point out that she realizes that devotion to students requires a sacrifice on her part. Although she may not reap the outward rewards an artist hopes for-such as a solo show in Manhattan-she knows she has made a huge difference by giving her students real world counsel that will help them become truly successful. "It just doesn't get me into the Whitney," she laughs.

Bitsy Lowpressure Bitsy Lowpressure. Cast bronze with patina

Photograph courtesy of Phoebe Adams

Between her efforts in voracious reading (she usually keeps her pace at a book a week) and teaching, Adams still does find time for her own work. In the Balance, a sculpture depicting her feelings in the balance between youth and old age, is made from carved wood, bronze and horse hair. The base is glazed to look like stone, with the distinct bodily quality sitting above with its horsehair pigtails. The bronze was cast in lost wax and then decorated with white to create the final effect.

Phoebe Adams continues to experiment with new ways of creating form in stone, bronze and other media. Recently she has been experimenting with wood turning, and is creating a piece that includes an eight-foot wide stone wall about the "real estate" of the body.

"It's a life," she says about her artistry in application. "I'm not making donuts. I am an adventurer trying to go to new places."


Phoebe Adams Demonstrates Creating Bronze Sculpture Pieces Using The Lost Wax Process

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