Copper in the Arts

September 2011

Melissa Strawser: In Gratitude of Amphibia and Insecta

By Jennifer Hetrick

Orchid Orchid, copper and bronze sculpture.

Photograph by Melissa Strawser

The anatomy of amphibians and insects, how light stirs its captivating glimmers while traveling across a landscape and organic forms like plants and corals-these are just a few of the details constantly propelling Melissa Strawser forward in her metal sculptures.

Strawser, who created her first sculpture 27 years ago, now works alongside Val Bertoia, son of the famous Harry Bertoia, restoring copper, bronze, brass and silver-set art pieces.

"I love the movable qualities and softness of copper," Strawser says. "This makes working more enjoyable in shaping, manipulating and forming pieces."

With bronze, Strawser favors its predictability and intensity of strength in how it allows her to mingle and blossom her conceptual ideas, opening up her creative passageways in the process.

"I have always worked with paper first because I am a printmaker first: I love paper," Strawser says, as a fifth generation artist from a family best-known for their Pennsylvania folk art.

Strawser fashions her own copper plates for her printmaking.

"Living creatures of nature have energy and heartbeats, and when you take the time to look into their significant mathematical design or anatomical structure, then you are looking deeper into yourself and into humanity," Strawser reveals about why she gravitates so easily to her most-often chosen subjects. "Enlarging a natural form brings attention to it."

Strawser's sculptures sourced from the outdoors have taken homes in private collections throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. A few of her pieces are tucked away in Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Melissa Strawser in her studio. Melissa Strawser in her studio.

Photograph by Paul David

She's also been commissioned to do several large sculptures for corporate centers in her home state of Pennsylvania.

A doctor near Philadelphia who also works in Thailand commissioned her first sculpture sold at Bertoia Studio; he requested a memento mori-a piece to remember someone he'd lost-of his brother who avidly climbed the Rocky Mountains.

Upon receiving the sculpture, planning to include it in the expanse of his immaculate gardens, the doctor reacted with such immense emotion that tears welled in his eyes. Before Strawser left his house, the doctor offered the payment, doubling her asking price, and included a note that read, "Many thanks. Now go to Portugal and make some good work."

He wrote those words knowing Strawser would soon be traveling to Portugal to practice her two-dimensional art alongside renowned printmaker Bartolomeu dos Santos.

Strawser admits that understanding her own intentions and meaning, fused into a sculpture, and seeing them shift into a completely different emotional intake and view in those who become the new owners of her art-is one of the most compelling parts of dedicating so much of her life to copper and its compatible semi-precious metals.

"Wherever it ends up, I have so much gratitude in knowing my work is being enjoyed by people in new surroundings," Strawser says.


Artist Melissa Strawser demonstrates working with copper and bronze

Bertoia Studio, Bally, PA 19503. (610) 845-7096

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