Photo Credit: Irene Searles Photography
I explore strength and beauty, transparency and movement through the interplay of metal with traditional fiber techniques and structures. Using Renaissance stitches, I play with line and pattern, density and texture. Using industrial metals, I play with volume and scale, creating pedestal-supported, wall-mounted and ceiling-suspended sculpture.
I work directly with the metal, making ribbons of Bobbin Lace with stainless steel or phosphor bronze wire by hand. I then curve, loop, twist, interweave, sew and embroider my flat lace “fabric” into 3-dimensional forms.
Material and Process are the heart of my work: the physical properties and working characteristics of my industrial metals balance and reinforce the structural integrity of the fiber techniques. But it is the dualities and seeming contradictions inherent in my work – Domestic and Industrial; Soft and Hard; Looking At and Looking Through; Positive and Negative Space; Reflections and Shadows; Renaissance and Contemporary – that animate my sculptures.
Barbara M. Berk’s journey has been circuitous: a childhood love of fabric and sewing; a Master’s Degree in Russian History; over 15 years in magazine publishing. Her introduction to antique jewelry led to studies in gemology and bench techniques – and the discovery that her true passion is working directly with metal. She learned that metal can be worked like fiber, by hand, yet produce structurally sound 3-dimensional forms. She launched her company in 1992 to create wearable sculpture. In 2013, she started working larger scale, off-the-body, creating pedestal-supported, wall-mounted and ceiling-suspended sculpture.
Berk’s sculpture was selected for “On the Edge”: The de Young Open, at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco, CA (2020 – 2021). A celebration of the 125th anniversary of the museum, the exhibition was juried by Timothy Anglin Burgard, Distinguished Senior Curator and Ednah Root Curator-in-Charge of American Art, Claudia Schmuckli, Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming, Karin Breuer, Curator in Charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, and Jill D'Alessandro, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; plus renowned Bay Area artists Enrique Chagoya, Mildred Howard, and Hung Liu.
Her work has been exhibited in 2020 Members Biennial Exhibition, juried by Emily Zaiden, Director and Curator, Craft in America Center (LA, CA) at Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA (2020); Form and Function: Fiber Arts for the 21st Century, juried by Karen Gutfreund, activist curator and artist at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, San Jose, CA (2019 – 2020); Bauhaus Centennial – Taking Shape: Bauhaus Fiber Art Exhibition juried by Dr. Katharina Powers at Art Ventures Gallery, Menlo Park, CA (2019); Beyond the Warp and Weft: The Enduring Legacy of the Bauhaus, curated by Hanna Regev, art consultant and independent curator, at The Gallery at Ruth’s Table, San Francisco, CA (2019); Reflections and Shadows, juried by Maria Medua, Director of SFMOMA Artists Gallery, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA (2017); International Fiber Arts VII, juried by Lia Cook, John Hopper, Kyoko Kumai, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA (2015).
Her work has been published in MFA Never, the 2020 Archive Project, Root Division, San Francisco, CA (2020); the 1st Annual Jewelry and Metals Survey, juried by Vivian Beer, Cornelie Holzach, and Alan Revere, published by Metalsmith Magazine/Society of North American Goldsmiths (2017), and in Textile Techniques in Metal: for Jewelers, Textile Artists and Sculptors, by Arline M. Fisch (2018, 2001, 1996).
Berk presented “Transcending Textile Structures: Weaving and Lace Making with Metal”, an Artist Talk, at Ruth’s Table Gallery, San Francisco, CA (2019), and “Textile Techniques in Metal: (Un)Familiar Materials, (Un)Expected Methods” at the 8th Annual Portland Jewelry Symposium, Portland, OR (2015). She has taught at art centers and schools across the country, including the 92nd Street Y (NY); the University of California Extension/Santa Cruz (CA); and the Mendocino Art Center (CA).