Barbara M. Berk explores strength and beauty, transparency and movement through the interplay of metal with traditional fiber techniques. With high karat gold and platinum she works small and dense, creating wearable sculptures. With stainless steel and phosphor bronze, she works with volume and scale, creating hanging, wall-mounted and free-standing sculptures.
She weaves and makes lace with sheet and wire by hand, working flat and straight, off-loom. She then curves, loops, twists, interweaves and sews her flat “fabric” into a 3-dimensional form. Within this tapestry of process, material and form, Berk plays with line and pattern, density, texture and touch.
She embraces the dualities and seeming contradictions inherent in such a tapestry: Soft and Hard. Domestic processes and Precious metals or Industrial materials. Positive and Negative space. Object and Shadow. Thereby animated, her calligraphic abstractions become intriguing, mesmerizing 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 with the metal itself. She learned that metal can be worked like fiber, that sheet and wire can be woven. Most exciting was the realization that structurally sound 3-dimensional forms can be fashioned from the metal “fabric” she creates. She founded Barbara Berk Designs in 1992 to create her signature handwoven high karat gold and platinum jewelry, and began creating free-standing, wall-mounted and hanging sculpture with industrial metals in 2013.
Berk’s sculpture has been exhibited in Reflections and Shadows, juried by Maria Medua, Director of SFMOMA Artists Gallery, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA (2017); Not Flat, Peninsula Sculptors’ Guild at the Museum Studios’ Gallery, Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame, CA (2017); International Fiber Arts VII, juried by Lia Cook, John Hopper, Kyoko Kumai, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA (2015); Sculpture: On and Off the Wall, Peninsula Sculptors’ Guild at the Coastal Arts League, Half Moon Bay, CA (2015). Her work has been published in the 1st Annual Jewelry and Metals Survey, juried by Vivian Beer, Cornelie Holzach, and Alan Revere, published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths (2017).
Her jewelry is represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA) and the Museum of the Gemological Institute of America (Carlsbad, CA). It has been honored with the American Gem Trade Association’s Spectrum Award (2004), the Award for Excellence in Design from the Women’s Jewelry Association (2002) and the Saul Bell Award for Jewelry Design (2001). It has been exhibited in museums and shows across the US, and featured in many publications, including Textile Techniques in Metal for Jewelers, Textile Artists and Sculptors by Arline Fisch (1996, 2001), in addition to many magazines including Ornament and Metalsmith.
Berk presented “Textile Techniques in Metal: (Un)Familiar Materials, (Un)Expected Methods” at the 8th Annual Portland Jewelry Symposium, Portland, OR (2015); and “Contemporary Applications of Textile Techniques in Metal: A Jewelry Artist’s Perspective on Sheet and Wire” at the 4th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, New York, NY (2009). 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).