Photo Credit: Irene Searles Photography
I create abstract sculptures that embody the interplay of metal with traditional fiber techniques and structures.
Working directly with stainless steel and phosphor bronze wire, I use Renaissance stitches to make ribbons of bobbin lace by hand. I then curve, loop, twist, interweave, layer, sew, embroider, weld and polish the flat lace “fabric” into 3-dimensional forms – which become wall-mounted, ceiling-suspended and pedestal-supported sculptures.
I play with geometry and pattern, density and texture, probing the limits of scale, volume, and structural integrity. Positive and negative space – both the openings that reveal the lace pattern and the voids in the form itself – create and mask transparency. Light reflections and cast shadows define and enhance form. Movement – actual and implied – engages the eye.
My process – with its focus on applying unusual methods to the materials of sculpture – is slow and repetitive. It can be rhythmic. It is often therapeutic. It is always labor-intensive and time-consuming. But the tactile pleasure of moving metal, the intellectual satisfaction of resolving a challenge, the joy of creating something out of nothing, feed my passion. Ultimately, transforming coils of wire into 3-dimensional calligraphic abstractions makes me happy.
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 her signature handwoven wearable sculptures, and began creating wall-mounted, ceiling-suspended and pedestal-supported sculpture with industrial metals in 2013.
Berk creates her abstract sculptures with ribbons of lace that she makes by hand with stainless steel and phosphor bronze wire and 16th century stitches.
Her work is represented in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and 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 renowned Bay Area artists Enrique Chagoya, Mildred Howard, and Hung Liu, in addition to Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Curators Timothy Anglin Burgard, Claudia Schmuckli, Karin Breuer, and Jill D'Alessandro.
Berk’s sculpture has been exhibited in 100th Anniversary Exhibition, Pacific Art League, Palo Alto, CA, judged by George Rivera, artist, and former Executive Director and Senior Curator, Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA (2021 – 2022); Forge the Future, a curated exhibition celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Metal Arts Guild, ACCI Gallery, Berkeley, CA (2021); BEAUTY or TRUTH featuring the Pacific Rim Sculptors, juried by Chandra Cerrito, principal of Chandra Cerrito / Art Advisors, at Gallery 1337, Art Works Downtown, San Rafael, CA (2021); 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).