The Princeton area is home to many skilled professional and semiprofessional artists, but Morven in May has a different mandate than a typical fairground show. The Morven in May committee looks to attract to Princeton the best artists and artisans working in fine craft today—people who are making a living, and not always a good one, solely from their art.
Laura Baring-Gould is one such artist. The sculptor took part in her first Morven show last year, and is looking forward to returning in 2016.
Born in Costa Rica, Baring-Gould grew up in Alaska, but has now lived in Massachusetts longer than she’s lived anywhere else. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where she studied biology and art. She’s toiled as a professional artist for more than 20 years.
She is perhaps best known for her large-scale installations such as “Means of Egress,” a 1995 sculpture erected at the Chapel Gallery in West Newton, Massachusetts, in which five Viking funerary boats were suspended above 11 tons of salt. Her most visible work, “Clapp Pear/Dorchester History,” features a 12-foot bronze pear that looms over a busy intersection in the Dorchester section of Boston.
The large-scale works, some permanent, some temporary, sustain her artistically, but not financially. The public art project in Dorchester, begun in 2005, turned out to be a difficult one that struggled to stay funded. To keep the lights on, she needed to come up with an alternativee source of income.
Around that time, she had begun working with metal. Fascinated by the form of desiccating pears, she decided to replicate some of them using a process called lost-wax casting.
As it happens, while researching the Dorchester project, she came across the fact that long before it was overrun by urban sprawl, Dorchester had been fertile land full of fruit orchards. The Clapp pear was cultivated for in America for the first time in Dorchester in the 1840’s. She saw it as a perfect symbol for her sculpture.
“I couldn’t put a rotten pear in that intersection, though,” Baring-Gould said, “so I started looking at fresh pears. That’s what led me to start casting small pears, and now all the work I do is supported by selling these small objects, and that’s quite wonderful.”
Like many conceptual artists, Baring-Gould often speaks in abstract-seeming terms. For example, one of the themes of her work is the theme of permanence and impermanence. She likes to do casts of things like old African fishing traps, honey pots, knit caps and pears, she said, because the bronze works reveal in lasting form the intricate work of humans as well as nature. But one of the great opportunities a show like Morven in May offers its patrons is the chance to speak with artists like Baring-Gould to better understand what she means. And if you ask her to explain step by step the process of casting that she follows, I guarantee you will leave the conversation not only with a greater appreciation of her art, but also with a much clearer understanding of what she means by permanence and impermanence.
To make a bronze replica, she takes an object and encases it ceramic. Next, she fires the object in a 2700-degree kiln. The ceramic takes shape, but the object within is vaporized.
She then pours molten bronze into the ceramic, which has become a mold. Once the bronze cools, she chips away the ceramic, revealing a perfect replica.
“The process requires that we destroy the thing as well as the thing that remembers the shape of what once was,” Baring-Gould said. “It’s so poignant. The first time I did it, it took my breath away.”
She loves talking to people about the pieces that they buy from her. “Sometimes people can articulate what they see in them and sometimes they can’t,” she said. “But then they take them home with them and live with them every day. Things that are made by hand have a tremendous role in our lives. I’ve always been amazed at how joyful and how revelatory those objects are for people.”