Written by Katrina Daniel Thursday, June 17 2010
Snapshot: Valerie Bunnell
The so-called human condition is an exciting, ever-changing source of inspiration and interest for mixed media artist Valerie Bunnell. The Massachusetts–based artist uses and fuses clay, metal, wire, and objects she finds in the most unlikely places to create story lines.
Bunnell earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Vermont, where she minored in ceramics, then spent several years in apprenticeships and studio situations. She designed and built a passive solar home in Vermont, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts and her Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She taught ceramics at Triton College and spent time as a full-time studio artist in Chicago and Boston.
Bunnell, her husband, and their daughter now live in western Massachusetts where the family hikes and camps, and where Bunnell herself enjoys horseback riding.
Often, during school vacations, they hit the trails of summer art and folk festivals where Bunnell enjoys showing her daughter other parts of the country and different cultures.
Womenetics: What were some of your first forays into art?
Valerie Bunnell: I remember my first experiences with clay as pure joy. Starting at about 9 years old, I loved to build by hand and create whatever crazy thing my mind conjured up. Later I learned to throw on the wheel and make pots. My first ceramic figure began as a kind of re-creation of an antique doll. Thinking of the story of Icarus, I experimented with the addition of wings to subsequent figures, which gave them a sense of potential and energy. In fact, all my figures have become explorations of spirit, which exists between the make-believe and the real. As I carve, texture, and mark the clay, a narrative identity emerges.
Womenetics: You work with some very unusual materials like glass, metal screening, vintage hardware, chains, antique boxes. Where do you find them?
Bunnell: I had my one and only child while living in Chicago. I used to walk the stroller in the alleys and collect rusty objects in the mesh basket at the bottom of the stroller. My piece “Urban Shaman” came from these forays. Everywhere I go these days is a place to get things. I love hardware stores and antique stores, flea markets, and even back alleys.
My daughter, Sophia, is 9 years old now and even she has become a collector. At 4, she suggested I make a mermaid, as she was enamored of The Little Mermaid at that point. The resulting “Mermaiden” contains shells, glass, and objects collected from beaches as well as other bought and found objects. A few years ago I started experimenting with wooden boxes and sheets of metal foil that could join the clay in creating a story.
I’m always looking for and imagining ways to connect materials to bring meaning to the work, to be fun, and to add dimension.
Womenetics: Please describe some of your pieces.
Bunnell: Leaf Lady, 24 inches tall, is enveloped in a divine meditation. She is one with the world of growth and the breath of nature.
Long Letterperson, 31 inches tall, is an homage to the idea of language and symbol. His large rough letters have been removed from their original context and are now playful graphic forms embellishing his surface. The large springs are stiff and just right to cause clay pieces to jump.
Mermaiden, 23 inches tall, carries the mystery of the sea in her net. Alluring yet frightening, she embodies our wish to explore and follow submerged longings.
Queen Bee, 24 inches tall, may tip and sway, but she is always sure of her position at the top. She amuses and sparkles with regality while protecting her subjects and directing their work. I used yellow telephone wire, which is woven around metal rods which are glued into a shapely torso. The worker bees inside were suggested by my husband (who studied filmmaking and has a keen eye for design and visual ideas.) She is balanced on a metal point and can be tipped and turned around.
Urban Shaman, 24 inches tall, gathers the discarded past of our mechanical world. He procures a protective cloak and finds power and animation in the past essences of things cast off.
Valerie Bunnell’s work can be seen at: www.valeriebunnell.com.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs, and a cat.