Pamela Hovland alerted us to this astonishing and deeply heartening TED talk by artist Janet Echelman. (Video link here). Her “unlikely” path to making transformative monumental sculptures is a BIG FAT reminder that graduate degrees do not an artist/engineer/inventor/visionary make.

This story is about taking imagination seriously. 14 years ago, I first encountered this ordinary material, fishnet, used the same way for centuries. Today, I’m using it to create permanent, billowing, voluptuous forms the scale of hard-edged buildings in cities around the world. I was an unlikely person to be doing this. I never studied sculpture, engineering or architecture. In fact, after college I applied to seven art schools and was rejected by all seven.

I went off on my own to become an artist, and I painted for 10 years, when I was offered a Fullbright to India. Promising to give exhibitions of paintings, I shipped my paints and arrived in Mahabalipuram. The deadline for the show arrived — my paints didn’t. I had to do something. This fishing village was famous for sculpture. So I tried bronze casting. But to make large forms was too heavy and expensive. I went for a walk on the beach, watching the fishermen bundle their nets into mounds on the sand. I’d seen it every day, but this time I saw it differently — a new approach to sculpture, a way to make volumetric form without heavy solid materials.

My first satisfying sculpture was made in collaboration with these fishermen…….

…14 years ago, I searched for beauty in the traditional things, in craft forms. Now I combine them with hi-tech materials and engineering to create voluptuous, billowing forms the scale of buildings. My artistic horizons continue to grow.

Check out this PDF for a glimpse into Echelman’s process of envisioning an artwork, and then putting together the team to make it.

Thanks Pamela!

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