1/14/2013 1:35:00 PM The Sinuous Shapes of Nancy Sansom Reynolds
Nancy Sansom Reynolds has devised an art form unique even in our age of idea-driven contemporary art. Her colorful organic abstractions in undulating wood sculpture, cast bronze, resin and aluminum grace the walls of U.S. Embassies, hotels, hospitals and private homes around the world on four continents, from Germany to China, Malaysia and Australia.
40”h x 40”w x 20”d
Laminated plywood, aniline dye
Collection of Dana Farber Cancer Center, Weymouth, MA, USA
By Louise MacDonald Special to Kudos
Vibrant, taut, mod to her fingertips, Nancy Sansom Reynolds greets us in her large hangar-like studio in Cottonwood.
A slender girlish figure in black, she belies her world-wide renown, sporting the hair style and manner of a young man. Her manner is forthright and spirited.
This dyed-in-the-wool Easterner has devised an art form unique even in our age of idea-driven contemporary art. Her colorful organic abstractions in undulating wood sculpture, cast bronze, resin and aluminum grace the walls of U.S. Embassies, hotels, hospitals and private homes around the world on four continents, from Germany to China, Malaysia and Australia.
In her studio today Sansom Reynolds works out the infinite calculations that bring her unique organic shapes to life, finding it easier -- to the amazement of architects -- to devise her creations in her head than on paper or on the computer.
"It's extremely complicated which is why no one else is doing it!" she laughs. Her first move is to create a sketch, followed by a maquette of metal mesh.
For works in wood she uses the very ordinary medium of plywood planks whose thin, speckled edge reveals a panorama of variegated, infinitesimal shapes.
It is these "animated" strips, each one a sixteenth of an inch in width, assembled in wide swathes, that create the body of Reynolds' minimal organic abstractions.
The next step is the dyeing of the wood. "Here's where the skill comes in! I mix organic dyes, creating different shades for each customer. (Greens and blues are hard to control!) An iridescence results because of the laminate inconsistencies." The artist's words tumble excitedly from her mouth.
Reynolds finished works are large contemporary undulating abstractions, varying from three to four feet in length. (Smaller works are difficult to create.)
Pared down to raw essentials, these minimal works grace vast walls bereft of other adornment. They bear cogent names like "Red Twist," "White Nautilus," "Autumn Leaf" and "Andromeda."
Many have questioned the artist regarding her exact formula for production? That's exactly what she's not telling! "This is my own personal creation after 40 years of experimentation."
Architects are puzzled and intrigued by her secret method. How can she achieve her results without a computer?
As we talk in her large, well-equipped Cottonwood studio, her husband Bob shakes out their dog's blanket. From the back of the studio dust fills the air carried aloft by winds blowing in from the desert. Nancy Sansom Reynolds shakes her head; the dog scurries for cover.
Somehow she will never be entirely at home in this wide-open landscape far from artists working in similar fields. She desperately misses the stimulation of working with other avant-garde designers in the Eastern United States.
In fact, Sansom Reynolds came here to be near one of her three children who lives in Pasadena, CA and, as an art-lover as well as practitioner, she appreciates the proximity of Los Angeles and Bay area museums.
For 33 years, she and her husband, Bob, have been working together as a team. She does the design; he does the necessary tooling and heavy work.
Together they are now preparing 18 pieces for a major show scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in 2014. Some of these works have originated from commissions from abroad, as Sansom Reynolds' work has become well-known and appreciated around the world.
In this country people collect Sansom Reynolds' art on both coasts from San Diego to Washington, D.C. and Georgia. Her work has been shown in galleries all over the country.
She finds that unfortunately the Southwest has been hard hit by the recession and commissions here are few.
Did Nancy Sansom Reynolds make a mistake in coming to the Southwest five years ago? Is she out of the art orbit? Lady Luck has not been kind. Her husband Bob suffered severe trauma to his head in a motorcycle accident in this area. Subsequent care turned out to be less than satisfactory. Mistakes were made, infection set in and he may never fully recover. Life in the Southwest has been traumatic for this couple.
But this artist is not easily daunted. Her unending fascination with and requirement for creativity keep her going from day to day. Earlier in her life she tried other pursuits including music and dance; now with 40 very successful years in design and construction of organic art behind her, she can only continue to expand and embellish her unique design concepts. And her public calls.
Says Reynolds, "I worked hard to come up in the ranks!" As to advising other artists, she warns that it is difficult to do what she and others accomplished in New York in the 50s and 60s due to low-cost college programs existing at that time. "Today there is so much talent coming out of art schools!
My students at NAU had talent. But to succeed today one needs tremendous artistic drive, as well as marketing skills."
Looking out across the open desert, she smiles, "My new works will be more complicated, less heavy . . ." More fascinating, of course and possibly more popular than ever around the world.
After taking a degree in Fine Arts (Magna cum Laude) at Frostburg University in Maryland, Nancy Reynolds received a master's degree in Sculpture at George Washington University in the nation's capital. She has taught drawing and design at the University of Maryland and Montgomery College in Rockville, MD, and more recently as an Adjunct Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
From 1976 to 1993 she served as graphics and printing manager for national publications including
Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine and Image magazine in San Francisco.
Nancy Sansom Reynolds has held shows in galleries all over the country from Vermont to Texas and California. She is currently represented by Addison Ripley Gallery in Washington, D.C., Susan Street Fine Art Gallery, Solano Beach, CA and Gilman Contemporary, Ketchum, ID.
In Sedona her work may be seen at Rose's Elegance in Wood, 671 State Route 179, Suite A. A 30-minute documentary of her unique process and artwork recently aired on Maryland Public Television.
Nancy Reynolds' website is: www.sansomreynolds.com
Louise Sheldon MacDonald is a free-lance writer living in Sedona. She has been an art reviewer in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD for over 20 years.