Gordon Jewish Community Center | Opens March 9
Words by Stephanie Stewart-Howard
Photography by Chris Cole
A mélie Guthrie grew up in New Orleans and surrounding South Louisiana, places covered in evergreen or “live” oak trees. The culture in that part of the country, says Guthrie, has a reverence for the trees that compares with the preservation of historic architecture. With those trees surrounding her through childhood, she too developed a passion and affinity for them.
Additionally, she says she has always been drawn to fractal patterns—lightning, the human nervous system, within the veins of leaves—that echo in the patterns of roots and branches as well. Winter inspires her too, when branches are bare and the clean bone structure of wood is easy to discern.
The artist says she felt drawn to art from the beginning, attending an art-friendly school. Her mother, a watercolor artist, painted the live oaks herself, and many family friends were also artists. “Art was always a big presence in my life,” she says.
Sculpture started to inspire her curiosity while she was living in Spain her junior year in high school. Here she took her first art history classes and truly studied the medium for the first time. But it was after college, while living in Argentina and working for a non-profit providing art education to underserved kids, that she first tentatively thought to embody her love of trees and tree forms in her own sculpture. Encountering a local craft artist selling a very different type of metal tree sculpture at a street fair, she wondered how she might sculpturally embody her own beloved arboreal subjects.
Later, living in New York, she made her own first efforts, working with wires bought at a hardware store. Slowly, she developed her own technique, twisting loops of wire in a multiplicity of sizes and gauges back upon each other to create tiny pieces of jewelry or epic twelve-foot tree sculptures—and now, each of those works is made of a single piece of wire.
From there she began abstracting, trees into fractals and back again. “Some people see lightning when they look at my work,” she says. Unsurprising given her remarkable branching light fixtures.
She began getting commissions, including from the Children’s Museum of the Arts (www.cmany.org) where she worked. She did a twelve-foot installation there and with her large pieces gradually mastered the way the wires needed to interact.
Though she’s made a plethora of distinctive and wonderful pieces, Guthrie says her light sculpture is her favorite. Like the nature-loving beaux arts artists of the 19th century, she takes delight in making things both beautiful and useful. “Each of these pieces is a communication with God to me. We can be small lights in the universe. It’s a point of meditation.”
It is exceedingly easy to meditate on the glories of the universe looking at Guthrie’s work, whatever your own philosophy.