Corrections or additions?
This article by Tricia Fagan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 2, 1999.
All rights reserved.
In the Galleries: Erica Stanga
Sometime around 300 B.C., the Chinese philosopher Chuang-tzu
(best remembered for wondering if he was a man who dreamt he was a
butterfly, or — on waking — if he was actually a butterfly
now dreaming it was a man) reflected on life’s "strange and monstrous
transformations," concluding that "division is the same as
creation; creation is the same as destruction." Down through the
years this idea of transformation — with all its implied possibilities
— continued to captivate great thinkers and artists alike. Today,
more than 2,000 years later, artist Erica Stanga embraces the power
of change in her meticulously rendered works of bronze, glass, and
At first glance, many of Stanga’s sculptures are reassuringly familiar,
with simple, often organic, shapes. Her works draw on nature and everyday
household objects for inspiration. Upon closer examination, however,
a peculiar twist in composition, or an unexpected juxtaposition of
elements suddenly adds a whole new dimension to the work. On close
inspection, the "ice cream" topping her pristine white glass
ice cream cone sculpture (aptly titled "I.Scream"), for example,
turns out to be a hornet’s nest. Or she can effectively turn the tables
on traditional associations, casting a cluster of delicate origami
cranes in bronze and adding a chain to create a miniature medieval
"Intimacy and Metamorphosis," a solo exhibition featuring
the works of Stanga is on exhibit at the Arts Council of Princeton
through June 19. A reception with the artist will be Friday, June
11, from 6 to 8 p.m. Since Stanga chooses work to accommodate the
exhibition space, this show will feature several of her mixed-media
installations, including her graceful "Butterfly Screen,"
along with sculptural works in metal, glass, and handmade paper.
Stanga’s fascination with the dual nature of familiar objects, and
the artistic possibilities inherent in them, started early. She recalls
that as a child growing up in London, Canada (a university town in
western Ontario, about two hours from Toronto), she was "already
a really detailed person." Being a horse lover, she spent hours
trying to perfect her life drawings, meticulously detailing muscle
groups until she got them right. While still an adolescent, Stanga
discovered the Surrealists, among them Salvador Dali, and was immediately
attracted to the disorienting juxtaposition of familiar objects and
Stanga, the oldest of two children, focused on music and English in
high school, but managed to take some art classes as well. She was
supported in her interests by her mother, a school teacher, and her
father, a computer administrator who recently discovered that his
real love is accounting — although she notes that she is considered
a little bit of the black sheep in an extended family of creative
hobbyists who never took their respective art forms to a more serious
At 19, Stanga moved to Toronto to attend the Ontario College of Art.
During her first year there Stanga chose a foundry course as an elective.
"I fell in love instantly," she says. "It was what I had
been trying to say with the sculptural paintings that I had been doing
in high school. And this is such an ancient art. Essentially every
basic method used today was first developed over 3,000 years ago!"
The teacher for the foundry course, Claire Brunet, was to be a major
influence on Stanga.
While bronze casting remained a major focus for Stanga
during her four years at college, she soon discovered another medium
for which she had an equal affinity: paper. "It’s really my other
love," she says. Over the years people have questioned how she
can be equally passionate about two mediums as diverse as metal and
paper. "I’ve thought about this a lot. One theory I have is that
metal is shaped while playing with fire, paper emerges from water
— and both fire and water are very cleansing elements. I enjoy
those processes, of being cleansed and reborn, in both.
"There’s also something about the two mediums — they complement
each other so nicely. There’s that whole thing about empowering a
fragile object by casting it in metal. Paper, in its nature, is so
much more delicate than metal — but when I cast a paper shape
in metal, that shape takes on a new life, a new strength. To take
the concept of something that is very soft and gentle and to give
it this everlasting life in metal seems to be giving that object a
The college paper-making instructor had introduced another strong
influence to Stanga’s art-making when she shared her recent experiences
exhibiting in Japan with the class. Stanga was immediately drawn to
both the culture and the art-making processes described. "There’s
something about the attention to detail, the process by which the
Japanese create their art that interests me. They have a different
sensibility than the western world about materials. Here in North
American, we’re such a throwaway culture that raw materials like well-made
paper, for example, aren’t valued as they are in Japan. I’m really
interested in the Japanese sensibility. I think that I could really
grow artistically and personally with that way of thinking."
At college, as she learned about other artists, her range of influences
expanded. The works of two women artists in particular — Kiki
Smith and Louise Bourgeois — continue to inspire her. "These
people really express that for me," says Stanga. "I find Smith’s
work disturbing, and at the same time intellectually challenging.
Her choice of materials is very similar to mine — the glass, the
metal, the paper, which is unusual. It’s like discovering someone
who speaks a similar language, which is exciting. Plus since her type
of work is becoming more popular, it helps me to remain confident
in my own choices."
"Bourgeois’s work is so very, very strong. Again, there’s an element
of a similar language. Also, I like that unsettling effect, that unexpected
twist that she includes in so much of her work. I really think you
need that balance in life — you need to see both the good and
the bad side of things."
After graduating in 1994, Stanga remained at the college for two years
with additional studies at the foundry and glass casting. "The
college had decided to close down its glass facilities," she says,
"and it was allowing people to use the facilities for free that
year. That’s how I got started in glass casting."
Early in 1997, Stanga spent a month’s residency at Claire Brunet’s
foundry in Lac Carre, Quebec, but increasingly felt her work was beginning
to stagnate. Brunet — who, herself, had apprenticed at the Johnson
Atelier 18 years earlier — suggested that Stanga consider applying
for an apprenticeship. "I took the 12-hour train ride down here,
had a look around, and thought, `Well, yeah! I could be here for a
She began her apprenticeship at the Atelier in June, 1997, and found
herself jumping in with both feet. Apprentices at the Atelier work
four full days a week alongside master artisans, working on other
"It’s hard, but it’s so great," Stanga says. "It’s more
of the traditional way of apprenticing. You can come here, knowing
nothing, and they can teach you their technique of every aspect of
fine art foundry work — from modeling and casting, through patina
and installation." She adds that another very significant aspect
of apprenticing at the Atelier is that you have access to all the
facilities, tools, and "toys" after hours to use in your own
Today, with almost two years completed (the suggested length of an
apprenticeship), Stanga looks back with some amazement at her time
in the program. "I’ve learned a lot about everything here,"
she says, "Everything — and not just about the metal. I had
never lived outside Canada before, so that’s been interesting."
She describes some of her initial culture shock, noting that the contrast
between the safety she had taken for granted in Toronto and the fear
she felt in the United States was the most difficult to adjust to.
"The guns in this country are really disturbing. I think that’s
the thing that has taken me the longest to get used to. In Canada
the guns and violence are not a part of everyday living, but here
it seems it is. I’ve never gotten used to it, I’m still scared of
Even with these concerns, Stanga says that her two years
in Mercer County have been full ones. She made good friends, taught
at Artworks, experienced growth in her work and a blossoming of her
career as an artist. Her work has appeared in several exhibitions
in the area, and the current show at the Arts Council marks her second
solo show within the year. Her first solo show was at the Atelier’s
Extension Gallery in February, and her work is currently included
in the apprentice group show, "Afterhours," that continues
at Extension Gallery to July 1.
Another recent project is the massive two-door gate Stanga created
for the Broad Street entrance to Trenton’s Urban Word Cafe. The impressive
steel structure depicts a Trenton cityscape above the Delaware River
was "It feels so good to have it done," she says. "I feel
like I took a crash course in metal chasing all over again — but
it turned out so well. I’m really proud of it." A formal presentation
of the gate will be held at the cafe on Thursday, June 17.
In spite of all the positive growth she’s been experiencing, Stanga
has decided that, professionally, it’s time to move on.
"I could stay here my whole life, and still continue to learn
things," she says, "but I think it’s important to move around
to get different points of view. I think two years — the average
amount of time for an apprenticeship here — is long enough. Plus
this place is almost like a revolving door. People are constantly
coming back in to do different things."
Stanga will begin a three-year MFA program at Southern Illinois University
in Carbondale this August. "Three years is a long time," she
says, "but they have an excellent program for both glass and foundry
work." She anticipates that Southern Illinois will stimulate yet
another shift in her work — a possibility she welcomes. "I’m
very much influenced by my environment, by what’s going on around
me. I spent my first two months at the Atelier just absorbing everything
that was going on, and when I went back to doing my own work, all
those new influences were there. I expect that will happen in Illinois,
too." She also hopes to take advantage of the university’s exchange
program and spend some time studying ancient techniques in paper making
and metal work in Japan.
As she talks about her next life adventure, this young artist brims
with a quiet confidence. And why not? Her art has already shown her
that metamorphosis — even when strange and disturbing — is
something to be welcomed.
— Tricia Fagan
Street, 609-924-8777. "Intimacy and Metamorphosis," a solo
exhibition. Reception is Friday, June 11, from 6 to 8 p.m., for the
show that continues to June 19. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.