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Emilie Brzezinski is an American sculptor with a career that’s spanned five decades and expressive themes that have always related to nature. And while Brzezinski has worked with a variety of media, her primary focus has been monumental wood sculpture–using a chain saw and ax to carve towering forms that breathed new life into felled trunks. She’s also the mother of Morning Joe co-host, Mika Brzezinski.
ODP: In an interview with Mika a few weeks ago she told us that the family home you had in McLean was surrounded by nature and full of animals—a stark contrast to the bustle and concrete of the nearby city. Since you didn’t have formal training as a sculptor, was it this home that helped influence your early artistry or was it something else?
EB: It was something else – my father. Growing up my father surrounded us with animals and shared his interest in the form of animals with me through small projects I could do on my own. All through life, I’ve been working with the animal kingdom. My father started my interest and appreciation for the many forms of nature.
ODP: Trees and wood as a medium have so much natural texture and characteristics that stone and metal do not, the artist has to incorporate these “imperfections” into the art. Is there a reason you were drawn to working with wood over other materials?
EB: There is not just one reason I prefer wood. First, wood is warm. It’s also comparatively easy to work with over stone and metal.
ODP: Michelangelo famously said that when looking at a block of marble, the statue was already inside, he just had to free it from the superfluous material. What do you see when you look at the raw materials that eventually become your sculptures?
EB: I have had the experience of seeing the sculpture inside the tree. Sometimes I can even see the animal inside already. Mostly though I see and appreciate the tree’s natural form and only want to reveal or enhance the shape. The imperfections I see, like knots and cracks, are typically kept on the finished sculpture.
ODP: Do the trees tell you a story, what are you looking for when you select your wood and trees?
EB: When I’m looking to create a new sculpture, I always start by looking at full trees. I don’t select from chopped wood or planks. I’m also not looking for a story. I’m looking for an interesting shape in the tree, a design or different sort of design. For example, a hole in the tree.
I also do not create a sculpture from a tree unless it is fallen, dying, or planning to be cut down by the owner.
ODP: Some of your works have an overt political statement. For instance, Ukraine Trunk features a hollowed trunk that displays a photograph of people gathered in Kiev in the midst of an escalating situation with Russia. What are you encouraging your audience to think about when they view the juxtaposition of a serene, natural tree and an image of an unsettling political conflict?
EB: My sculptures are a personal creation, I’m not necessarily looking for a certain reaction when I finish a sculpture. For the Ukraine Trunk, I found in the heads of the people in the group a fascinating pattern that fulfilled the design of the tree.
I can’t help that that I was brought into the political statement. However, by chance, the photo I chose brought me straight into the scene.
ODP: What about nature inspires you most, personally and professionally?
EB: For me, my profession as a sculptor is my life – there is no separation. This is a difficult question, as there isn’t just one aspect of nature that inspires me. I’m more personally involved in the total vision. The shapes and forms of nature are what mainly draw me in. Nature is alive, it has a freedom to speak and show itself in different forms and shapes. I take great pride in revealing these natural shapes through my work.
A huge thanks to Emilie for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s been a pleasure getting lost in your art and learning about your artistic process!
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