Sylvia, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I think I was born an artist. From the time I was very young, I gravitated towards drawing and painting. I distinctly remember the simple task of painting pinecones on my parent’s kitchen table, and the joy, and fun that I felt. Later on, I worked with play dough, and self-hardening clay. My sisters and I would love to play with Barbie, (girls willingly did that in the 1960s) and before playing, we preferred to make the items to stage “ the play.” We actually spent most of the time creating items. For example, I would make food items, fruit, chicken legs, cake, and dishes, out of the self-hardening clay. Or a paper machehorse, because Barbie was going camping, and to a picnic, on a horse.
I grew up in upstate New York, near Rochester. Creativity runs in my family. One of my sisters is a musician, and the other is a jeweler. We took music and art classes with much support and encouragement from our parents. I enjoyed four years of art throughout high school, then majored in art education at Nazareth College of Rochester. I dedicated a lot of time in my college ceramics class, and exhaustedly recall staying up until 4 am, trying to complete my clay assignments. Surprisingly, I kept a few of my college pieces even today. It was during this time that I fell in love with clay and eventually wanted to create using it. Its hard to believe that I started my studio work in 1983. From there I attended local retail shows, then traveled on to national juried shows having done well over 400+, and counting. I traveled to places like Coconut Grove, Florida, Port Clinton Arts Fair near Chicago, and Uptown in Minneapolis, and many places in-between. I would pack my small Toyota truck, eventually moving up to a full sized cargo van, and drive to these shows. In 1988 I entered the wholesale trade show art market and attended shows in Philadelphia, and Boston. I created a line of work as buyers selected pieces for their galleries and craft shops. I spent New York winters producing work for shipment throughout the country, as well as stocking up for travel to those summer shows. It was a demanding, and hectic time, but a good living.
Eventually, I got the idea about moving away from New York state. I had grown tired of cold and grey winters. I traveled to the Phoenix area for several years to visit my younger sister. Even though in my heart, upstate NY will somehow always feel like home, I moved to Cave Creek, AZ, in 2006. I haven’t looked back, and now enjoy warmer weather, sunny skies, and year-round singing birds. The Sonoran Desert certainly has unmatched beauty and offered new creative challenges.
Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I have always been influenced by mother nature. I gravitate towards rural, or un-urban areas. The woods, the forests, desert vistas, oceans, lakes, and gorges, are right where I would like to be. Before leaving my last house in New York, I lived amongst 32 acres in the woods, and it was beautiful. I recently finished a 7-month journey in 2018. I bought a small RV, named her the “SylverGypsy” and traveled from the Phoenix area, went to Florida, and then all the way up to Maine. I went through 25 states and drove 17,000 miles. One of the reasons I did this was a reaction to the rather sudden loss of my dear Mom, in 2016. My parents are both gone at this time, and they were avid RV travelers. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years. And now was as good a time as any to do this on my own, while I was still able to do so. I focused on all the natural beauty, visiting state and national parks along the way. If I could find a lake, a river, or overlook, that was my focus. I did my best to avoid big cities, and I mostly boondocked. I must be a relative of mother nature herself. I captured so many experiences and images. So, I interpret nature’s beauty in clay. Clay is so forgiving when it comes to applying texture and shaping. I focus on those characteristics to create organic flowing fluid pieces, translated into vessels, vases, bowls, and wall pieces. Over the last 35+ years of my career, I have gone through many evolutions of design. Though people may think I am very eclectic, I look it at it as an evolution of designs continuing the exploration of how I can push clay and its characteristics towards its physical boundaries. My current clay series includes piercings, which in essence weakens the clay and makes it vulnerable. You have to know exactly how far you can push the material, before it literally falls apart, breaks or cracks. As I push these boundaries, I hope that it helps me to learn what my personal boundaries are as well.
A more recent line of work includes clay pets. I have two cats and one dog which give me tremendous joy. There isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t make me smile or laugh. So I’ve created some smaller wall pieces that are whimsical, and fun. I don’t include the details of faces or paws, but just capture the essence of their shape, along with items such as birds, hats, carrots, flowers, and hearts. I make cats, dogs, pigs, and horses. I am sure they too will evolve into the next level, whatever that may be. At this stage, I feel like I am welcoming more fun and less serious topics in my life. I hit a milestone birthday recently, and it’s time. Perhaps it’s a response or the natural process of aging, but its an appealing direction for me.
Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities, and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
A career in the arts is a challenging, yet rewarding choice. I have maintained versatility with marketing my art, and over the years engaged in many ways to sell and expose my work including retail and wholesale shows, teaching workshops, website presence, group and solo exhibitions, etc. It is helpful to be flexible with opportunities and to network with other artists. I suggest finding artist groups, such as the Sonoran Arts League, or other groups where a community can help foster and motivate. I listened to a speaker once who suggested that anyone should seek out an employment opportunity in their field of interest. So if you are an aspiring art student, consider working in a gallery, museum, studio, art supply store, school, or in a community center. That exposure could lead to learning the steps needed to take the next step. As for my experience, I started slowing, building my business buying equipment, tools, and materials as I could afford to do so. I sought out used items, before upgrading to new. I steered away from loans or going into debt, and even bartered when I could. I set aside portions of my income in several places, even saving for retirement. I made a choice to live frugally and wisely and opted toward steering those resources on building my business. It took patience and perseverance, as nothing happens overnight.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My pieces are represented at the Wild Holly Gallery at 22 Easy Street in Carefree. You can also see a small selection of my porcelain jewelry at the Vision Gallery at 10 East Chicago Street in Chandler. I open my studio for the annual Hidden in the Hills studio tour which occurs on November 22, 23, 24 & 28, 29, 30, 2019 (http://www.hiddeninthehills.org). In February I shared space at Jan Peterson’s studio #4, in Scottsdale for the annual ASU Self Guided Ceramics Studio Tour: Feb 23, 24, 2019. https://asuevents.asu.edu/content/18th-annual-selfguided-ceramic-studio-tour
Jack Kerouac wrote in his book, On The Road, “I was halfway across America at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my Future.” Over the last six-months local artist Sylvia Fugmann-Brongo has travelled thousands of miles across our nation retooling artistic inspiration in its natural beauty and revisiting personal history. As she reflects on her journey of creativity Sylvia considers herself fortunate to have had a strong art program and an outstanding art teacher, Judith Burkhardt, during her four years of high school. There she gained a firm foundation in painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and clay. Stepping into her college years Sylvia knew her major was going to be art. Meeting Ceramics professor Mary Jane Edwards at Nazareth College of Rochester provided both inspiration and focus for Sylvia’s college years as well as her career as a ceramic artist. Sylvia loved the fluidity, organic feel and the smells of the earth working with clay provided. She found creating by hand, with slabs and coils of clay, provided the maximum amount of freedom for her inspiration. Using hand-built methods Sylvia’s creations could be freeform, organic, and possess a surprisingly fun quality. Combine this with innovative textural combinations and eclectic color application you have a uniquely individual ceramic piece, in the form of a vase, wall plaque, garden ornament, bowl or even a mural. To this day Sylvia and Professor Edwards stay in contact over Facebook.
Completing her Bachelor of Science in Art Education in 1981 Sylvia went on to established a working clay studio in 1983 and began traveling extensively nationally and internationally gathering inspiration for her work. Along the way she participated in a number of juried solo and group exhibitions. Locally, Sylvia’s work can be seen in Vision Gallery in Chandler and Wild Holly Gallery, in Carefree, AZ www.wildhollygallery.com. Recently, Sylvia was commissioned to create a wall mounted ceramic mural entitled “Passage to Realization.” The grant-funded project includes ceramic figures and textural elements that celebrate a student’s journey toward higher education. Using shapes, colors and a linear pathway the piece is on permanent display in the student affairs building at Paradise Valley Community College Campus at 32ndStreet and Union Hills Drive in Phoenix. Sylvia states, “This clay piece, just as any ceramic piece, invites the viewer to, not only view but also touch the shapes for a complete visual and tactile experience.” In December 2017, Sylvia’s piece “Caged Animals” won the “Best of Show” at the “Small Works” exhibition sponsored by the Sonoran Arts League. The piece explores the idea whether humans should be the caged animals for our fellow animals to pass judgment on while roaming free.
In addition to Sylvia’s success as a professional artist she finds the time to pass on her wisdom and experience in clay to children in the larger community. Sylvia shares her experience and talent with Vision Gallery in Chandler offering ceramic workshops to the children in the community through their program called Vision Kidz. In February 2019 she will be offering a program on Bookmaking, for more information visit www.chandlercenter.org. Sylvia is a participating artist in the annual Empty Bowls project, as a member of the Sonoran Arts League. Over the years, since 2005, she has donated nearly 700 bowls to raise funds for the International Hunger Project. This year Sylvia is especially excited to introduce, and share with the community, her new home studio, teaching, and gallery space during the annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio and Tour. Her studio #35 will be host to 5 local artists, in this stunning 700 square foot space during the last two weekends of November. www.sonoranartsleague.org.
To view a selection of Sylvia’s work, stay up to date on current shows or classes she offers visit www.sylvia-art.com. Sylvia also accepts commissions and can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or by calling the studio at 480-488-4749.