Sara Swink has come to suspect that clay is encoded in her DNA, as much a part of her genetic makeup as her straight hair and brown eyes. Just a couple of years ago, my brother was visiting and I showed him my studio. He said, You know, our father could make anything in clay. I said, What?? He went on to tell me that our dad made all kinds of things in clay, including a character known as Swami who could tell your fortune. This was before I was born. The kids used to put on neighborhood events with Swami and other characters supplied by my dad. I never knew this all these years. It made sense, though, given Sara?s innate affinity for clay, even though that affinity took a while to manifest itself. Like many kids, she?d loved to draw and color, but she had never imagined herself as an artist.
My sister, Suzanne, who was nine years older than me, was always the artist. From my child’s point of view, I could never hope to have her abilities. I didn’t even aspire; it was so out of the question. Still, when Sara looks back at it now, it seems her introduction to clay was perhaps more than just a coincidence. When she was 8, her family moved to the San Francisco Bay area from Illinois, and their new neighbor was a potter. She and her husband were antique dealers and lived in a gorgeous Victorian house with a pottery studio, and with three sons and no daughters, she relished Sara and Suzanne’s company. ?With her kindness and attention, Margie Ruggles somehow implanted the idea that clay was a great thing for me and I could do it, Sara remembers. And a few years later, in high school, I did.
These days, every morning begins at the kitchen table where Sara does all her planning and organizing. Sometimes I write down dreams I remember. I might work on notes for a workshop or sketch ideas for pieces. I make lots of lists. That’s an understatement: The walls of her studio, half of a 2000-foot shop building she shares with her partner, Harold, are bare sheetrock, which just happens to be perfect for pinning up notes. And lists. And sketches. I make lots of lists and pin them to the wall. I have collages and sketches on the wall.
Sometimes the piece becomes something else while it’s in process, and I go with it. My whole approach is pretty loose. I like to make room for lots of improvisation. At first glance, much of what Sara creates is charming and approachable, anthropomorphic animal figures sculpted with a healthy dose of humor. On a deeper level, each piece is a concrete representation of a story, idea, or archetype, and at their core, they are about Sara’s life, her dreams, her imagination, and the issues she’s pondering in the back of her mind.
Read about my studio visit with Sara Swink
Aug 27, 2016