Among the most ancient of human artifacts are those made of clay. Archeologists working in Croatia and in China unearthed just last year a cache of prehistoric clay figures that have been tentatively dated to the earliest period of settled, agriculture-based society more than 10,000 years ago. The finds weren’t utilitarian items like pots or cooking utensils, but sculpted forms suggestive of animals, the earliest example so far of the human impulse to create, to imagine.
None of this is surprising to Brevard artist Christine Kosiba, who has been working in clay since her own earliest days, when as a child she gathered clumps of river clay to make figures she set to dry on the kitchen windowsill. “Clay represents a timeless bond between humans and the earth,” Christine has written. “As with many facets of nature, including humans, clay is both fragile and resilient.” And like our ancient ancestors, much of Christine’s work in clay is inspired by animals and other natural forms — bears, as rough and ungroomed in Christine’s clay as they are in nature; horses that leap and strut with pent-up energy; ravens that peck and swoop and scold. All seem to spring fully formed from the earth that gave them life.
Many of the animal forms carry special significance to Christine, who has exhibited throughout the country, mostly recently in Baltimore for the American Craft Council and, this fall, at the Southern Highland Guild Craft show. Horses, for example, embody for Christine a feminine principle, “strength and power but also grace and beauty,” she explains. “They’re like sculpting poetry to me.” Ravens, which appear often in her work and act as guiding spirits to each piece, first drew her attention during the 1990s, when she was teaching at a Navajo reservation in Arizona and learned of the raven’s importance in Native American mythology as the prankster, the mischievous spirit. “Personally, I find ravens to be fascinating animals,” Christine says. “They’re smart, playful, family oriented, adaptable and beautiful.”
Although Christine occasionally works in bronze, clay is her most beloved medium. “I find the spontaneity of the medium rewarding and exciting,” she says. “Every time I sculpt with clay, it’s a dance. It allows me to play with countless variations on familiar themes.” Working in bronze, on the other hand, may produce a more durable and elegant piece, but the technical process ultimately puts the artist at arm’s length. “The process is costly and loses some of the dance for me since I have to hand the piece over to the foundry for the casting,” Christine explains.
Christine’s respect for her favored medium extends deep into her creative process, for rather than imposing her own preconceived form on a lump of clay, she allows this most natural of materials to lead her fingers. “I do occasionally sketch an idea or concept, and I do keep a drawing pad by my bed, but generally I begin sculpting and allow the piece to define itself,” Christine says, a more organic process than working with the purely representational pieces she’s created on commission. “I’ve only done a few and while I enjoy the fact that they’re technically challenging, I find the process loses some of the spontaneous energy and enjoyment for me.” Nonetheless, such pieces in both clay and bronze, have been featured in Brevard’s Sculpture Walk and in four publicly displayed bronze animal figures, including not only ravens but also turkeys, chipmunks and foxes.
Most intriguing, though, is a series of evocative clay works Christine calls her shrine series — a collection of votary objects and totems crafted of clay, wood, leaves and other naturally occurring materials, along with the ubiquitous raven. The series was born when Christine fashioned a receptacle for her own childhood memorabilia. “It had a vintage-inspired Humpty Dumpty sitting atop it, and I loved having a special place to hold my treasured memories,” Christine recalls. Soon, she began receiving commissions from admirers for their own shrines. “They’re an extension of my desire to create spaces of intention,” Christine says of the series. “It’s such a personal experience to collect and display memories of relationships and experiences, and I’m always honored to be a part of that process.”
Christine is entirely self-taught, although her mother was a talented craftsperson (“crafty” is the word Christine uses) and encouraged her childhood artmaking. “I’ve always loved creating and can’t remember a time when I wasn’t expressing myself creatively through art,” she says. “I believe one can’t create without a piece of themselves being expressed in that creation.”