The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community. They join us in inviting you to take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist . . .
Syd Ginsberg is a 90-pound, 90-year-old, force of nature. She now hails from Siler City, but only very recently.
Syd is an artist, born and bred. Before she was walking, Syd watched both parents stitch and weave beautiful dresses and hats with needle and thread, and she often fell asleep to the sound of sewing machines humming in the living room. As she crawled around the paper and fabric and thread on the floor of the Queens, N.Y. apartment, an artist was born — and engineered — in the process.
Syd Ginsberg was born Sylvia Ginsberg. Eighteen years later, a few fellow artists at Cooper Union decided the name Sylvia wasn’t quite right–sounded a little too Sylvia-like. Too “Ladies Home Journal,” “Easy Bake Oven,” “Emily Post.” They nicknamed her Red, since she made no secret which side of the table she sat on during the Red Scare years. But the name didn’t sound quite right, didn’t quite fit. They tried blending Sylvia and Red. Syd. The name fit well enough to stick for 71 years and counting.
Ms. Ginsberg’s medium of choice is bronze, and that’s her strong suit. Her bronze pieces are human scale and smaller–mostly figurative, always distinctive. Her political and social sentiments are sometimes poured into the lost-wax bronze, as seen in her piece Abu Ghraib. She was inspired to make this piece in Mexico when she heard the harsh news from the U.S. in 2003. The face of a man is planted on a bronze rectangle, mouth open, gasping, eyes blank, perhaps rolled back in his head. He’s either suffering dreadfully, or he is dead. The face is framed behind welded steel bars. It’s blunt and harsh, but effective.
This artist is opinionated; she knows how she feels, and she expresses her feelings well. She’s animated and theatrical when she speaks. Ambivalence is unfamiliar territory, and she’s not one to let etiquette get in the way of honesty.
Though Syd’s forte is bronze, she is also a painter and printmaker. And she is prolific.
I visited her colonial brick house near the Piggly Wiggly in Siler City recently. There is not a room in the house without art–her own work and the work of friends and fellow artists. She’s collected it all in the last 70 years from Africa, Europe, and particularly Mexico.
One of Syd’s paintings shows tongs resting in a cauldron of hot coals, a tool she wielded to forge woodcarving knives in her little cottage industry on Houston Street in NYC. The painting illustrates another creative path she explored in her 20’s: tool-making. (It’s a good painting –- my favorite here –- and it commands a short-lived but captive audience, hanging above the toilet in the hall bathroom.)
Syd worked in that tool-making factory after four years of night classes at Cooper Union. Days, she worked making cash by creating window displays for Manhattan department stores.
Years rolled along, and life and art happened. Along the way, Syd’s art became inextricable from her view of the world.
Ms. Ginsberg is a dyed-in-the-wool egalitarian. Her sentiments rest squarely in the sanctity of humans high and low. All people are creative. All deserve respect. All deserve to be seen. Her small bronze human figures reflect the shared common bonds of all men and women. The figures are unnamed, with facial features indistinct and anonymous. Universal attributes of humility, dignity, and mutual respect are celebrated here.
In 1988, at 59 years old, Syd sold her house in Croton, NY, packed two suitcases, a portable stovetop, some wax to sculpt, and her much-loved mutt Jezebel into her VW and drove west. She stayed with friends on her way to the border. She crossed the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas, and she drove 600 miles south.
Syd arrived in San Miguel de Allende in the pouring rain the night George Bush senior was elected 41st US president. She hung out for a few weeks, long enough to determine this was the place she was made for. She remained for the next 30 years, making art, making friends, writing another chapter in her continuing adventure.
Siler City is the next chapter.
You can welcome her by stopping by Syd’s one-woman show at the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City, May 17 through June 12. Opening reception is 6 – 8 p.m. with live music and refreshments. Go on over, and meet this artist.