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Site Specific: Echoes

Barbara Sorensen originally considered a different career in art and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in art education from the University of Wisconsin. As an undergraduate at UW, she was inspired by her faculty advisor Don Reitz, who was by then a well-known ceramicist. Her interest quickly turned to ceramics and she initiated a new career path as a professional artist. Beginning in 1972, Sorensen began working alongside such renowned ceramic artists as Rudy Autio, Paul Soldner, Peter Voulkos, Don Reitz and eventually Dan Gunderson. This was a formative time for Sorensen, as she began developing her own style by learning from the masters. Since then, she has earned a reputation as a versatile sculptor working in a range of media. Her works have been included in numerous exhibitions around the country and can be found in many museum, corporate and private collections. 

Sorensen was first fascinated by clay for its plasticity. Unlike any other three-dimensional medium, clay has the ability to be molded and reworked so long as it remains damp. Its malleable nature allows ceramic pieces to evolve over time and allows the artist to employ a number of processes, i.e. building, throwing and carving, to create a finished work. What also sets clay apart from other sculptural techniques is its ability to be formed without tools. The act of shaping the clay with her bare hands gives Sorensen the sense of being physically connected to her work. 

Although her background as an artist began with clay, Sorensen now works with an array of material, from aluminum and foam to found objects. Her most recent pieces are inspired by the power of nature. These organic abstractions made of clay or mixed materials mimic the natural undulation of rolling hills and craggy rock formations. Sorensen is interested in how geologic evolution implicitly affects us not only physically, but also psychologically. Her installation titled Speleothem is a recreation of a sublime cavernous environment. With its dark and mysterious environment, inhabited by towering and hanging geologic forms, Sorensen creates an environment within the museum that momentarily suspends our connections with the typical gallery environment. 

A series by Sorensen that does not address the role of nature is her Dwellings. These brightly colored forms resemble webbed cocoons. Sometimes standing, sometimes attached to a wall, and sometimes floating, these abstract sculptures act as three-dimensional drawings that question what is interior and what is exterior. For Sorensen, these are physical and visual depictions of bundles of spiritual energy. They are “dwelling places” for residual energy from the past that we cannot see, but coexist with everyday.

Adam Justice, Curator Polk Museum of Art