Animal/Plant Studies

I’m always seeing animalistic postures and behavior in humans and vice versa, so I thought that some of my time in rural Spain would be well spent studying the animal life. My first drawings were some larger sketches for my menina sculpture and a study of Miranda’s painting of Eugenia.

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I also took a few trips to the farm of Andrés, a very kind and enthusiastic supporter of La Fragua, to make some studies of his merino sheep.

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These are some abstractions of plant forms to help me warm up to watercolors again:

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They led into a 3D version out of raw clay that I used to test out the whitewash. It is also stained with coffee and colored with chalk.

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Rural Festival

We were invited to attend the Rural Festival of Villanueva del Duque (slightly larger neighboring town) by the local potter who was doing a demonstration on his traditional kick wheel. I have to admit that these tableaus were my favorite part. There’ s something charming about them that speaks to me in the same way as good storefront window display. It’s a little cheesy, but really honest about its use of materials. They’re clearly an imitation of real life and not trying to fool you into believing it’s the real thing. The grotesque is present, as well as a good solid sense of humor. I wish I could openly applaud the ladies who put these together, but it’s also an anonymous art form.


There is quite a bit of Roman and Islamic influence in the architecture of southern Spain. The images of striped arches are of course very evident in the mezquita of Córdoba, but similar aesthetics are also found in the structure of the convent and throughout Belalcázar. I’m also always struck by the layering of time that is present in European architecture. Materials overlap and niches are filled with different materials. Buildings wear layers of historical and religious influences.

Contrast between the older arches in the mezquita, where the striping is created by the brickwork, and the newer addition, where the stripes are painted on:

My arch studies in raw clay, whitewash, stones, found tile and shells:

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Menina Interaction

Interaction with La Menina was initiated by an invitation to the children of Belalcázar to participate in a workshop where I taught them how to make small clay creatures.

All photos were taken by Lisa-marie Vlietstra, another artist in residence at La Fragua:

Where does clay come from? Checking out the source:

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Making creatures:

Everyone was invited to fill the nests with both clay and found objects:

In the end, many of the creatures were a bit large for the nests and required external apartment housing:

(these photos were taken by me)

Working at La Fragua (la menina)

In addition to all of the rich imagery in each city I visited, I also saw a lot of incredible artwork in Spanish museums. These paintings from the Prado in Madrid made me think about the act of looking, since my artwork focuses on self-presentation. Both subjects are a spectacle, but in very different ways. In this case, the painters (Velazquez – Las Meninas) and (Juan Carreño de Miranda – Eugenia Martínez Vallejo) had control over the presentation of the subjects. The Baroque Spanish court had a fascination with representations of physical or psychological anomalies. It’s a bit ironic to me that Eugenia’s body is considered abnormal due to a hormonal imbalance that is out of her control and the appearance of Infanta Margaret Theresa’s body is grotesquely altered by the traditional dress she wears. Eugenia was also painted both in traditional costume and in the nude.

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After some investigation of available materials, I decided to try working with raw clay dug directly from the yard in the convent. I did very little to refine it, sieving it through some window screen to remove stones and grass. These are some sketches I made to test out clay and composition:


I began to dig more clay and build a large version of the menina in the garden, beneath two mulberry trees. Instead of refining the clay, I added straw to increase the stability. The dome shape of her dress as well as the torso is built with this mixture.


adding sticks to support the walls as the dome curves


the torso


Eventually, I was able to get some more refined local clay from a potter in the adjacent town and used it for the details of the dress, face and hands.

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I experimented with some whitewash as a surface, since she will remain raw, unfired clay. This also references the interior walls of the convent which are coated in the same surface. Layers of coffee were also added as a stain, to give some depth to the whitewash.

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She received a bird identity because they are the most prominent animal presence I perceived in this area. Birds nest in every crevice in the convent, decorating every surface with their droppings and filling the air with shrieks at every hour of the day. I especially like the structures of the sparrows’ mud nests that are found on sides of buildings. I added nest-like structures to her dress for an interactive element. People are invited to contribute objects to these nests, altering la menina’s appearance and identity.

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I’m currently in a one month residency at La Fragua in Belalcázar, Spain. The work space is situated in a portion of the 15th Century convent of Santa Clara and shared by artists experimenting within a variety of different media. The setting is very rural and rustic and I found the aesthetic definitely influenced what I decided to work on.

La Fragua (our half of the convent):

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Summer months are hot and dry with muted colors and large, open skies.

The town is named for its 15th century “beautiful castle,” which is a big enough deal to have its own brand of potato chips. It’s now in a state of decay, closed off to the public and inhabited by several storks and large owls, lending it an irresistible sense of mystery.

Animals of Belalcázar. Several of these guys were a direct influence, and others, I have no doubt will show up in my sculptures at a later time.

Before I arrived, I made my way south from Barcelona, through Madrid and Cordoba, absorbing the imagery from each city. By the time I reached La Fragua, I felt pretty saturated with inspiration. These are some of my favorites:

Greetings from Spain (Belalcázar)