Trained in music and theater, Arlene Fins discovered a new vocation as a sculptor at the beach in 2002 by shaping a young girl's figure in the sand. Now, 7 years later, the Acton artist works from her own studio, won an award for a bronze sculpture of a woman soldier and will be showing new work at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.
Trained in music and theater, Arlene Fins discovered a new vocation as a sculptor at the beach in 2002 by shaping a young girl's figure in the sand.
Now, 7 years later, the Acton artist works from her own studio, won an award for a bronze sculpture of a woman soldier and will be showing new work at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.
"Sculpting is interesting to me because it's a process that's so involved," said Fins from her studio in the ArtSpace complex in Maynard. "Most people have no idea how complex it can be. I had no idea."
For the upcoming exhibit, "Art in the Garden," Fins will show a dozen modestly sized figures, generally less than 2 feet tall.
Also showcasing Dominick Marcigliano's photographs, the exhibit runs from May 13 to June 22 at the Boylston botanical garden.
The sculpted figures Fins chose for the show evoke buried emotions ranging from coiled tension to relaxed sensuality.
Wearing gardening clothes and a floppy hat, the woman in "Garden Stretch" holds a yoga position poised as a taunt bow string. Sitting cross-legged as at a tribal council, the Indian holding a "Talking Stick" conveys calm authority despite his aged body.
"I try to recreate what's in front of me," Fins said, turning the half-finished torso of a man on a rotating stand. "I've got a gazillion ideas I don't have time for."
Growing up in Worcester in a creative extended family, Fins always loved art but focused mostly on music and theater in high school. She credited her mother, Beatrice Fins, and her grandmother Mina Samet, who won her first painting award at the age of 67, for reinforcing an "appreciation of beautiful things."
After majoring in music and theater at Clark University, Fins spent much of her early career working as an illustrator and graphic artist. She and her husband, Kent Issenberg, raise their two children, Jessie, 12, and Sam, 14, in Acton.
In the summer of 2002 when her career as a graphic artist "was winding down," Fins recalled "getting lost" sculpting the figure of a young girl with beach sand. A crowd gathered to watch and Fins realized she'd unearthed a buried current of creativity that she just had to nurture.
She took several courses at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, taught by artist Jay Bordage, that gave her the confidence to pursue her own artistic vision. She took other courses at the Loveland Academy of Fine Art in Colorado and the Scottsdale Artists School in Arizona.
For several years, she sculpted on her kitchen table before moving into her Maynard studio in 2005.
Since Fins works on several pieces simultaneously, visitors to the studio can see how a sculpture progresses from a lump of clay to the figure of a woman cradling a child to her breast.
A small circular stage, covered by a purple sheet, shows where her models pose, the position of their feet marked by masking tape. Fins works at a nearby table pressing clay onto an armature, a sort of metallic skeleton that can be adjusted into any shape.
She generally begins by forming her figure's torso and bust, adding clay along the armature's extended "limbs" to fashion arms, legs and head. Once the rough body has been formed, Fins uses a sculpting knife to create the expressive details of its internal musculature, face and clothes. Not surprisingly, a thick copy of "Gray's Anatomy" sits in a bookcase.
A wax mold is made of the finished figure and then taken to a forge in Boston where the final sculpture is cast in bronze.
Like many of the unfinished pieces scattered about her studio, Fins the sculptress is a work-in-progress.
Over the last several years, she's created singular pieces in a variety of styles ranging from strictly realistic to subtly expressive along with curious painted ceramic figures of sunbathers and a balloon man.
Working mostly with human models, Fins makes sculpted figures of gardeners doing yoga and Anita Hill, of a weary refugee and a woman named Echo gazing at her reflection in the water.
In May this year Fin received an "Honors" award in a national competition from the Academic Artists Association, at its 58th annual convention in Springfield, for her sculpture of a woman soldier called "As You Were."
Cast in bronze, the mid-sized sculpture depicts a young woman soldier, standing proudly erect with her chin out and her shoulders back.
To make the figure as authentic as possible, Fins visited Fort Devens in Ayer where she asked women soldiers what sort of clothes and gear her figure should wear.
Bestowing the award jurors wrote: "The grace, tension and strength of this sculpture is extraordinary. From every angle, a balance of form and expressive profile emerge. The grace and tension and strength of this sculpture is extraordinary. The surface is handled consistently, admirably suggestive without being overly descriptive."
Fins' strength as a sculptor is her ability to reveal the internalized energy of her figures so they seem to breathe, pulse with vigor or stand, relaxed but strong.
From beneath their bronze patina, her figures exude tension, sensuality and serenity.
As if Fins could sculpt air, the space between the separate figures of a man and woman beside each other somehow conveys the invisible bonds of a familiar couple.
"Each figure shows its own character by how they hold themselves. You shouldn't just look at them from one angle. Walk around them," she said. "No matter where you are, it's interesting but also inspiring."
Looking ahead, Fins said she expects to work in a variety of styles as she continues to master new techniques and discover her own true style.
"I started out by doing very representative work. I can do it well but I don't want to spend all my time on it. I feel like I need to do both well," she said. "I hope I can encompass all different styles. I don't want to put any restrictions on what I do."
Arlene Fins' sculpted works are available in limited editions. For commissions or to learn more, visit www.arlenefins.com.
Tower Hill Botanic Garden is located at 11 French Drive, Boylston.
It is open year round Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday holidays. It is open Wednesday until 8 p.m. May through August.
Fees: Adults, $10; seniors, $7; youth 6-18, $5. For information call 508-869-6111, ext. 0110, or visit www.towerhillbg.org.