Works Pay Tribute to Special Leaders : Steve Linn creates sculptures of glass, bronze and wood showing individuals who have risen from the masses to positions of influence

<i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for Westside/Valley Calendar. </i>

New York sculptor Steve Linn has always been interested in people who have risen above their circumstances to become statesmen or stateswomen. “How does someone from poverty assume a role of leadership?” he asked rhetorically, indicating that these are questions he has pondered since his college days during the ‘60s.

Linn’s curiosity about and admiration for leaders who come from among the people have been fully realized in his recent glass, bronze and wood sculptures on display at the Kurland/Summers Gallery. Among the five works are three life-size, carved plate-glass representations of individuals who served their constituencies until their final days.

“Fools Crow” presents the Sioux nation’s ceremonial chief of the same name. “He was born before Wounded Knee, i.e., off the reservation,” Linn said. A spiritual leader who also championed Sioux rights, he died in 1989.

Linn sandblasted Fools Crow’s figure into the back of a large piece of plate glass shaped like a buffalo hide. Supporting the glass in this eight-foot-high sculpture is a cast bronze frame, suggesting the wood frame that would have been used to stretch a buffalo hide. Decorating the frame are spiritual amulets such as wild turkey feet, bird wings and skulls.


In the sculpture, Fools Crow’s medicine bag is fashioned from a coyote skin purchased from a fur wholesaler in New York. His peace pipe is made from clay. Bronze buffalo horns surround his head in a halo-like configuration.

Linn considers his sculptures secular icons. “None of the people they represent were saints, though. They were all very human,” he said.

“Dialogue Is Necessary for Truth,” Linn’s tribute to Socrates, depicts the philosopher standing with arm raised, presumably questioning a crowd. Linn said this piece was influenced by several sources, including I. F. Stone’s book, “Trial of Socrates”; Plato’s writings on Socrates; Jacques Louis David’s painting, “Death of Socrates,” which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and his own interest in Greek architecture.

“Passionaria” portrays Delores Ibarurri, a seamstress and needleworker who was a leader of the Spanish Republican movement during Spain’s civil war in the 1930s. Later, she became president of the Spanish Communist Party, and worked to define Eurocommunism as an economic system aimed at helping impoverished workers.


Exiled to Moscow for 38 years after the defeat of the Republicans by Franco, she returned to Spain after his death to resume her place in Parliament. She died in 1989 at the age of 94.

“Being an old lefty, I knew about her since my college days,” Linn said. “She was the only female leader in the Communist movement.”

The format of “Passionaria” is based on Fra Angelico’s “Linaiuola Altarpiece” and Pedro Berruguete’s “Retablo of the Virgin.” A map of Spain and images resembling elements of Picasso’s “Guernica” have been cast on the front of the sculpture’s two bronze doors. Mementos from Ibarurri’s life are displayed alongside each door--her Spanish Communist Party card, copies of earrings she wore throughout her life, needle and thread, photographs of her as a young woman and of her children as adults. The doors open to reveal her carved glass image, and on the inside of each door, three bronze images of her.

Linn had worked primarily with wood and bronze until the early 1980s, when he got the idea to do a life-size image of the late photographer Imogen Cunningham in glass. “I had no notion of the material before that,” he said. “I like the danger, the possibility of risk glass poses. It challenges you.”

He recently completed a major outdoor site-specific commission at One Colorado Plaza in Pasadena called “Pasadena Water Main Break.” It depicts in glass a water pipe break, and several life-size repair workers on the scene to fix it.

His two other works in the Kurland/Summers show, “The Dome of Sunday” and “Cottonmouth County,” are the beginnings of a new series in which he creates sculptures based on lines from poems he likes. The lines must have a visual reference.

“I feel like I’m a storyteller,” he said. “I want my art to be a pleasant experience, but also educational and thought provoking.”

“Steve Linn: Sculpture,” at Kurland/Summers Gallery, 8742-A Melrose Ave. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday through July 3. Call (310) 659-7098.


OF BASEBALL AND BLUES: About 10 years ago, commercial photographer Marc Norberg started hanging out in a small blues bar in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. Besides enjoying the music, he took it upon himself over the years to capture in black-and-white portraits the major and minor blues singers and musicians who passed through town.

More recently, commercial photographer Terry Heffernan persuaded the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to allow him to photograph the artifacts of the boys of summer who made baseball America’s national pastime.

The fine photographic results of Heffernan’s and Norberg’s personal passions are on view in “Baseball ‘n’ Blues,” an exhibit of almost 60 stills at Verve Contemporary Arts. Gallery owner Bill Goldberg said this show marks the first time that Heffernan’s baseball pictures have been realized in platinum prints.

His photographic subjects include Shoeless Joe Jackson’s shoes, the exceptionally valuable Honus Wagner baseball card, and Babe Ruth’s jersey with the ball and bat he used to hit his 60th home run in 1927. Also here are images of Lou Gehrig’s bat, ball and uniform; the shoe and base that Lou Brock used to break the record for the number of stolen bases in a season, and Jackie Robinson’s jersey.

One can see and almost feel the flannel of the uniforms in these photographs, which resonate with texture. Even the dust on Roberto Clemente’s hat, presumably from the last game he played, is clearly evident.

Norberg’s blues series includes portraits of Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor with her gold-toothed smile, a soft and peaceful profile of Etta James, and Robert Cray. Rather than catch these artists during performance, he chose to photograph them after their sets, in more informal and spontaneous situations.

Goldberg said he is particularly pleased to show Heffernan’s and Norberg’s photographs together because they know and respect each other’s work and, he said, “because there is nothing more quintessentially American than baseball and the blues.”

“Baseball ‘n’ Blues,” Verve Contemporary Arts, 7314 Melrose Ave. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday through June 30. Call (213) 937-0325.


TEST PATTERNS: Sculptor Corey Stein recently faced the monumental ordeal of brain surgery. Before the surgery took place in Seattle, Wash., she had to complete a personality profile test devised back in the 1940s that asked her to reply either true or false to more than 500 statements.

Sentences that Stein had to respond to included: “I like repairing a door latch”; “I would like to hunt lions in Africa”; “Sometimes I think of things too bad to talk about”; “I have been disappointed in love”; “I do not like to see women smoke,” and “Policemen are usually honest.”

Stein has reacted to the irony of her test experience as only an artist could, creating more than 70 whimsical watercolor, pen and ink drawings that illustrate the joys of repairing a door latch, the fear of finding oneself in a closet or a small closed space, today’s complexities in simply answering true or false to the statement, “Policemen are usually honest,” and more.

These drawings are on display in the show “I, True or False,” at Sherry Frumkin Gallery as part of its Small Gallery Project series. “This particular body of work is a very strong statement. The way Corey translated the test questions into images called for an exhibition,” said gallery director Svetlana Darsalia.

“Her sincerity in stepping forward and not being afraid to tell everyone she had brain surgery impressed us. She’s a very talented young artist, very aware, and ready to give response to what’s happening around her.”

“I, True or False,” at Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 1440 9th St., Santa Monica. Open 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday through June 13. Call (310) 393-1853.