A sculptor’s magic touch
Norwegian-American artist Constance Bergfors talks about her love of sculpting
By Carla Danziger
Norwegian American Weekly
Constance Bergfors knows wood, its colors, its scents, its rhythms, its feel. She has been sculpting hardwoods – walnut, maple, mahogany, cherry, pecan, apple wood, beech, you name it – for more than three decades. Her sculptures grace public and private collections in the U.S., especially in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, and abroad, in places such as the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, and the American Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It’s possible, by appointment, to visit Bergfors in her suburban Maryland home, as I did recently.
She welcomes me warmly. Expanses of glass bring the outdoors in and allow natural light to fill the house, her galleries, and studio. There, this award-winning artist never knows for sure what she will find as she strips the bark and sapwood from a log with ax and chainsaw, then sands it smooth. It’s like opening a surprise package. Once she sees and feels the sanded log, she marks it and begins carving with chainsaw and chisels. Her method of creating resembles a dance with the woods with which she works, divining the beauty within them, creating single and multi-piece sculptures, many much taller than she is. “Movement, feeling the rhythm, the poetry of it, has always been a part of my life and my work,” says Bergfors.
Her sculpting actions are guided by intuition, in the way, perhaps, that her maternal Norwegian grandmother might have seasoned a favorite stew, or like her paternal Swedish grandmother’s relatives, stone masons, might have handled granite from the quarries in Quincy, Mass., where they settled near the end of the 19th century.
Bergfors smiles when she recalls her visit to Trondheim almost a century after her grandmother Hanna Sofia Dørum left it. “I found out that the Dørums had been restaurant owners,” she says, “probably the reason she was such a good cook.” As for those Swedish stone masons, Bergfors did try carving stone, but “recognizing the danger that dust inhalation presented,” she moved to wood to which she felt an immediate affinity.
Bergfors was born and grew up in Quincy. At Smith College, where she majored in zoology, she discovered her love of drawing and aspired to learn to paint. After graduation, she studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., then honed her painting skills over several years living in Italy, West Africa, and France. She developed a signature style of painting – interrelated fragmented color shapes suggesting movement. Recognizing the sculptural aspects of those works, Bergfors returned in the early 1980s to the Corcoran School of Art where she immersed herself in the serious study of sculpture.
“[Sculpting] is like poetry,” Bergfors says. “I think about rhythms, space, light, and movement. I want the piece to appear to be ready to move.”
Not until Bergfors finishes a sculpture, knows the smooth feel of its surface, its curves and hollows – and, if multi-piece, determines how each complements the other – does she name it; for example, five pieces of American elm 3.5-foot tall became “The Gathering;” four nine-foot tall pieces of English walnut, “The Politicians;” and five six-foot pieces of pecan, “Journey.” Counter to the “do not touch” policies of most galleries, Bergfors wants visitors to run their fingers and hands along the surface of each sculpture, to experience it fully.
“The ability to touch and physically feel the rhythms is the same reason I loved skiing,” Bergfors says. “I’ve often thought that I could still make sculpture even if I became blind. I could feel the movement and the spaces.”
Some of Bergfors’ pieces are currently on display until April 8 at Tysons Sculpture Atriums, located at 1650 and 1750 Tysons Blvd., McLean, VA. For more information, see www.constancebergfors.com.
This article was originally published in the March 18, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.