Fine-Art Craft | Lanny Bergner


Nature of High Rise, bronze, brass, copper, stainless steel and aluminum screen, silicone, 53 x 14 x 14
Nature of High Rise, bronze, brass, copper, stainless steel and aluminum screen, silicone, 53 x 14 x 14

By Wolf Schneider

Lanny Bergner lives north of Seattle, WA, which happens to be the hub of today’s glass art movement. That’s good, because Bergner can stroll into almost any art-supply shop and buy a jar of “frit,” or crushed, stained glass, for use in his mixed-media sculptures. The many fishing-supply stores in his neighborhood provide the monofilaments he needs; the industrial screening that he incorporates into his artworks arrives by mail order from Pennsylvania. As for the gourds he sometimes includes in his art, he grows those right outside his home in the forest.

Bergner creates organic-looking, minimalist sculptures from mostly industrial materials like screening, wire, monofilament, bronze, brass, aluminum, and stainless steel. He occasionally incorporates natural materials like gourds and sand. Sometimes he builds installations for museums like the Seattle Art Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art, or prestigious public-art pieces like the one he created for the Philadelphia International Airport. Mostly, though, his artworks are meant to hang suspended from the ceiling on a single wire or line.
“My background is in sculpture, but I’m really largely in the sculptural craft world—I’ve been in basketry shows, in fiber shows, and I’ve done site-specific museum installations,” says Bergner. Because his artworks are often suspended, he says, “There’s a kinetic aspect—they’ll gently move, and the overlapping screens set off patterns and it kind of shimmers in an optical effect.”
Influenced by minimalist fiber artists like Petah Coyne and Eva Hesse, as well as by modernist sculptor Martin Puryear, Bergner uses screens as his main material. “I do a lot of deconstructing. I’ll buy the screens in 100-foot rolls and I’ll cut them into strips, or fray them off, and I’ll create forms,” he explains. His finished artworks range from 11/2 feet high to a 10-foot-by-10-foot installation like dream botanica, an eye-catching 2002 conceptual creation of plant forms that was constructed of glass, gourds, silicone, screen wire, and sand.
Bergner was born in 1952 in Anacortes, WA—which is part of the San Juan Islands—to a dad who worked at the nearby plywood mill and a homemaker mom. He was the youngest of four brothers; the others grew up to become an accountant, an engineer, and a Catholic monk/environmentalist. Lanny spent his childhood playing in the woods. “I did a lot using my imagination. That’s probably where it started,” he chuckles. His interest in art got sparked when he apprenticed with Washington woodworker Philip McCracken during high school, which led to his studying art at the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1983.
Obtaining a scholarship to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, Bergner then moved to Philadelphia, PA, for 13 years, earning a master’s degree in fine arts and launching his art career while working in galleries there. He began working with screens and other industrial materials in Philadelphia 20 years ago. The work caught on.
“I stayed because Philly has a pretty good art scene, and that was a good place to get started,” he says. But he missed his family back in Washington, and he missed the woods of fir and cedar trees. So he returned, building a house seven miles outside of Anacortes, which is where he lives today.
His artworks often appear exotic and have been likened to otherworldly scientific specimens. Is that his goal? “Sort of, kind of,” Bergner replies. “I try to work very simply. All I really need is pliers and scissors. I like common materials, but then I try to make them appear more uncommon.”
In addition to his signature suspended works, he also creates basketry pieces that reference architectural forms as well as modular constructions based on grids and patterns. Grays, oranges, and yellows predominate in his artworks, which often take on geometric proportions.
While Bergner works quietly in the woods, the world has taken notice. He’s exhibited not only in Washington and Pennsylvania, but also in California, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Delaware, Illinois, and as far away as Korea. “Fiber people respond to my work, basketry people respond, and sculpture people respond,” says Bergner. “I do everything—I’ll build a crate, I’ll photograph my work. I’m kind of a one-person show.”

Bergner is represented by Snyderman-Works Galleries, Philadelphia, PA; Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, MA; Pancini Lubel Gallery, Seattle, WA; and Cervini Haas Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Featured in “Fine-Art Craft” October 2007