By Norman Kolpas
Attraction, bronze, 8 x 12 x 4 feet by Kendra Fleischman
You might say it all began with a unicorn. In 1981, the summer before her senior year in high school in Arvada, CO, Kendra Fleischman’s father, Ken Ball, signed up his daughter and himself for a bronze sculpture class offered by the county’s parks and recreation department. It was a logical choice: “Back when I was 7 or 8, I liked digging way down to the bottom of my backyard sandbox to get to the mud and making things out of it to dry in the sun,” Fleischman recalls. “I was always creating stuff in school, where people would say, ‘Get Kendra to draw it. She’s the class artist.’”
So the father-and-daughter adventure seemed just the right sort of activity for the 17-year-old, who proceeded to sculpt and cast a finely detailed, 12-inch-tall unicorn. “I don’t want to brag,” says Fleischman, “but it was pretty good. And it was an empowering experience to create something in bronze.”
Although it bears scant resemblance to her recent works, that unicorn sculpture was also, you could say, prophetic. Since ancient times, the mythic animal has symbolized such virtues as strength, elegance, and purity. And all those qualities aptly describe the figurative, expressionistic bronzes, in both tabletop-size and monumental outdoor editions, that have brought Fleischman ever-growing renown over the past two decades.
One class alone, however, did not foster Fleischman’s prodigious talent. At Drake Junior High, art teacher Joe Studenka recognized her talent “and just pushed me and pushed me to do watercolors, painting, drawing, and more experimental things like screen printing and block printing,” she recalls.
Two teachers at Arvada West High School were also big influences. Joe Beckner “really showed me how to draw with an almost photorealistic method,” she notes. And Dave Pasarelli started getting her away from realism by introducing her to the works of pop sculptor Claes Oldenburg. “I made a 3 Musketeers candy bar that was probably 2 feet long, with illustration board for the chocolate, a sponge center for the nougat, and a paper wrapper that I drew by hand,” says Fleischman, chuckling warmly at the memory.
Such training prepared her to enter Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where “the art department was very progressive,” according to Fleischman. “And they also had an education program, so I could be practical and get a teaching degree, too.”
From her years at CSU, Fleischman particularly remembers her sculpture studies with Gary Voss. “He introduced me to stone carving and also to bronze casting. We actually got to do the molding, the pouring, all of it,” she says. “Just trying to lift a crucible full of molten metal, which is so heavy and so hot, was amazing.”
Even more than offering such hands-on experience, Voss also set her to thinking about her goals as an artist. “He wanted me to go past the obvious,” says Fleischman. “I came to realize that it was not enough to make something pretty.”
Such self-examination was pivotal to the development of her talent and led directly to Fleischman’s creation, in 1986, of ORIGIN, a 10-by-10-by-10-inch sculpture she carved from a block of rich, creamy alabaster. At first glance, the term “abstract” might come to mind to describe the piece. Gaze upon it for more than a moment, however—which is easy to do, because its curving forms are so pleasing to the eye—and you begin to see the human form in the piece, seemingly striving to emerge from the stone as a butterfly might emerge from its chrysalis. “That was me leaving realism behind,” says Fleischman matter-of-factly about its creation, although her statement also unwittingly captures the way in which the work stands as a metaphor for her own emergence as a sculptor.
Indeed, the work gained recognition from her teachers and fans alike. “My dad was just so jazzed by it,” she says. His enthusiasm for the sculpture was so great, in fact, that after his daughter graduated from CSU in 1987 with high distinction, Ken Ball took it upon himself to have the original turned into a bronze, in an edition of 14.
Support also came from Jeff Fleischman, the high-school sweetheart who then became her husband. Their two daughters—14-year-old Heather and 17-year-old Rachelle—recently helped the couple celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. After graduating from college, Fleischman painted and taught art, first at an elementary school, then for three years at Arvada West High, her alma mater. “It was a good couple of years before I got back into stone carving, because it’s expensive, very dirty, and your neighbors don’t want to hear the noise,” she says. Then one day Jeff surprised her with an air compressor, which is necessary to drive the pneumatic tools that many modern stone sculptors use. “He just came home with it in the back of the car,” she says, “and I started again.”
She hasn’t stopped sculpting in stone or bronze since, reaching a point two years ago where she was finally able to stop teaching and apply herself to her own work full time. Along the way, her own distinctive style has emerged fully—as if the stone-enveloped figure of ORIGIN has finally, fully emerged to stand on its own…
Featured in September 2007
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