The woman with bracelets
March 19, 2006
EDWARDS – Without even cracking open the book “Zaza,” one can learn a lot about the woman and her art that it celebrates.Unlike most art books, usually wrapped in flashy dust covers, “Zaza” is bound in burgundy cloth, inviting readers to run their fingertips across its earthy texture. A photograph capturing three Stonehenge-like ceramic sculptures on a misty hillside also graces the cover, along with its simple title lettered in gold.Local of 17 years Stacey Gerrish, who is the training manager at the Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School, compiled and edited “Zaza” as a tribute to her grandmother, Barbara Kaufman. It took her three years to complete it. Zaza is what Gerrish has always called the artist. Everything about the book is deliberate, from its lack of chronological order to its minimal text. Gerrish wanted the book to represent who her grandmother is, and the cover’s aesthetic is no exception. “I wanted the cover to have a tactile feel like her work does,” Gerrish said while in her Edwards home. “I wanted people to feel connected to the book because Zaza’s life’s work is all about the connection.”The sculptures on the cover, titled “A Tribute To Time,” mark a family cemetery located at the top of Kaufman’s property in Woodstock, Vermont. “I chose that photograph for the cover because the book is a tribute to the time she spends as an artist,” Gerrish said.
Down-to-earth artThe memorial sculptures were strategically placed to be seen from Kaufman’s home and to complement the sculptures’ colors as the sun moves through the sky. Kaufman, who is 88, works in clay and creates mostly outside sculptures. Like the artist herself, who is extremely modest, Gerrish said, she doesn’t like her art work “to be on display.” “She wants people to live with their sculptures,” Gerrish said. “She wants her sculptures to be connected to their environment. She wants them to make a bold statement, but to blend in, to look as if they’ve always belonged there.”Kaufman started sculpting when she was 16. She started out using plasticine, which was cast in plaster and then transformed by the “lost wax” process into bronze. It was clay, however, that Kaufman fell in love with, and it eventually became her signature medium.”Everything she does is by hand,” Gerrish said. “She found she was more in touch with the earth using clay.”
Gerrish said Kaufman squeezes, pushes and pulls the clay into form. She uses unusual tools like rough branches, people’s junk or household items to create designs on the sculptures. Some of her sculptures are so tall, she needed a ladder to finish them. Her hands, seemingly forever caked in clay, were always adorned with silver bangles. Her late husband, Ralph Kaufman, bought her a bracelet for each of the 60 years they were married. The bracelets became Kaufman’s symbol around the neighborhood.Kaufman’s pieces seem to grow out of the earth. Her human figures are quite whimsical and surreal, some with no facial features, while others have highly detailed expressions. Kaufman is heavily influenced by Asian art, sculpting geishas and Buddhas, and she likes creating mythical characters like dragons and crocodile creatures.Journey through New EnglandIn the book, Gerrish wanted to represent a variety of Kaufman’s 50 years worth of work through photographs – not text – for Kaufman was a woman of little words. Although Gerrish studied photography at Skidmore College, the same college Kaufman attended, she chose to step away from the lens and allow her friend Skye Chalmers, who had never met Kaufman, bring a fresh eye to the project.”I spent my whole life taking pictures of her and her work,” Gerrish said. “My eye is so emotional, and I didn’t know if it would appeal to anyone else.”This task was a bit challenging, because Kaufman has sold just about everything she’s ever created. Gerrish and Chalmers had to hunt down the buyers and travel to their homes to photograph the pieces.
“She’s an artist. She has absolutely no records,” Gerrish said. “She had a rough list of buyers.”Kaufman sends her work all over the country, but with the limited budget of a self-published book, Gerrish stuck to the New England area. The journey taught Gerrish about the power of her grandmother’s sculptures. Gerrish said she was impressed at how deeply affected people were by her art work.”Everyone had a story to tell about their sculpture, about its placement and how they interacted with it,” Gerrish said. “One man didn’t want us to pull his sculpture out of its spot to photograph it. He was concerned we wouldn’t put it back to the same spot.”Book’s proceeds benefit charityIt was important to Gerrish to compile the book while Kaufman was still alive. Gerrish wanted Kaufman to know exactly how much she means to her and the many other people across the country who have been touched by her art. Gerrish also wanted Kaufman to be a part of the process, but it wasn’t easy to convince Zaza.
“I had to be very tactful and conscious of how I approached her with the idea,” Gerrish said. “She’s a very private person and not a commercial artist.”Gerrish thought if she donated all the book’s proceeds to nonprofit organizations, her grandmother couldn’t say no. Kaufman liked the idea, and the book benefits the Vermont Arts Council, the Humane Society (Kaufman is an animal lover) and other nonprofits. Verbatim Booksellers in Vail Village sells “Zaza,” and Kaufman is currently looking for a local beneficiary, preferably one that supports the arts in Eagle County. Kaufman’s whole life was about art, and it would only suit Zaza if the book helped to continue her passion.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado