The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 9, 2003


Two artists — Lemmermann and Miskolczy — display divergent approaches

When it comes to knowing Karin Lemmermann and Bonnie Orr Miskolczy, there are no degrees of separation. As a Carlislean, you've either had your life touched by one or both. Over the past 30 years, Lemmermann has taught pottery to hundreds of local children and adults at her South Street studio under the auspices of the Carlisle Recreation Department. In 1971 Miskolczy, of Cross Street, launched this community newspaper, The Carlisle Mosquito, which today reaches everyone in town.

The two women also know each other quite well. Lemmerman and Miskolczy moved to Carlisle in the mid-1960s. Each gave up professional careers to focus on life at home and gave birth to daughters at about the same time. (Besides Anya, Lemmerman also has a son, Ingo Szegvari, who lives with his family in Carlisle today.) Both served the school and town in various volunteer capacities. Ultimately, both turned to art as an outlet for their creative energy.

While the women have lived through some common experiences, they are very different individuals. That is most apparent in viewing their art. Lemmermann, the nurturer, coaxes each ceramic piece from a mundane lump of clay. Miskolczy, the earth activist, refashions what she calls "trash" into sculpture.

Take a look for yourself at the joint Ceramics and Sculpture exhibit at the Gleason Library running from May 5 through July 1. A reception with the artists will take place on Saturday, May 17 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Lemmerman's experience at the wheel enables her to get the piece she wants in just a couple of minutes. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

Ceramics by Karin Lemmermann: "Painting with Fire"

After 30 years of working with pottery, Lemmermann still marvels at how high-temperatures alter her pieces. The glazes she uses on her pieces tend towards softer pastels and muted colors. Even pieces from a "black phase" gleam a dusty gray.

Lemmermann, born in Detmold, Germany, grew up in an artistic family. Her father was a painter. Lemmermann responded as a typical teenager by choosing a more practical career in science. After graduating from college, Lemmerman came to the U.S., and worked at Mass. General Hospital as a surgical assistant for a year. (She became a U.S. citizen just last year.) She moved to Carlisle in 1967 with her husband and baby boy. A girl followed three years later. Lemmermann did some platelet adhesive experiments for the hospital, but found the distance from Boston made even part-time work difficult.

"I needed something else in my life," says Lemmermann. A friend introduced her to clay, and the young mother enjoyed it so much, she decided to study pottery more formally at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln. She quickly became a skilled potter.

"Wheelwork looks very easy," says Lemmermann, "but it really takes a different mindset. You really have to know what to do and how to bring things together." She demonstrates how subtle movements can quickly transform one piece of clay into a variety of shapes. Given Lemmermann's agility in working with the wheel and her ease in interacting with people, the DeCordova staff very quickly asked her to teach, and she still offers regular workshops there.

In 1977, Lemmermann decided to set up a studio at home. She spends more time teaching there rather than working on her own pieces, however. The shelves on her walls are lined with colorful pieces "in progress" by her dozens of students. Lemmermann offers classes to children at her studio in Carlisle on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. The class size goes up to seven, and her classes are usually full. She teaches adult classes at her studio as well. She also has taught German on Saturdays at Boston University for the past 14 years, but will retire from that job next week.

"I really want to get back into doing my own work," says the artist. One would expect Lemmermann to have hundreds of pieces after all these years, but she has only kept a few pieces from each of her distinct, stylistic periods which will be on display at the library. She began by printing ferns and bird nests into stoneware clay, then firing them, and finally glazing the pieces. Then she turned to pit-fire technique where pieces slowly smolder in the kiln and then the smoke-fire technique, which is much quicker. She confesses to having given away most of her work as gifts during the holidays.

"I have been experimenting lately," she says. The scientific background affects Lemmermann as an artist, and she enjoys playing with chemical formulas and techniques. She has a gas kiln and an electrical kiln. She once tried working with a huge ferocious kiln, which she has since turned over to a more courageous Cambridge artist. A piece spends about eight hours in the heat, and then eight hours cooling.

In today's experiment, Lemmermann took clay pieces that have gone through firing, then later covered in sawdust and left them to cook them slowly in fire to create unique patterns on the unglazed clay. She is also trying a new glaze color.

"You never know what these pieces will look like after you take them out," says the artist. "The flame paints a beautiful picture." Modesty aside, this artist also has a lot to do with how they turn out.

Miskolczy holds up a discarded roof tile from the Gleason Library roof that she turned into a biography. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

Sculpture by Bonnie Orr Miskolczy:"Been there. Done that. Exploring Found Objects"

When the Gleason Library underwent renovation four years ago, Miskolczy was on the spot to request the slate roofing tiles. To her dismay, the work crew forgot, and tossed the tiles carelessly into piles of construction debris. As she passed by on a hot summer day in flip-flops she saw a small bulldozer pushing the piles together. She stopped and to the amusement of the workers, saved as many of the unbroken tiles that she could from the menacing bulldozer. Miskolczy didn't know how she would use the pieces, but was sure inspiration would strike. It did, and she made books from the tiles, using smooth skipping stones for titles, and called the pieces "Reading Rocks."

Miskolczy has always loved art. A graduate of Smith College, she majored in Art History and French. She landed a job at Polaroid in Cambridge, where she took photography seminars with Ansel Adams and Minor White. She turned to freelance work after moving to Carlisle, focusing on children and architecture and successfully published her work. After she gave birth to her daughter Marta in 1970, Miskolczy took stock of her life.

"I didn't like the idea of the chemicals in the house," says Miskolczy. "I closed the dark room door. Boom." The energetic woman immediately looked for a new project. It didn't take long. In 1972, she immersed herself in starting up a newspaper in town, The Mosquito. Lemmermann remembers helping her friend collate pages in the early days. In time, the paper grew into a full-fledged publishing endeavor with a staff and advertising. "Basically, it was 60 hours a week for 15 years with a few vacations," recalls Miskolczy, "I loved it."

Eventually, Miskolczy found her opinions running in a different direction from the management. In 1986, she was stunned when the board did not reappoint her. She says, "Basically that means I was fired."

The stunned Miskolczy found solace in her long-time love for nature. Always concerned about the environment, she began picking up trash and throwing it away. Then, she started to save some pieces. Eventually, she began assembling components into collages. Sculpture followed. Her work may be founded on trash, but the pieces combine multiple materials for a new, precise purpose.

"The object itself has already been there," says Miskolczy. "It's been a wagon wheel. It's done travelling to Boston for the market. Now it takes on a new life."

The artist has exhibited in Carlisle, Concord, Somerville, and Falmouth, and explored several site-specific installations. She likes the challenge of entering competitions, and had a piece selected in 1997 "Red Ochre Hanging Gate" as the entrance to a juried sculpture show on the Conant Land. Materials for the pieces come from the transfer station, trips, contributions from friends, and her cross-country ski trips around town.

The show at the Gleason will include six outdoor pieces by Miskolczy. Indoors, she will show a wide range of works built from trash. There's even an interactive display for kids exploring balance. Attention will undoubtedly be on the library's own trash. Using slate roof tiles from the demolition necessary for the library renovation, Miskolczy has created 40 "books" of tile which will be on display.

Artist Bonnie Miskolczy stands with one of her outdoor sculptures ­ a salvaged iron wheel with bed-springs hung inside. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Friendship survives life's demands

Lemmermann and Miskolczy don't see each other as often as they did when their daughters grew up together. The women have both gone through personal trials and tribulations, and have had to put aside their friendships and art countless times to deal with their own family crises. Grandmothers both, they are happy now to spend time helping out the next generation. Nonetheless, the two women admire and respect each other from afar.

Lemmermann expresses pride that both have raised families in the same compact houses that they moved into about 37 years ago. Miskolczy agrees that "small is beautiful," but admits envying Lemmermann's distinct studio (refashioned from a chicken coop), whereas she has her work components scattered "everywhere!" Lemmermann confesses admiration at how Miskolczy can transform barbed wire into decorative packets. Miskolczy says she's always thought it would be fun to sign up for one of Lemmermann's pottery classes.

Lemmermann makes ceramics from clay, a natural material; Miskolczy builds art from trash, human-generated items that interfere with nature. Their approach to art differs, but their common love for nature ties the pieces together in the show. Perhaps even a greater commonality is their success in connecting with other people. They may be artists, but to most Carlisleans, they are just simply Karin and Bonnie.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito