A Retrospective of Happy Accidents in Clay

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There are many ways to fall in love with Patricia Lange, beginning at the front lawn of her Hopewell home. Large, stainless steel modern sculpture and black Louise Nevelson-like formations keep company with circular enamel pieces that evoke the moon, and masks in mediums from aluminum to clay.

A grouping of clay masks leads you up a brick path to the front door, where you enter Lange’s gallery. The display tracks her evolution from enamels to metal work, found objects and clay.

From a window in Lange’s basement studio, you see her artistry extending into the outdoors. The garden attracts hummingbirds and goldfinches, and a fig tree rests after a season of bearing fruit. Bees, too, are attracted to the world of Patricia Lange.

Her fascination with plants and the natural world shapes her work in all media, but especially her ceramic work. Since retiring as an accounting consultant with General Electric, she has devoted herself full time to clay.

Lange knows art often comes from accident – from letting it happen, letting it open up a new line of vision. And, she adds, “everything is an accident.”

For example, a black shiny flower-like vessel that blends memories of Georgia O’Keeffe and Dale Chihuly, was originally supposed to stand upright, but when Lange looked away, the sides fell. Rather than stick to her original plan, she let the sides flop, forming petals like elephant ears. The result is a sensuous piece, and on this day it holds a single red carnation in a cavity of water.

Whether working in enamel, metal or clay, Lange sees her work as a process of experimentation. “I am not afraid to ruin a piece,” she says. “It’s OK because I’m learning, and next time I’ll know what to do.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, Lange studied art with sculptor Totila Albert. With him she worked in clay, making figures, but in her heart she wanted to be making the large metal pieces her mentor made. “I thought it was too big a dream to reach for,” she says, so after moving to New York she began working in enamel. With her son, then a baby, she attended classes at Riverside Cathedral.

Later, after moving to Hightstown, she was invited by the American Orchid Society to make enamel orchids that would be awarded to third-place winners. The society set her up with a kiln, tools and materials she uses to this day.

After her success with enamels, she began incorporating metal, until the work was more metal than enamel, and ultimately she was producing the large outdoor heavy steel pieces of her dreams. She exhibited at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum; the Zimmerli Museum and Quietude Garden Gallery; Grounds For Sculpture; and many corporate galleries, among other places. Her work has been bought by corporate and private collectors.

“I came back to clay because it is so earthy,” she says. “Enamel is a very exact art, you have to be precise with how much enamel you put on, the temperature and time in the kiln. You need to think in a way I was doing as a financial analyst with math, and I wanted to have more spontaneity. Now, as I am putting my fingers into clay, I find I am imitating metal with clay.”

On Oct. 11, 4-7 p.m., Lambertville-based Artists’ Gallery will exhibit a lifetime of works by Patricia Lange along with pastel artist Doug Sardo. The exhibit runs Oct. 9 through Nov. 2.

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