We had the good fortune of connecting with Donna Zarbin-Byrne and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Donna, why did you pursue a creative career?
As a child, we used to drive my grandmother home down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. From the back seat, I loved watching the display of color and atmosphere of Lake Michigan and the sky meet each other. Along that same drive is a magnificent totem pole, entitled Kwunusila, or Thunderbird. The combination of colors, creatures and wings spreading into the horizon fascinated me. Around age 10, my mother got me a bag of clay, set me up in a room in the basement (my first studio) and I began to sculpt my rendition of this totem pole. Additionally, I spent hours at the Art Institute of Chicago growing up. My mother’s way of dealing with the long winter days was to take her three children to all the museums that the city had to offer. Looking, observing, and expressing what I saw through sculpture is what came naturally to me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As an avid gardener, I consider myself a gardener of the dreamscape because my projects are cultivated from nature as well as reverie. Botanically inspired forms blossom into abstraction; forms that are cognizable yet re-envisioned. My work ranges from intimately scaled objects, large interior installations to public sculpture and within all I explore dualities of whimsy, scale, fantasy and truth.
My practice includes working with many different materials and media ranging from steel and cast bronze to handmade paper, fibers and encaustic. Process, craft and the mark of my hand inform all that I do. Ultimately there is an exchange between artist and audience. I aspire to engage the viewer in the experience of beauty, to imagine and reflect.
It has been particularly meaningful to create public art which reflects the values of a particular community and that my work intersects with audiences in their daily lives. An example of a project that I am really proud of is in San Antonio, Texas at the Gardens at San Juan. This public sculpture was co-created with artist Diana Rodriguez-Gil. Al Paso del Tiempo/A Cyclical Journey Towards Home, includes three installations that reflect the history, and culture of the residents as well as collaboration with children and input from the community at large. It includes a landscaped sitting area which merges my interests in gardening and art.
The life of an artist has its challenges as most of us juggle many positions to make a living. I have balanced a teaching career, an art business (Artisan Restoration International), being an Airbnb host, and a raising family in conjunction with my art practice. Although running a business has been rewarding and presented interesting opportunities over the years, it was a huge challenge for me to focus on it and my own practice simultaneously.
I have learned that mentors and advisors are essential for thriving as a small business and as an artist. I also love to offer encouragement and support to other artists and entrepreneurs because we are stronger and more creative together!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We have a new tradition of biking to a different coffee shop each Sunday morning. A tried and true route for us is the Santa Fe Trail, which takes us to Merit Coffee and then to Revolver Taco in Deep Ellum. Next up would be The Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Museum of Asian Art, followed by NorthPark Center, not to shop, but for the art. This place is a hidden gem. Many people don’t realize that NorthPark houses a vast and impressive collection of art.
Of course there’s a slew of restaurants we love; Mot Hai Ba, Sachet, Food From Galilee, Patina Green, but we also love to cook and dine al fresco when the weather permits. We’ve got a great porch overlooking our garden and there would certainly be several meals enjoyed this way.
We live within walking distance of White Rock Lake and I’m sure my friend would be glad to enjoy both early morning as well as evening views that the lake has to offer.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Making art includes many hours of solitude and working alone, but it is being a part of a community that fuels and encourages new ideas. There are many people that deserve mention that mentored and supported my journey as an artist including my husband (and master welder) and many teachers and colleagues from graduate school.
In the most recent past few years, J.B. Rea, master metalsmith and artist has been very instrumental in supporting the direction that I am working in now. After working for many years in the art foundry that my husband and I founded, I realized that I wanted a smaller, more portable way of working with metal. I was interested in learning to solder and cast on a small scale. I found myself working out of the jewelry studio at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center on Maui. J.B. didn’t insist that I learn how to set stones and make rings, but rather supported my journey as a sculptor, helping me to engineer and push the boundaries of metalsmithing. My skills often lagged way behind my intentions, but he has encouraged me in my practice and ideas.
Parallel to this, navigating the professional side of my art career has also not been done in isolation. I am indebted to both Art Next Level based out of Chicago and Kipaipai Art Foundation, Hawaii for support, mentorship, and community.
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