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Portsmouth Herald - Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Sculptor Jane Kaufmann displays some of her new pieces inside her Durham studio. New works will be on display at the Three Graces Gallery in Portsmouth through Feb. 28.
By Jeanne McCartin
Who: Jane Kaufmann, sculptor
Conversation with sculptor Jane Kaufmann is fast and furiously funny. There's little guard between her mind and mouth, or mind and sculptor's hand. With nothing to hide, she's refreshingly direct.
Kaufmann's comical sculpture has taken on lots of serious matters. She's taken shots at John Sununu, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro. She's addressed the pros and cons of Iraq, toilet cleaning and aging. She's tickled many, and offended a few. To quote David Letterman, she says, "How can you get mad, it's only a joke?"
A peek at Kaufmann's Web site
www.janekaufmann.com puts her intent in place.
It's topped by a row of cut-out figures;
her oversized head plopped on top, a bit askew.
Her stats, listed right of the photos, are:
She'd planned the series as an homage to love. A bit of research put the kibosh on that idea. Instead the depicted couples, while dressed, have been stripped to their gritty flesh.
"You learn what goes on when you really get into it. ... I'm interested in injustices", says the Durham resident. "For example, Ferdinand and Isabella - they came to power because the Jews financed them ... then they had the Inquisition and many of them were slaughtered. ... Then Christopher Columbus went to America, and gave the Indians disease."
And there's more. She says it's just conjecture, but seems once Napoleon dumped Josephine to have a child with a younger woman, things started to unravel for the mighty short one.
Then there's the Queen of the Nile.
You start reading about Cleopatra; she was a very bright woman, head of Egypt. But what was going on there?" she says. " We get mad at Clinton, but with Cleopatra - the whole thing is nuts!"Excerpts from the inscribed sculpture reads: "She spoke nine languages, understood astronomy, math, and medicine, ... But, like many smart women she let matters of the heart get in the way of scholarship. She seduced Caesar, a married man. ... (He) made her queen of Egypt."
Then there are babies with multiple men, rejection by the moral majority, war, death by sword and suicide. Very messy stuff, made poignant and humorous in Kaufmann's hands.
Some themes keep sculptures tucked away in her attic studio for most their lives, a bit hot for the average commercial gallery. One, shown once at Portsmouth's Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery, where her work is regularly exhibited, is 'Who would Jesus Kill."
"It isn't necessarily about this (Iraqi war). It's about, if you are a Christian, do you really go and fight? If Jesus is your personal savior, do you fight?" asks Kaufmann. "Who would Jesus kill? Would he kill Swiss clock-makers, American bankers, Afghan truck drivers, Mexican wetbacks, gay Russians? You get the idea."
"You have things in you, you just have to say", she continues. "The piece isn't about the people in the war, but a philosophical background of being a pacifist. I don't know if that's clear."
A bit more background explains Kaufmann's strong stance on social issues. She chose the Quaker's path as an adult, a religious group steeped in activism. She and her husband, Dick, (yes, Dick and Jane), have housed a Rwandan family. Kaufmann has been jailed for peaceful protest. She lives her faith.
It's also where she learned to trust her voice. Within its meetings, members are encouraged to speak up on what is in their hearts.
From her heart she named Clinton the man with the Golden Zipper. William Loeb, the former publisher of the Manchester Union Leader was "our man, a head like the top of roll-on Ban", a reference to his politics, not his shiny scalp, she notes. There was an entire series on the Leader once, titled "a little right wing, with a little right wing." More recently she created the Fat Cat series. The chubby feline has taken to bed with liberty and G.W. Bush's first campaign contributors, to name a few.
"I'm an equal-opportunity critic. I'll hit both parties."
She's addressed prayer in school, the deficit, Social Security and body images. There's a series on Good Girls, Bad Girls. There is no sacred cow, only thoughts that have to be said, in earnest, without assault.
"It's easier for people to look at something when it's funny. Also people remember things if it's funny."
Her work is on display in a group exhibition at the Currier Museum, through, Feb. 28, and at Rochester's Artstream, ongoing. Her resume is a lengthy one. But her most recent New Hampshire exhibitions have been at the Mill Brook Gallery, Concord; Levy Gallery and Coolidge Center for the Arts, Portsmouth; Gallery 205, Concord; and in Maine at the Davidson and Daughters, Portland, and Old York Historical Society, York.
Among her many awards Kaufmann has received the Omar T. Lassonde Prize, Levy Gallery; Grace Casey Award, Prescott Park; League of N.H. Craftsmen Annual Juried Exhibit, Hitchiner Clay Award; the Friel Award for Originality; 54th annual NHAA Exhibit; and the Currier Gallery, Hitchiner Sculpture Award.
Kaufmann, who is highly respected in her field, says she's not a serious potter, at least not when it comes to making a living at it. That's what the husband is for, she quips. (It's a joke, people, a joke. As a friend puts it, her husband of 40-plus years "has cut you loose"). Not needing to sell allows her the freedom to speak her mind.
My kids used to say I didn't have a job, I was on a mission. I just have ideas I want people to listen to", she says.
She also holds forth on daily life, albeit with a twist that usually includes a point. She often addresses travel, something she doesn't care much for, and cleaning toilets, something she likes even less. ("Some people like to bake or decorate, but no one wants to clean toilets.") There was also a self-portrait once, with socks in place of breasts that hung below the frame.
There are also the works about being happy with where you are in life, something she is.
Kaufmann's raku-fired pieces usually include the oft-seen finger puppets, the large orb, which is inscribed, and the larger figures, often on inscribed pillars.
Currently she's working on a new series, this one on daily life. She's sculpting Home Saints. Of course there's Saint Tina of the Toilet - to whom you pray to request someone else tends to the job. There's Saint Veronica of the Vacuum - pretty much the same thing here. There's also one in the works on marriage, pets and happiness. She started it after reading an article that claimed married men live longer, but are not necessarily happy. But, having a pet makes you happy.
It's something that caught her eye, and her funny bone, she says.
"All these things I do are just little rants."