Creative: Strengthen Your Spirit
A Chainsaw, a Chisel and an Axe
Aging hath no fury against Emilie Brzezinski. All it can do is quietly stand aside and watch this eighty-two-year-old woman express her passion for life as she picks up her chainsaw of choice each day and sculpts works of art from tree trunks ten times her size. I came across her story in the Washington Post. Here is an excerpt:
Brzezinski reaches over the workbench with an ease that belies her 80-plus years to show off other implements — a wooden mallet from Poland with a distinctive ribbed handle that massages the palm with each blow. A gleaming-sharp ax.
These are the basic tools of the artwork Brzezinski creates in her McLean studio — bizarre Brobdingnagian sculptures hewn from red oak, cherry, walnut, maple. There are vast chairs and arches, giant benches and shapes that echo human forms, some reaching skyward and others leaning together in apparent lament.
It wasn’t wielding chain saws, though, that made “Brzezinski” a household name in Washington’s inner circles and overseas. Her husband, Zbigniew, was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser and remains a prominent foreign policy analyst. Their older son, Ian, is a defense expert; son Mark is ambassador to Sweden. And Mika, the youngest, is a host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Despite the fact that Emilie has had no formal training, the artwork has brought the family matriarch recognition of her own. She won first prize for sculpture at the 2003 Florence Biennial; a collection of monumental tree trunks lined with life-size family photographs — “Family Trees” — was recently shown in Dresden, Germany; Prague; and Gdansk, Poland. Earlier this year, she published a coffee-table book of her work, and she is getting ready for an exhibit opening in September at Washington’s Kreeger Museum.
For years, while her children were growing and her husband was in the White House, she would “pinch-hit” with her art. “You do what’s in front of you. Sometimes you are compromising yourself; sometimes you are compromising other people.”
Now, though, with a purpose-built studio just steps from the kitchen door, she has launched on a process of rediscovering her past, “an effort at finding who I really am.”
Brzezinski puts on earmuffs but no gloves before carving into a trunk. The chain saw whines; sawdust flies up. She has been working hard to finish the Ukraine sculpture for her upcoming Kreeger exhibit. Brzezinski has had a Ukrainian photograph blown up to create a giant collage of Eastern European faces. She has pasted them into a hollowed, sanded maple trunk (shipped from a friend’s property in Charlottesville for $800) in much the way she worked photos of her relatives into “Family Trees.” But this is a news photo of many people, gathered in the square in Kiev — anonymous faces, all upturned, all wondering what might lie ahead, as Russia moved to annex Crimea.
“And not one face is smiling. Not one face,” Brzezinski says.
To see more of Emilie Brzezinski’s sculpture on her website, click here.
“The Lure of the Forest,” an exhibit of Emilie Brzezinski’s monumental wood sculptures, will be on display at the Kreeger Museum from Sept. 16 through Dec. 27.