Fire sculpted art
Sometimes called "Junk Art" these eco-friendly artworks consist of anything from sun-bleached branches to door knobs to old jewlery to strips of fabric from discarded clothing. Going one step further Lorelei tries to assemble these pieces without the use of toxic adhesives.
“Nature produces straightforward beauty. No analysis necessary. Even allowing for the desecration of nature due to environmental changes initiated by humans, the textures and compositions created by decay, repair and rebirth still inspire me.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1960 Lorelei Stumbo grew up in the Midwest. Her art training started early as the daughter of an art professor. As a teenager Lorelei helped her father, Hugh Stumbo, in creating for herself a cylindrical cabin modeled after her father’s Grain Bin house in Cedar Bluff, Iowa. Still unfinished after 35 years, Lorelei is hoping to convert the cabin into an “Earth Ship” type residence.
Lorelei studied art at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate. There she worked mainly in abstract and “found object” art. Later, experimenting with a technique learned from an art teacher from Normal Illinois, she began burning wood as raw material for her art.
Lorelei has worked as an artist showing her "fire sculpted" pieces throughout Northern Iowa, Southern Minnesota and now Colorado. For a time she settled in Maryland to assist Leon Der in the hand crafting of a unique home located in the Wheaton-Glenmont area of Maryland. She now lives in Nederland, CO but is still collaborating with Hugh Stumbo in establishing art galleries and studio spaces in Tipton, IA.
Located in a wooded area adjacent to a national park, Lorelei has a hard time finding wet days to build the bond fire she is accustomed to use for sculpting her raw materials. In fact, she is unwilling to create too much wood smoke in the popular national recreation area. She wants to stay eco-friendly as much as possible. However, she still has access to the family’s “burn pile” in rural Iowa where the particulate in the air settles before it becomes a health hazard. So, she continues creating works of art using burnt wood as well as continuing her “found objects” art.
In August of 2013 her work was showcased in the grand opening of Stumbo Art Gallery. In November of 2014 her work was exhibited at the Chait Gallery downtown Iowa City. She designed signage for Stumbo Galleries main building and for the auxilliary building, Gallery 110. The Iowa City Downtown Association’s Benchmarks Project’s “Cat” bench located at the Washington Street end of the Ped Mall is Lorelei’s most recent contribution to that Project.
Since 2018 Lorelei's work has been displayed and sold in Colorado through the Gilpin County Art Association, the Nederland Community Center, and at the Boulder Art Association.
"I’m near sighted. I like to get up close and personal with visual details. So, the ground, generally being the closest thing to me visually, fascinates me. The intricate and organic patterns in pavement, cement, dirt, and plant and insect life can be engrossing. Often gazing at the road in front of me I tend to see and collect small, lost items while I walk. I am fascinated with the shapes, forms, and details of these items, not their utility."
This attraction to small items led to collecting beads. To exploit the beauty intrinsic in the “flawed” appearance of natural beads I have developed a sculptural technique to create human and animal figures. These figures manifest individually as spirit dolls like my pieces “Rasta man” and “Fan Dancer” or are incorporated into found objects and multi-media pieces."
"The attraction to detailed patterns in nature might explain my affinity with burnt wood art. An artist in Normal, Illinois introduced me to a fire sculptine technique of burning wood that result in organic, non-representational sculpture. In my current work I have adapted this technique using 'found wood', construction scraps, and demolition waste which is already weathered and misshapen, to make intricately dimensional pieces that can stand on their own or serve as an environment with found objects."
Fire sculpting art begins with plywood generally, either construction waste or salvaged. I have used other types of wood such as tree limbs/roots, 2x4’s, or wood furniture.
I use only salvaged wood - no tree killing just for my art. Plus, the decay of farm salvaged plywood has produced some fantastic designs.
Once selected, the wood is thrown on a fire. If the purpose of the fire is sculpting, then the piece is left until it catches and burns enough to eat away at some of the wood. If the purpose of the fire is sanitation, then the piece might only be suspended over the fire until super-heated. The heat and smoke will seal the wood and kill bacteria and insects.
I no longer use large fires for my fire sculpting in the attempt to reduce the production of smoke and ash in the air. In Iowa I fire sculpted with neighbors’ bon fires (which are commonly used to dispose of brush and other burnables in rural Iowa). That is my preferred method. To date I have not found a neighbor with a burn pile here in Nederland.
Then the wood must be pulled off the fire before it is totally consumed. This can be accomplished by placing a chain around the piece before throwing it on the bon fire. And the chain I use was salvaged from a trash heap.
Here in Colorado I use small fires build on top of the plywood (raw materials) to reduce the danger of wildfire and particulate in the air.
Then quickly after extinguishing the piece, I begin to clean the charcoal off with a wire brush. Welding gloves, dust mask, and face protection are necessary as the charcoal is dusty and can be hot. There will be live embers. Occationally I allow the piece to cool before cleaning. This allows the embers to cut deeper into the wood and hopefully not consume the whole piece.
Once cool I use a dry brush technique with rescued white latex house paint or light-colored acrylics. I touch just the ridges of the exposed grain.
Next a liberal dose of oil is applied. This oil conditions the wood reducing its fragility. The oil helps eliminate dry rot and smothers any remaining insects. It also mixes with the remaining charcoal dust and settles into the crevasses as a dark stain further accentuating the grain. This step requires the purchase of manufactured oils and gives me pause as I prefer salvaging all art materials. One of my small efforts to reduce waste.
At this point I usually prop the piece up and observe it for a time to better appreciate the natural design created by the fire and/or decay. The wood itself will inspire the final design.
Eventually, I see an image in the pattern of the grain or I decide on an appropriate color scheme and composition to communicate either the sadness of decay or the beauty found in the circle of life. Then I apply oil paint "stain". This paint has been rescued. I am willing to work with salvaged paints to rejuvenate them enough to make a stain.
I always have a number of prepped pieces ready so that I can use up all the paint or stain that I mix. I’m striving for zero waste.
Also, I use oil to clean my brushes. Most of the paint will be removed by wiping the brush on a standby prepped piece. The rest will be removed using oil and wiping the brush on a separate standby piece that is in the oiling stage of my process. So, I’m not using a paint thinner chemical and I’m not throwing away the discolored oil that I use to clean my brushes and I’m not using a cloth or paper to wipe my brushes. Zero waste here too.
Finally, the individual pieces might be assembled into a more 3D wall hanging or a free-standing sculpture. Then the piece or construction is finished with polyurethane or floor wax. This step has required purchase of new product, unfortunately.