Why You Need to Know Mid-Century French Sculptor Valentine Schlegel
Elizabeth Whitcomb has always been intrigued by sculpture—even as a kid, she was obsessed with carving wood and clay. Now that she’s all grown up, she expresses the obsession through her hand-formed silver pendants and earrings for her line Tapley. These days, she’s looking to the shapes of Valentine Schlegel, a French female sculptor and architect whose underappreciated, ahead-of-its-time work is making a bit of a comeback thanks to fans like Elizabeth. Here are six pieces to get you in on the whole thing.
“I love the anthropomorphic quality of many of Valentine Schlegel’s pieces. This glazed ceramic vase is from the mid-fifties when Schlegel was working in Paris and had started making these incredible pieces on her own after having worked for a few other ceramicists. To me, the prongs of the vase are reminiscent of an ocean creature—almost like a sea anemone—and bring to mind Schlegel’s upbringing in Sète, a port city in Southeast France. I think this is the first Schlegel piece that I saw and what pulled me towards her work.”
“Making something like this fork and spoon would be a dream project for me. Since I was a small child, I’ve loved the meditative process of carving. I actually find it challenging to make pieces that aren’t reductive or when I have to build instead of take away. While jewelry is functional to a certain extent, I’m really itching to create pieces that are not only larger, but also more functional. This photo was taken on the beach in Sète in 1960. During this time, Schlegel was also teaching ‘Workshops for Young People Under 15’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs of Paris. I love the idea that she both taught and was absorbed the childlike wonder of her students.”
“This piece—also from the fifties, I believe—reminds me of a group hug or three athletes in a huddle with their arms around each other. Another thing that I love about this photo in particular is that it was taken by French filmmaker Agnès Varda, who is also a source of inspiration for me.”
“I appreciate the primitive and abstract quality of this piece. It’s sort of pre-historic, even. The knobby edge of this shape remind me of a crustacean’s claw. I grew up in Rhode Island, The Ocean State, and spent a lot of time at the beach as a child. But there is also something sort of human-like about this—ike human bones. I love the balance of sharp and smooth throughout Schlegel’s work—again, something that I am trying to accomplish with my shapes.”
“Finally, this is the piece that I had in mind when creating my edition for Of a Kind. I tried to strike a balance between the volume and size of the shape so that the metal will both look and feel good as a necklace. I love the idea that Schlegel was known to be very calm; a woman who ‘could sleep in water,’ according to her fisherman friends from Sète. I hope my little tribute to this shape instills a sense of balance and calm curiosity in whoever ends up wearing it.”