The Whisper That Shouts

She takes a small piece of pink polymer clay, manipulates, softens it between her fingers then applies, smoothes and shapes it. She works methodically, her rhythm that of a slow dance. She works as we talk. Our conversation is easy, relaxed.

Monica Mechling has produced seven sculptures in the past five months. She is under pressure, pushing herself, a deadline looms, but you would never know by observing her. Her pace is steady; her focus is on the work, in the moment.

The deadline relates to the upcoming introduction of her work, bronze sculptures, at the CFM Gallery, 112 Greene Street in Manhattan's SOHO district on December 14. It is the equivalent of an opening night on Broadway for a playwright, producer or actor. A solo exhibition of her work is scheduled for May.

The stakes are high; this is Monica's first journey into the world of bronze sculpture. Much remains to be done. Fired sculptures must be delivered to the foundry where they will be transformed into timeless treasures. In the bronze process, the sculptor creates the work, then turns it over to the foundry, a process Monica finds quite comfortable. Watching the production of one of the bronzes recently at the foundry she described the liquid molten bronze simply as, "Beautiful."

Monica was born in Neena, Wisconsin. (You may have seen the name written on sewer covers made there. We have some on Warren Street.) Her family moved around a lot, Texas, Michigan, back to Wisconsin, back to Texas, Philadelphia and finally Chicago where she studied art and literature. It was there she met Bob Mechling, her husband and partner of thirty years. Monica and Bob had two children, a son and a daughter. As an artist, Monica's dream was to be a sculptor, but chose to stay home and raise her children. "I put my children first," she declares. These were the lean years, and out of necessity she began making cloth dolls for her daughter. A friend convinced her to make some for her and then for some of her friends and before long Monica was selling cloth dolls as fast as she could make them. One day she realized she had creatively taken these dolls as far as she could, her artist was tugging at her begging for something more; it was time to move on.

She began making porcelain dolls. She spent two years learning to sculpt the hands, feet and faces, then costumed the dolls herself. These exquisite porcelain dolls allowed her to express the sensual side of women. Monica was tenacious, hard working and before long her porcelain dolls took off. Soon she rose to the top of the doll world; Richard Simmons, Anne Rice and Demi Moore number among the many worldwide who collect her dolls.

With her children grown, Monica decided it was a time for a new leap of faith. Monica and Bob packed up and moved to Hudson. That was eighteen months ago. For ten long years her artist voice had prodded her to take the risk, to become a sculptor. Monica decided not to release a new line of porcelain dolls this year and instead pursued her dream. The leap from successful doll artist to unknown sculptor is one of enormous proportions. The path of any artist is littered with the debris of challenge and great risk, but it is a path that beckons, demands to be taken.

"I was desperately ready," Monica says of the need that drives her. "It's an inner voice that gets restless," her voice becomes quiet now, matter of fact, "and I have to move on." She pauses, her hands frozen in mid-air, her eyes focused on the sculpture, "The purpose is freedom, freedom to move on creatively." Her words float, linger momentarily in the air, then her hands methodically go back to work.

A word about Monica's hands; they are soft, delicate. It's a surprise when you first shake her hand. The impression being that a sculptor must have tough, worn hands. Her hands seem a contradiction, until you see the work. It is then you realize her hands are the embodiment of her work; Art Nouveau inspired, delicately detailed sensual feminine figures. "They contain the secrets of a woman's mind," she explains, "and eroticism." Nodding slightly toward the sculpture before her she smiles, "I love the feel of fabric and hair against the skin." To visualize then mold this delicate concept into the solid permanence of bronze, intrigues Monica. "The greatest compliment is when women tell me that what they see in my work is what they feel inside." She studies the bust pictured here. "Society doesn't allow women to go there, to the sensual soft side."

Monica places great value in femininity; it is her source of power, her fuel, her strength. In her poem "Femininity" (yes, she's a very good writer, too) she cautions women against its loss, "Don't lose the whisper that shouts, the touch that leaves them wanting more, the heart that fills others with love. You have your power, but seek it from your soul."

Undoubtedly, the new path Monica has chosen will yield a grand and glorious journey.

We'll talk next time, From The Road.

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