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Bob Fowler's Legacy: Zoos to Pendants

Editor at Artifcts
October 20, 2021

An actress by profession, Diane (Di) Fowler appreciates the fine arts. Today she discusses with Artifcts the legacy of her late husband, celebrated artist and master sculptor Bob Fowler, whose career as a sculptor launched in 1963 and continued until his death in 2010. His works span form—metal sculptures, jewelry, and mixed media—and continents, from private commissions to installations and shows at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., Fabien Galleries in Paris, France, Museum of Art in Trieste, Italy, and the Woburn Abbey, England. Keep reading to learn more about the Artifcts of his work and Di's efforts to preserve his legacy and reissue some of his individual sterling silver jewelry pieces. 

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Since the passing of Bob Fowler over a decade ago, his widow Diane (Di) Fowler has sought to ensure his legacy lives on beyond his exhibited works, and as it turns out, she has the means to do so: the original molds he used to produce his sterling silver jewelry series. (And a few etchings and paintings tucked away biding time for a future reveal.)

Di and I met one afternoon at the EmilyAnn Theatre and Gardens in Wimberley, Texas, where she volunteers on the grounds and helps young actors with their art, having spent years on community stages herself. Di has a love for the Wimberley community that leads her out day after day to contribute her passions and experience. But today we met to talk about her late husband Bob Fowler.  

Di brought out a binder for me that contained only a select few of Bob's commissions. Paging through, she was jubilant in her descriptions of the works, talking animatedly about his design of two larger than life metal works for the Houston Zoo. You may have seen them if you’ve visited. The full-size African elephant welcomes visitors at the Zoo’s front entrance. The second piece is a gorilla, standing tall at the entrance to the Gorilla House.  

African elephant sculpture at Houston Zoo, by Bob Fowler

These grand scale sculptures were Bob’s passion, pushing boundaries to capture the energy of the subject while also bringing his academic background to play in his rigorous research to create the original concepts. This same research shines in the factual, impassioned, and sometimes humorous descriptions behind each of his jewelry pieces.  

Bob Fowler’s Smaller Scale Side – Sterling Silver Pendants 

We set the binder aside as Di brought out a display case with 100s of sterling silver- and gold-plated jewelry pendants ranging from one inch to nearly three inches in size. Bob began designing these pieces in the early 1990s, each capturing the animated likeness of endangered and protected animal species from around the world. Magically, the miniatures somehow convey the same energy as seen in Bob’s large steel sculptures.  

Created first in wax before being cast in molds, the intricacy of each piece and the personality captured shows Bob’s mastery of the wax art. Pairing the wax design method with Bob’s methodical research, each species carries with it a short description, a few of which seem prophetic.  

For example, of the Costa Rican Climber (pictured below), Bob’s research spoke about the symbiosis of its survival with the state of world environmental affairs, quoting an unnamed scientist, “When jungles of Central and South America disappear and virus carrying insects have to find new breeding grounds, civilization will be exposed to exotic animal viruses that will make AIDS look like the common cold.”

Costa Rican Climber pendant, by Bob Fowler

These charms may not be the best known of Bob Fowler’s works, but they remind us of the care we all need to take to protect our world’s ecosystems while also sending his legacy onward through us all. Di told me she has begun seeking out a metals artist to pick up Bob’s work and bring the pendants to a new global audience. Select and view any of these pieces for a quick-witted education into the world of endangered species from the voice of Bob Fowler. 

Spotted Owl pendant, by Bob Fowler     African Elephant pendant, by Bob Fowler     Brown Pelican pendant, by Bob Fowler     Ridley Turtle pendant, by Bob Fowler

 Bob is no longer with us to produce his art. My hope is that his jewelry will continue to be a tribute to his legacy.  — Di Fowler

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If you’re interested in learning more about Bob Fowler’s work or in purchasing a piece, you may contact Diane Fowler directly at dihrufowler@gmail.com. Some of Bob’s other works are also currently available for purchase through 1stDibs. 

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The Arti Community is full of inspiration. From the Artifcts shared to the discussions we have during Arti Events, here are some of the bright ideas circulating lately to help you Artifct.

Location is really flexible. Really.

Because you can write anything you want for "Location" in your Artifct and it’s always private, people use it creatively. A home organizer said her clients use this field to indicate future location of items, e.g. to donate, sell, dispose, or pass along to friends or family. A genealogist said he uses Location to indicate the file path/folder where he stores related materials to a specific Artifct, such as 100s—truly, 100s—of photos and documents.

Voicemails are trending.

You can include voicemails as a featured media file or as a document only you can access. One gentleman told us he’s Artifcted the voicemails he’s been saving for years on his phone, including a message from his daughter before she deployed in the US Navy. Life moments captured forever in the voice of loved ones.

You can of course create your own voice messages to include with Artifcts. Check out our tips if you need help!

Downsizers unite!

The spring moving season has seen a lot of people turn to Artifcts as they prepare to move, relocate, and/or downsize. People are Artifcting items that have sentimental value but either no functional value or not enough space in their new home to make the cut. They keep the memories safe in Artifcts while parting with the 'stuff,' saving them moving costs and precious square footage.

Access our downsizing, moving, and organizing tips here.

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Artifct of Propellers from Art Arfons' Garage Artifct of Budejovicky Shred Bucket Artifct of 1978 Battlestar Galactica Action Toy

So much better than a baby book.

For our final tip today, we turn to several of our youngest 20-something Arti Community members who have told us that they use Artifcts to capture what they may otherwise forget - a bouquet from a recital, original artwork, that college acceptance letter, and more. Forgetting is not about being a specific age. Life's busy and disorganized. We all forget!

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Artifct of Wrightstown High School Graduation materials
 

Happy Artifcting!

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Beauty + Resilience Through Ceramics

Meet Valentina Ferrada Aguilar, a ceramic artist, jewelry designer, and founder of Chercán Project. Valentina is originally from Santiago, Chile, but recently relocated to Washington, DC. She is deeply passionate about creating and teaching and finds daily inspiration in nature’s resiliency and beauty. 

Valentina’s path to becoming a ceramic artist and jewelry designer was anything but typical. She studied journalism for three years but felt something was lacking, so she quit journalism and took up the arts. 

Her first ceramics course under the industrial design program she enrolled in did not go so well. In her own words, “I failed it.”  So what did she do? She registered for a second course, and through this course met a professor and mentor in one who taught her everything she knows. But, maybe more importantly, according to Valentina, “He really inspired me to do what I love.”  

Ceramics flourished from hobby to business as she began experimenting with making smaller ceramic pieces using her father’s old (and very small) kiln. A classmate asked her if she could create some ceramic jewelry, and well, the rest is history. In Valentina’s mind, all these pieces came together at exactly the right time—access to the kiln, a great mentor, and an interested “client.” 

Valentina launched Chercán Project as part of her thesis in 2018. In Spanish, chercán means wren, and Valentina tells the story of a small wren she once observed, working day in and day out to make a nest for her eggs. One day, the nest was destroyed, but that did not stop this wren. She went right back to work, building a new nest.  

"That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her. Everything that inspires me is also from my mother. For what I saw in me reflected in this resilient wren. It’s beautiful.”  

That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her

Valentina sees herself in the story of the wren and tries to capture the same resilience in each piece that she designs for the collection. Take her tulip earrings, for example. The tulip comes up each spring after enduring a long, cold winter. It’s resilient. (Fun fact: Valentina’s favorite flowers are tulips, and she had a tulip bouquet at her wedding. You can read more about the earrings here.)  

The collection also includes  sun and moon earrings, representing the resiliency of our universe. According to Valentina, “I am very struck by the fact that everything in our universe is perfectly and calculatedly designed, and everything has a balance, and these earrings represent that, the balance, day and night, Yin and Yang, light and darkness, etc. 

The entirety of her art is in fact a tribute to resilience. As Valentina notes, it takes a lot of practice to make such small pieces. A lot of fails too. “Fail to fail to fail to succeed.” At the start, Valentina would make 100 earrings to achieve 20 perfect earrings. It was that powerful mix of frustrating and rewarding.  

"Ceramics itself is so unpredictable. You have the paint, and the glaze, but you can’t see how it is going to look until it comes out of the kiln. You have to cross your fingers and say, ‘See you in two days!’” 

“I never thought that I’d end up at this point in the project. I always had this feeling that I wanted to create my own business, never thought it would be so soon. I also thought it would be easier. I love it though. I can create my own stuff, and I love it when people see my artwork and they get excited about it, or they can relate to it. I think it’s the most beautiful thing when you give jewelry, and they feel pretty and happy.” 

So where does Valentine see herself in the future? She would love to have her work featured in a museum. She would also love to stay in DC a while and watch her business grow up. If (or when) she goes back to Chile, she would like to teach and one day establish a community arts workshop like the Capitol Hil Arts Workshop (CHAW) on Captial Hill. In her own words, “I’d love to create my own Chilean CHAW. Inspire people of all ages to be artists and help them incorporate the arts into their lives.”  

You can view Valentina’s collection of Artifcts here and more of her work at Chercán Project 

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

Not all maps are created equal, I think on this point we will all soon agree!

Stepping into my converstaion with mapmaker Ken Czarnomski, I thought he was an artist, specializing in maps. And not just any maps. Maps accurate according to GPS, but also humanized by way of incorporating natural landmarks, informal trails (human and animal), and remarkable vistas.

But Ken instead considers himself a “broad stroke naturalist”—meaning that he knows enough to get himself into trouble, so to speak, but is not a specialist in any particular species (insects, grasses, flowers, etc.)—who happens to make maps. Ken borrows from his background in architecture and his learnings in natural sciences to consider for each map he designs what would appeal and engage regular people like us.

The truth is that Ken's maps mean a healthy life for him, too. “If I can’t hike one day, I can still go in, even if at a shuffle rate.” The region of Western North Carolina where Ken resides outside Waynesville makes this statement all the more practical, because the Smoky Mountains are ranked as the most biodiverse in the United States. With over 1,900 species in just a quarter mile stretch, a person can encounter 30 and even upwards of 50 unique species of flowering plants.

That’s lucky since the “what” people are interested in is always a surprise to Ken. For some, it might be flowers. Others may only want to learn more about the trees. Still others are there to learn about mushrooms or salamanders. Western North Carolina accommodates!

And just where did his artistic talents spring from? Ken shared with us that before he developed his cartography skills, he painted. He preferred organic natural themes in watercolor and ink. His largest work was usually 24" x 36," but he has smaller works in sketch pad size. Sometimes he would produce and sell his watercolors while traveling. His passion for art and fieldwork, in fact, used to make him late routinely for his university classes. Tsk, Tsk!

Birth of a Mountain painting from 1969

Later, as Ken turned from his formal career as an architect, his global explorations brought him into the world of maps. Hiking in Ireland back country in 2012, local park rangers and ecologists kept pulling him off course to see areas beyond the usual tourist haunts, and he found himself thinking, “Wouldn't it be great if others had access to the data that could safely lead them to see the world beyond the usual?” So, Ken took a fresh look, with an open mind, at how he could make this happen in the area where he lived, and his first map was born.

 

Just pause a moment and think about the map shown belown. It’s functional and beautiful. Now think about the type of maps you might be more accustomed to when you stay at a resort or hotel or rely on generic maps on your GPS. It’s functional - surely you won’t get lost. But does it grab your attention, invoke curiosity, and invite exploration?

Illustrated map of the Swag, with vignettes of related scenery The Swag, Google Maps street view

Ken’s maps take weeks to layout and still more to illustrate, even with his use of software tools for data and design. Just take a close look at the vignettes embedded in the maps and you’ll understand - there is so much to enjoy!

Painting of the Great Smoky Mountain Elk     Painting of a Summer Garden

Click a vingette to view its Artifct

For each map, Ken goes out to first experience the site and engage with local environmentalists who might guide him to a location or sketch out important features to explore. How else can he produce an experience in 2D that’s not only beautiful, but also savvier than a simple machine or Google Map?

At the end of the day, you might guess correctly, this is a work of passion. Ken’s lucky in this work and plans to continue it for years to come. “I guarantee I’m never bored. I’m always seeing something new."

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