Leslie Fry, Hands-On
“That’s the thing about sculpture — you make it with your body, you experience it with your body.”
True to her word, Vermont-based sculptor Leslie Fry has absolutely no qualms about having people’s hands on her work.
“Pick up one in resin, then pick up one in bronze and just feel the difference,” she encourages. “Just feel how it feels in your hand.”
The colorful resin sculptures have a waxy texture, while the bronze casts have a satisfying heft and elegant smoothness. The works she is talking about are small sculptures of hands that make up a series she calls “Cuffed.” This body of work was born out of a long-term project as a happy side-effect.
The project was sponsored by a FY23 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council, and is in its final throes. Fry’s work will result in a new piece for her semi-public sculpture garden, located at her home of 33 years in Winooski. After experimenting with the “Cuffed” series and testing out different hand sizes over the course of the past year, Fry is on the point of casting the final elements in bronze and welcoming the public to see her new creations.
Fry grew up in Vermont, and went on to study at UVM, Bard College, and the Central School of Art in London. She is a multimedia artist who has experimented with photography, drawing, and collage in addition to sculpture. Her work has been shown in Paris’ Couvent des Cordeliers, Hamburg’s Kunsthaus, Vienna’s Windspiel Galerie, Seoul’s Hangaram Art Museum, Montreal’s Centre des Arts Visuels, and more. She has also made pieces on commission for sites from Florida and Wisconsin to South Korea and New York. Her artwork tends to focus on the female body and transformation, and has earned her coverage in publications from the New York Times to Seven Days.
Read on to find out more about Fry and her upcoming sculpture.
Please note that the following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you tell me about the inspiration behind the Creation Grant sculpture?
[In my original proposal], there was going to be this big draped sleeve that was going to be out of really gnarly, rough concrete. And with lots of drapery folds and from a distance, it could look maybe like a hillside or landscape, but then the hand coming out would be polished bronze and very elegant. One arm, the hand would have to be raised up the gesture of letting go. And in the other one, the gesture of receiving.
The whole idea of the two hands, [with] one receiving and one letting go, goes back to this ritual I do every once in a while when you have these serious life moments. I go down to the Winooski River and I face downstream and just think about whatever the problem or the predicament is, or it’s a sad experience, and I look downstream and I just focus on letting go, letting go, letting go. And then when I sort of feel like that has happened, then I turn and face upstream and just try to open myself up to receiving again. So that’s the origin of why I wanted to do the two hands. And to me it’s important that it’s the same hand, it’s not two different hands because it’s all one, but in a different mode of being.
Do you have a spot picked out for the final statue?
I know where it’s going to go. I’m thinking about [trying] to […] not promote, but maybe reinforce the subliminal association of a river. Remember [the base will] be light blue, and that it’s going to be raised a little bit so that where the base hits the surface, I’m going to make a trough planted with blue flowers to give that feeling that it’s flowing from above down into the ground into a circular pool of blue flowered ground cover. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do that yet, but I know where I’m going to do it. [She laughs.]
Tell me more about your sculpture garden.
To me, making sculpture that can live outdoors makes it more accessible to human beings. But also I love the interaction — it depends where it’s placed and if you create an environment for it and so on. So that’s what I experiment with out here.
Before Covid, school groups and the Burlington Garden Club would come. And then once a year, when it’s the Vermont Destinations edition of Art New England, I take out an ad for my sculpture garden. And I say, “by appointment” and to my surprise, people from out of town actually call.
Winooski is a city, but it’s only one square mile, and so there are a lot of dog walkers and people who peer in, and if I see them, I say, “Just come on in.” Then word gets around and more people come to the garden.
How do you see the garden changing in the next five or 10 years? Do you have a vision?
I make lots of money and cast lots of crazy things in bronze that can live outside. And, because I’m getting older, do all that while I still have physical strength. Basically more, more, more.
Have you always been interested in gardening?
Well, that’s sort of funny because I’m a third generation Vermonter, and when I was a girl, I’d watch my grandmother, I’d watch my mother, stooped over, clawing at the earth and stuff. And I’d just go, why are they doing that? Well, it looks like such a drag, you know? And I wasn’t interested except that I love flowers. But no, I wasn’t interested and it wasn’t until I became a homeowner. And there was nothing here except for that big crab apple out in the garden. I planted the hedge, I planted every single thing that is here.
Do you have any advice for future Creation Grant applicants?
I think the biggest tip, which is hard if you don’t have the aptitude, which I don’t really, is [to] bone up on your writing skills because it’s really hard to survive as an artist. And if you want to try to get opportunities such as through a grant or a public art commission, you have to write a proposal. You have to communicate to other people what this huge project or whatever the project [is] that you want to do and get them enthusiastic [about helping to support you doing it].
Writing and professional photography — those are the most important things I think in applying, and being really clear about what it is that you want to do.
What is your favorite part about living in Vermont?
I realized I’m a small-town girl — I mean, not in my ambitions. I love going to the post office where they know me. I just like that. I mean, that can happen in the city too, but it’s not the same. So it’s partly because I feel at home here because it is my home. But also when I’ve thought about how many times I’ve tried to not be a sculptor… and I just can’t help it. I think it has a lot to do with the landscape in Vermont. I grew up at the foot of Mount Mansfield and mountains are sculptures basically. I love the landscape.
And also [the] community. I lived for a while in Florida because I had a tenure track position as a professor there. I’m not a shy person and I tried really hard to make friends who would be a good artistic smart community to have. I met lots of people, but it was never the same as up here. And also because I’ve lived here for so long and (not always, but most of the time) as a single person, I rely completely on my community. I mean, I’m sure that could exist anywhere, but somehow, I feel like it is different in Vermont. You know, when there’s a big snow storm and your neighbors help you push your car and stuff like that. Anyway, let’s say landscape and community.
Want to see more of Fry’s work? Don’t miss out on the chance to see her studio and her sculpture garden at the open house she is hosting from 4-6 p.m., Saturday, July 22, at 48 Elm Street, Winooski, VT. For more, check out her website, read her book, and follow her on social media.