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Kim Cridler, Field Study 15: Bur Oak (detail), 2011. Photograph courtesy Lynden Sculpture Garden.

Metal artist Kim Cridler draws a 'Descriptive Line' at Lynden Sculpture Garden

A large tree branch seems to have fallen onto the polished parquet floor of the gallery. Or the recreation of a tree, at least, made of elaborate twists of metal by artist Kim Cridler.

Despite its large size, it is elegant and even delicate. The leaves of polished bronze shine as though it is autumn. Gently incised lines that recreate the veins within each leaf. The trunk is steel, but not solid. Cridler weaves together gnarled strands of metal in a manner echoing the organic flow of outer bark. Though fallen, the substantial materials of this branch will deny decay.

This undercurrent of time and transformation is borne out further, as the fallen branch has also taken down a large, three-dimensional rendering of a decorative urn. The urn is composed of metal lines, something like a schematic drawing. Two inscriptions are spelled out in metal letters, on the mouth of the vessel and beneath the base. The one at the top reads “ALL THINGS CHANGE.” The one at the bottom: “NOTHING PERISHES.”

This sculpture, Field Study 15: Bur Oak, is the centerpiece of the current exhibition on view at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, Kim Cridler: The Descriptive Line. Part of Lynden's ongoing Women, Nature, Science series, The Descriptive Line makes Cridler’s training as a metalsmith and interest in the process of creation readily apparent, and is a compact but engaging show.

Her sense of detail is immediately visible in the five sculptures on view, but regular practice in drawing especially informs the character of her Field Study series. She says, “Several years ago I began a habit of drawing the living things from gardens and fields around my home. Making a drawing a day kept me engaged in careful looking, gave time and space for a contemplative task, and sharpened my consideration of patterns in even the most ordinary life forms.”

Cridler’s attentiveness to pattern and design is not reserved solely for nature, but also for the sculptural shapes of vessels and vases. In many, they are drawn out through a metal skeleton of lines, some topped off by topiary forms or decorated with branches or floral motifs. Delving into the details, other elements of life might be found, such as butterflies and insects.

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Kim Cridler, Bittersweet Basin, 2011. Photograph by Kat Minerath.

One of the most intriguing pieces in the show is Bittersweet Basin, which employs a variety of metals as well as amber, howlite crystal, and beeswax. In this work, a large footed bowl is made through repeated floral patterns in metal. Out of the entwined lines, two snakes emerge. One holds an egg in its mouth — whether it is to be simply carried or swallowed whole is hard to say. On the opposite side of the bowl, a cluster of golden bees mill about in a pile.

There is something elegiac about this arrangement. It has implications of regeneration, but not without the consumption and change that is part of the circle of life.

This idea brings us back to the words spelled out on Field Study 15: Bur Oak. Indeed, everything changes. But the assertion that nothing perishes, placed on the bottom of the vessel like a whispered secret, holds a sense of hope.

Over and over, the world is recycled through varying states, from one form to another. Even the shape of tipped vase beneath the tree branch seems to be reimagined from ancient vases. Early in Greek history, large vessels like this were used as grave markers, some with the bottom left open so libations could be poured in and sink into the earth, passing from the living to the dead.

While Cridler’s art is shown in the gallery, it is hard not to consider it in comparison to the monumental sculptures dotting the rolling 40-acre landscape outside. Her organic forms are light, airy, even dreamy. Their shapes and forms recall classical lines and decorations, the sort that might be found in formal English gardens of the nineteenth century. They are worlds away from the massive and often minimalist sculptures outside. Yet, their presence is a reminder to take note of nature, the patterns and rhythms that underlie the world, from the quietly transient to the most lasting and elemental.

Women, Nature, Science: Kim Cridler: The Descriptive Line is on view through June 5 at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Road, Milwaukee. Visit lyndensculpturegarden.org for more details.