Go ahead; it’s OK to touch

C.W. Hurni

Photo By Larry Dalton

C.W. Hurni’s unique sculptural wizardry is creeping into public places. The local artist is responsible for the intriguing aluminum birds at the Fruitridge light-rail station. As the daughter of a carpenter from a small Swiss town, she learned early on about the values of craftsmanship, and this upbringing no doubt accounts for her present passion for woodworking. Here in Sacramento, Hurni has developed a panoply of work ranging from 6-foot sculptures to puppets, examples of which are included in a soon-to-be-released book by Nicholas Roukes.

How would you describe your artwork?

My artwork is mostly wood sculpture, and it’s sort of a mixture between kinetic art, folk art and modern art. It’s something really different.

I’ve read that your sculptures are interactive. How so?

I like people to kind of mess with my stuff. You know how when you go to a museum, it’s always, “Put your hands in your pockets"? Well, I know that I have had problems where I would go to a museum and want to touch stuff. So, I figured that I would do at least some of my sculptures so that they could be worked. I have some that you can reposition and some that you can pull strings on, and little trap doors open, and some that crank. I don’t like things that are static. I like things that move a little. If I go and look at “The Thinker,” I think, “When is he going to get up?”

Where do you get your inspiration?

It comes from all kinds of different places. When I first came to this country, I was taking some trips to New England. And I was introduced to American folk art, and it was incredible for me. The way early American pioneers were solving their daily problems was just fabulous. They were doing things in such an artistic way that most of the things they created looked like little sculptures. Then, with my Swiss upbringing in a small town … when you put those two things together and add the modern world on top of it, there’s just so much inspiration out there. You just look around, and it jumps on you.

Tell me about the Art in Public Places project you’re involved in.

It’s at the Fruitridge train station, near 24th Street. I have been working with the community because it’s a train station where people in the community come and go. I wanted to make sure that some community members would be involved. So, my idea was to cast birds out of aluminum and use hands of community members for the wings. I’ve installed about half of them, which go on posts that the people have decorated with permanent paint in all colors. The second part to this installation is footprints. Using some of the same people and their kids, I made stamps from their feet and made designs with them in the wet cement. I even had some live performances when the installation was in progress. It was a lot of fun.

What’s the book you’re going to be in about?

The book will be coming out in September. It’s called Artful Jesters. I gave the rights to about six different pieces of sculpture; their photographs will be included. It’s about people that are using humor in their artwork. I do have a little twist in my art. I realize when I’m with other people that I look at the world through slightly different eyes, so everything has my little slant to it. I love for people to smile at my work, especially during these tough times right now. It’s really a great feeling when I have a show and people are smiling and playing with my stuff.

What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever done?

That’s my self-portrait. It’s multiple silhouettes of my head, and it’s spaced with spools, and it’s about the size of a little sewing machine. You can crank it, and things spin and whirl, and there are threads going around a little bit. Inside the multiple silhouettes, there is a little figure that I carved, and it’s sort of my alter ego, and when you crank it, that bobs up and down.

Do you have any training for building gears and levers?

No, unfortunately not. My gears and cranks and stuff are self-taught. I also try to use earlier tools. I got my dad’s tools after he passed away—all his chisels and some saws and other stuff like that. I don’t want to use really sophisticated tools … because I think that it’s very important for people to connect the past, present and future. So, in all my pieces, I feel that it’s important to take a look at where we came from so that we can remember what our roots are and where our soul is, so you have kind of a bridge into the present looking into the future.