Standing woman (Persephone ?) with pomegranate
Greece, 480-470 BC
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
... as seen by helaine blumenfeld
My first visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum contributed in no small way to a major turning point in my career: my decision to abandon academia in favour of sculpture. By this stage I had become increasingly disenchanted with language as a way to communicate meaning; it only ever partially conveyed the visionary dream I wanted to describe.
But the Cycladic sculptures which I encountered on that day - dating as far back as 2,500 BC - seemed to me to evoke humanity and individuality in a way that surpassed language. They are figurative, but the figure is simplified - only the 'essence' remains. More incredibly still, an individual persona emerges, communicated only with one or two facial features and slight formal variations.
These stark, reductive forms convinced me that sculpture was the path I should follow. This feeling was reinforced when I entered a room with cases of terracotta sculptures. I still remember being drawn to a haunting image of the Goddess Persephone from 480-470 BC. The beauty, the pathos, the intensity were communicated silently through the gesture, the bent head, the details of her dress, her right hand grasping a pomegranate.
Throughout my years as a sculptor I have found myself moving between the paradigms offered by the Cycladic and Classical pieces, at times seeking simplicity, at others enrichment through detail.
Seeing these works in the Fitzwilliam again and again, over 30 years, I am constantly reminded that art can blaze a trail through uncharted territory. Without any words it can translate the subconscious realm of the soul by inventing new languages capable of capturing a vision which eludes verbal description.
Helaine Blumenfeld VPRBS (b. 1942)
Born in New York City in 1942, Helaine Blumenfeld was educated at the University of Michigan and Columbia University, New York, where she completed a PhD in Philosophy in 1964. Increasingly aware of the limits of her subject of study and ever more interested in the exploration and expression of ideas in space, she went to study sculpture with Ossip Zadkine in Paris. In 1966, Blumenfeld showed a group of polished bronzes at the Palais Palfy in Vienna. In 1973, Blumenfeld exhibited at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. In 1985, the Alex Rosenberg Gallery in New York showed her sculpture in dialogue with Henry Moore, and, in 1992, the Galerie am Lindenplatz in Lichtenstein exhibited her with Alexander Archipenko and Constantin Brancusi. In 2007, she had a major show at Het Depot in Holland, and, in 2008, the Royal British Society of Sculptors held an exhibition in her honour.
A member of the Visual Arts Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain between 1981 and 1988, Blumenfeld was elected a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors in 1993 and has served the society as Vice-President since 2004. In 2007, she was the first woman to be awarded the ‘International Sculpture Prize: Pietrasanta and Versilia in the World’.
Blumenfeld has created over 65 large scale sculptures in bronze, granite, marble and steel in Europe and the United States for private and public clients, including the British Petroleum headquarters in London, the Lincoln Center in New York and the Cass Sculpture Foundation at Goodwood. In Cambridge, her sculpture can be viewed on the corner of Brookland’s Avenue and Hills Road (Chauvinist, 1990), at Vision Park, Histon (Shadow Figures, 1991), and at Clare Hall (Flame, 2004) and Newnham College (Esprit, 2004).
Helaine Blumenfeld lives and works in Cambridge and Pietrasanta in Tuscany.