|Artist Sandra Jane
Heard. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
PERRYSBURG – Artist Sandra Jane Heard weaves powerful messages into the smallest details of her work.
That’s why she spends four hours molding and shaping silk for a cone topped with an old oil can.
That’s why she winds a map of Ohio along the thin spine of a rib cage-like construction.
That’s why she gets into bidding wars online over the vintage measuring tapes that are a constant in her
Heard, a native of England and now a resident of Perrysburg, constructs sculptures of twigs, fiber and
all manner of vintage objects she retrieves from antique shops, farm sales and the like.
"Rust-Belt-Muse," an exhibit of her work, is now on display at River House Arts, 115 W. Front
St., through June 27. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call
419-874-8900 for information. On May 29 at 7 p.m., Heard will present a guided tour of the exhibit
Even the floor of the gallery space adds to her meaning. She asked that it be painted white – it took
three coats, she said.
That way whoever walks through the gallery scuffs the floor. "We’re all making a mark on this
world," Heard said. And the work on the walls explores that idea, making bold statements with work
at once striking yet fragile.
One piece, "Demarcation of the Mother," has a mountain split in half with toy tigers facing
each other across the gap while a cub dangles between. On each peak is an old-fashioned stereoscope,
which in the early 20th century, Heard noted, people used to view 3D images of natural wonders.
"Demarcation" evokes a very specific problem. Tigers are endangered in part because humans have
divided up their habitat so populations are split into groups too small to successfully breed.
Greeting viewers as they first enter the gallery hangs a set of four sculptures, "Sentinels of
Self," each like a rib cage. They address different aspects of being a woman. One has baby dolls
down the spine, another shards of broken mirror. One has keys from old clocks, and another animals.
"We’re all part of nature," she said. "We’re not separate. We’re all susceptible to time
The wrapped branches that form the skeletons of her pieces evoke both the act of binding a broken bone
and making connections, Heard said.
Through her materials she binds her work to where she lives. Most of the objects she uses come locally,
though she uses so many measuring tapes, she has to troll the internet and bid for them.
Perrysburg is the most recent home for her, and her art is rooted here. After studying art in England and
the United States, she set it aside as the demands of family took priority. Then about six years ago,
she started working again, seeking solace after the death of her parents. That resulted in a solo show
in 2010 in the River House Arts. Now, four years later, she’s returned with her most recent work created
from 2012 until just before the show opened.
She culls her materials from local sources. She prefers to call the objects – antique farm machine parts
and 70-year-old toy animals – "chosen" rather than the usual term "found." She has a
clear sense of what she wants.
Still, sometimes she’ll spot an object and "it’ll trigger something."
That was the case when she found a cap pistol that had "Hero" emblazoned on it. It became the
centerpiece of "The Child Catcher" – fragile wagon with a chalkboard for the floor and five
flags for each of the victims of a school shooting in an Amish community.
Heard said she’s "long struggled with the promulgation of guns" in her adopted homeland. But
she thought she’d never make art about it; she didn’t want to make a didactic political statement.
The piece plays on people’s conflicted emotions over guns. "We’re so in love with them, they
captivate us. Yet at the same time they take way something so precious. As a parent I couldn’t imagine
losing a child to gun violence."
As she continues to work, she said, "I’ll continue to play around with scale."
Two of the most recent pieces are the biggest. The two related eight-foot-tall pieces each have a globe
at the center. "Hunger of the fertile" has a pre-World War II globe, and the other
"Silence of the barren daughter."
Whenever she returns to the studio, she said, what has been concerning her expresses itself in the work.
"It’s a matter of listening to what makes the most noise in my head."