Photographs by Bob Rozycki.
Where some see a fallen tree as kindling, sculptor Judith Economos sees artistic potential.
It was right after Superstorm Sandy that Judith and her husband, Andrew, spotted some very large American black walnut trees that had crashed to the ground in Westchester County. After a quick inspection and a monetary exchange with the homeowners, the logs were trucked to the spacious Economos home, itself replete with the couple’s creative endeavors of sculpture, paintings and even mahogany furnishings.
As the wood was sitting and seasoning in the backyard, Judith was in the house brainstorming about what to turn it into. Andrew suggested that she create a sculpture from a Picasso-like line drawing she had done years earlier that hung in an upstairs bedroom.
While it may appear simple on paper, Judith would have to translate its folds and curves into a three-dimensional object.
“So how in the world can I do it?” she asked herself.
She grabbed modeling clay and sat herself down at a desk in her studio. Her fingers formed the overall look and small metal instruments helped with the detail work of the eyes, mouth and strands of hair.
With the model done, it was onto the more physical work.
Judith walked among the wood and sized up one log as being just right. She called on friend Raphael Lima to “saw it into a usable hunk.”
The first time we visited with Judith was in January 2013 when she was astride the “usable hunk,” all 400 pounds of it. With mallet in one hand and chisel in the other, this wisp of a woman hammered away, in turn answering the unasked question as to how she keeps in shape. Each blow of the mallet removes but a chip from the hardy walnut, as this writer can attest from a short-lived, hands-on (and none too pretty) experience. But as Judith hacked it down each successive day, her back “got bad.”
Back surgery followed as the doctor “cleared disc debris.”
It would be a year in June when she would feel physically ready to return to the wood.
Was there any fear such as a fallen bicyclist or thrown horse rider might feel in the mechanical aspect of picking up the mallet and chisel after a year’s time?
“None,” Judith says.
“The only fear is when you have to make tiny little cuts. The smallest (mistake) could change from a smile to a clown face.”
So it was at the beginning of June that Judith returned to her work.
“I didn’t feel so bad,” although she admits with a smile to “whacking a few fingers.”
It began as a few hours at a time and grew. Sometimes she had to get past a design problem and as she did the sculpture got better. As you proceed, “it draws you in,” she says.
As she puts it, “I was done with the hacking in late August.”
Then came the sanding, with which Andrew helped.
“You start with coarse and end with triple aught sandpaper,” she says.
It was a week of sanding with the crevices posing the most problems. Then it was the oiling, “walnut oil first.” After soaking in for a few days, the sculpture received its chrism of lemon oil and was baptized “The Lady with the Long Neck.”
“I love that velvety feel,” Judith says as the caresses her work. “Sculptures should be touched. It’s a very tactile experience.”
Since the start, the sculpture shed about 300 pounds in wood and water weight. It rests inside the house on a round glass table supported by the log from which it was created.
But there is no time to admire for Judith.
“I’m already planning my next,” she says.