Many moons ago, after a significant family event, I found myself taking our small Stauter-built boat down to Seacliff on Mobile Bay to gather some local clay in a bucket. I proceeded home to sit on the wharf and work the clay to soften and get the pebbles out. It was almost July 4th, and as I was kneading the clay, I was inspired to sculpt the Statue of Liberty from memory. What I found is that sculpting is amazingly therapeutic. It was just what I needed, and I have deeply appreciated the benefits of sculpting ever since.
Enter Kim Bernadas, a truly gifted sculptor from New Orleans who, with her husband, Kevin Cook, purchased a property in Silverhill three years ago and has been spending three to four days a week here, sculpting and teaching classes at the Eastern Shore Art Center. Since 2006, Kim has taught sculpting at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts but has plans to move to Silverhill permanently in early 2023.
Kim, a physical therapist by education, was invited by a friend in 1991, to take a sculpting class in New Orleans soon after she graduated. “After the first class or two, I was hooked. My hands connected to the clay in a way I had never experienced before. I felt there was strong energy calling me towards sculpture. Soon, I created a figure, put it in the student show, and it sold,” she says. . “I knew then that was what I wanted to do.”
She continued sculpting, entering her work in competitions, and soon people started requesting her to do commissions of their loved ones. She pulled away from her physical therapy career and began sculpting professionally. She taught classes and began receiving larger public commissions, such as the first post-Katrina Bronze Sculpture Commission, “Birth of a Muse”, representing a symbol of renewal, awarded to her by the city of New Orleans.
Two years ago, Kim approached the Eastern Shore Art Center about teaching sculpture classes, and they agreed to have Kim teach. After the first workshop, students loved it. “I have a big passion for teaching,” she says. Around the same time, she sought out Corey Swindle at the Fairhope Foundry and began bringing pieces to him to cast in bronze. She and Corey have been working together ever since, collaborating on monumental sculptures in the Southeast region.
Kim also teaches portrait, figurative, and animal sculpture in her classes. “We’re sculpting animals and birds right now.” Classes run in 8-week blocks, and she hosts workshops as well. Eastern Shore Art Center had sculpture classes about ten years ago. “I wanted to reignite my interest in sculpting. I want to embrace the local arts and the community and get to know my students and their interests.”
Her goal when teaching is to have fun and stimulate students’ “aesthetic bug.“ “Sculpture allows you to see things differently. You become more in touch with your artistic side. You decompress from everyday life by working with simple elements of clay and exploring your creative side. It centers you.” Kim even hosts portrait and anatomy workshops for plastic surgeons in New Orleans to help them better understand, when consulting with their patients, the esthetic relationships of the face.
Kim usually has three to five private commissions in production at one time. She can sculpt anything but if you want that sculpture to project the likeness and essence of that person, that’s where she shines. “When people hire me, they often ask, “Can you make them look younger?” I can look at old photos and reverse the aging process, a bit, reverse the wrinkles.” It takes her 9 to 12 months to make a bust and a year to do a full, life-size sculpture. Two or three of those months are spent at the foundry.
When taking one of Kim’s sculpture classes, students should go in with the mindset of a child, not an adult. The hardest thing to deal with is someone who is not open. “Leave egos and insecurities at the door,” she says. “Nothing you do is wrong; you are not in a competition. You are here to enjoy, make friends, and have a new creative experience.” She recently taught a gentleman in his late 60s that turned out to be very talented. “He found his creative energy, discovered that he was decent at sculpting, and didn’t know it until taking my class.”
As a teacher, Kim’s dream is to create an opportunity for students to showcase their work, and maybe offer their art for sale. “Showing your art is celebrating your hard work.” She says her long-term goal is to go from “clay to bronze” with her students. She wants them to explore the full journey of first creating the form, making the mold, and then going to Fairhope Foundry to watch the bronze pour. “See their sculpture poured into reality,” she says.
Kim is looking for students of all ages, makes, and models. It’s a call to all artists in a non-threatening environment where you can have fun and let your creative juices flow. You can contact Kim directly or go to Eastern Shore Art Center’s website to learn more. Who knows, you may just be the next Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni!