Image: Harriete Estel Berman, Consuming Coversation

Harriete Estel Berman

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Works in San Mateo, California

Harriete Estel Berman appropriates printed tin cans to create beautifully crafted and detailed sculptures that comment slyly on traditional (and contemporary) women’s roles in society and on the domestic front. She combines the intense attention to detail of a fine jeweler, the sharp observations of a cultural critic and the wit of a humorist in pieces that make us smile even as they bring to light many of the uncomfortable truths of our contemporary society.

Image: Harriete Estel Berman, Witnessing the Weight of Words

Close study of her work reveals surprises – a word, a phrase or an image juxtaposition. Pieces such as Witnessing the Weight of Words (a quilt-patterned scale) and Consuming Conversation (a chaotic installation of hundreds of teacups) are rich with textual elements derived both from advertising copy and directly from the printed tin cans she appropriates. Words and their multiple meanings are integral to Berman’s work, and her titles reflect a keen sense of the messages words can convey – both directly and subliminally.

Though her raw materials are common, she treats them as if they were precious, carefully cutting and bending each individual metal piece into her desired shape, and connecting them with tiny rivets or solders. Each edge is perfectly straight; each margin meets with exactitude. Berman’s work reflects oppositions – meticulous care taken with cast-off materials, intellectual inquiry that precedes repetitive assembly, subversive commentary served up with ironic humor. All this adds up to work that is rich with obsessive detail, visual delight, cultural critique, gender and identity questions and ironic humor. Strong medicine delivered with a silver spoonful of sugar.

Harriete Estel Berman, Consuming Conversation (Variant edition
of 200 cups), 2001–04; Pre-printed steel from recycled
containers, sterling silver and brass handles, 10K gold rivets,
concealed magnets; Collection of the artist
Harriete Estel Berman, Witnessing the Weight of Words, 1996;
Pre-printed steel from recycled containers, electric motor;
Collection of Racine Art Museum, Gift of Karen Johnson Boyd
Museum of Contemporary Craft