Sandra Vlock illuminates El Encanto hotel with fire sculptures
To launch its new program, “Celebration of the Arts,” El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel, Santa Barbara, has installed fireball and fire totem sculptures created by local artist Sandra Vlock.
Featured on the grounds are the Bronx Tale Fire Totem, Blackbirds in the Vineyard Fireball, Harvest Moon Fireball and Turtle Play Fireball.
The installation features repurposed vintage steel transformed into functional fine art.
Each hand-crafted fire vessel tells a visual narrative that is inspired by nature.
The Fire Totem is Vlock’s take on the ubiquitous patio heater, reimagining the familiar outdoor lifestyle product to become an elegant and functional art piece, worthy of bespoke boutique hotels and private residences.
“I often say that public sculpture is the ‘art of engagement.’ Art allows us to experience and reflect on the visual environment and sparks creative conversations in a shared community setting,” said Ms. Vlock. “This is my hope and intention for the fire sculptures at El Encanto.”
Studio Vlock began in 2015 when she acquired two antique mooring buoys that were almost 5 feet in diameter to repurpose them as steel sphere fire pits, which she calls Fireballs.
“These weatherworn orbs with their hulking shackles were initially intimidating to me. I saw them as iconic ancient mariners with their own powerful stories to tell, and I was reluctant to impose my own story on them. But eventually I did, creating dramatic and engaging fire sculptures,” Ms. Vlock told the News-Press in a feature about her in April 2021.
Repurposed objects and other sustainable materials such as stainless steel have now become her canvas.
She also designs decorative fire screens that are “elevated from the mundane to the magical, creating focal points and conversation pieces” and gates and screens “as architectural elements that enliven and engage the landscape.”
The native of New Haven, Conn, earned her master’s degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She and her late husband, Glenn Arbonies, also an architect, had their own firm in Connecticut for 25 years
“We designed art museums, libraries, custom homes and university projects while raising our son Adam and daughter Mira,” said Ms. Vlock.
“Glenn always encouraged me to never lose the artistic side of myself. I had been adept at sketching and conceptual design. Before Glenn died suddenly in 2015, I made one of the Fireballs as a birthday gift for my brother who lived next door. I explored working in a new medium, steel, instead of sketching on paper.
“It turned out to be a surprise and a challenge to create the intricate designs and not have the buoy fall apart. It also had to be functional as a fire vessel with a cap to drive the heat down and a base to store the wood.”
The Fireballs come in three sizes — 58-inch, 40-inch and 28-inch diameter — and can be finished in natural weathered steel or a special paint in different colors.
In 2020, Ms. Vlock left the East Coast to rent a house in Newport Beach for a month to be near her children.
“It turned into four months because I was so stimulated meeting landscape designers and other people who understood what I was trying to accomplish. Living in Southern California is all about the outdoors.”
In 2021, she moved to Santa Barbara after visiting for a weekend in February.
“I got a gut feeling. This is where I belong. This place has all of the things that matter to me,” said Ms. Vlock. “It is a visual wonderland. I walk around, and everywhere I see lovely street signs, benches, beautiful details. It is remarkable.”
Janis Clapoff, general manager of El Encanto, is spearheading the new art program at the hotel and has been instrumental with the installation of Ms. Vlock’s work, which is available indefinitely and can be viewed at visitors’ and guests’ convenience.
“El Encanto is dedicated to its community and the creatives it is composed of,” she said. “We were struck by Sandra’s art and how seamlessly it wove into the environment, reflecting the design and natural surroundings. With our new art program, we are thrilled to support the prolific artists that make Santa Barbara so creative and special.”