Heirloom silver portraits celebrate life with families, friends
“Potluck” is the unusual name Leslie Lewis Sigler has chosen for her second solo exhibition that opened Friday at Sullivan Goss: An American Gallery, in downtown Santa Barbara.
Unusual because it features the contemporary artist’s signature portraits of heirloom silverware instead of casserole dishes overflowing with comfort food.
“Potluck is a celebration of life. The work is rooted in family and connecting to one another,” Ms. Sigler told the News-Press. “This body of work grew out of my longing to gather with friends and family during the dark, isolated days of the pandemic. Historically, my portraits have been singular objects, pictured and posed like an old master’s portrait. When I experimented with pairing the objects together and joining them in groups, the compositions began to symbolize joyful gatherings around crowded tables.
“I imagined impromptu friend get-togethers or family holiday tables studded with characters like the hostess with the mostest, the drunk aunt, the political best friend and awkward tween cousins — and all the lively conversations and connections that come with these gatherings.”
The silver and copper in the portraits come from her own collection.
“Some are heirlooms I’ve inherited from my family, and some I’ve purchased (perhaps someone else’s heirloom once upon a time). Some pieces were borrowed, and some were gifted to me. Each singular object’s form, condition and patina represents their character,” said Ms. Sigler, who earned her bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Texas in Austin.
The exhibition is on view through Aug. 22. An opening reception takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. during 1st Thursday in downtown Santa Barbara.
“The paintings feature the artist’s signature portraits of heirloom silverware giving personality and identity to otherwise inanimate objects with refined detail,” said Lauren Wilson, assistant curator at Sullivan Goss.
“The majority of this body of work deviates from the iconic solo portraits that were prominently featured in previous exhibitions and instead encompasses group portraits that speak to gatherings of friends and families.”
Ms. Sigler, who came to Santa Barbara in 2008 with her husband, began painting her portraits of heirlooms in 2011 and gained an immediate following from numerous small exhibitions throughout the area. She has since become a mother of two and now lives and works in Soquel in Santa Cruz County.
“I explore family objects as ‘families’ of objects — individual silver heirlooms that are related to one another in a single collection and, collectively, to the individual families that put them into domestic practice and social circulation,” said Ms. Sigler.
“I’m interested in the histories and lifespans of these objects, their ability to reflect our own personal life stories and family histories and the way they continue to connect us to one another in time and space.
“Silver and copper family heirlooms, such as flatware and vessels, intrigue me because they seem to have an eternal life. Although they may tarnish and age beyond recognition, polishing them quickly returns their original luster. Such items pass through family generations as cherished heirlooms, survive the purgatory of antique markets, or perhaps find new life at estate sales. As their stories evolve, they form a lineage that connects us to one another, across generations and geographies.
“By composing individual portraits of these objects, I explore the character evident in their inherent design and ever-changing patina. By composing group portraits of these objects, I explore how they relate and connect to one another as a family. Each singular object’s form, condition and character transform an otherwise functional object into something rich with history and artistic beauty, with the power to reflect our own life stories and family histories in the process.”
Does she have a favorite piece of silver?
“It’s hard to select a favorite object because they all take on a different personality to me while I’m painting them. But my favorite singular silver object might be the silver oyster spoon with the gold-washed bowl. Its unique shape and very abstract reflections allude to a complicated character.”