In Algoma, a mile or so west of Lake Michigan, is the Algoma Atelier of Sculpture and Art, where Bren Sibilsky creates bronze sculptures, often with mythical, historical or spiritual themes. Sometimes they’re portraits of people – occasionally memorializing people who have died – but often they’re depictions of horses.
She doesn’t have to go far to find her equine models because she and her husband, Randall, are boarding three horses at their Algoma farm, which has been in his family for three generations.
“The bond between humans and horses is nature’s gift,” Sibilsky writes in an artist’s statement. “Our flowing blood, a timeless connection entwining our hearts.” She rides regularly.
Her work ranges from small reliefs to life-size figures, busts and portraits. She builds them first in clay, and then, if they’re small, casts them in their personal foundry, which they set up in the parking areas between the farm buildings. Larger pieces, such as a life-size horse portrait, are sent to a larger foundry.
“I started out as an illustrator,” Sibilsky said, “which is where my painting comes from, but sculpture is my number one passion.”
At the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, she followed practical advice and majored in illustration with a minor in design. But every year she also took sculpture classes, even though they didn’t count toward a degree, because she loved sculpture. She made her living in commercial art until she decided she’d had enough and quit abruptly. She’s been a full-time artist since 1987.
Some of Sibilsky’s first artworks were juried into some shows, and she received some awards.
“And then it took off from there,” she said. “The first couple of things I tried were a yes, and that gave me the fuel to continue on.”
Her work is representational, with fine detail, as you might expect from an illustrator, and it often displays a mythical flair that reaches back to Greek sculpture. Some of her work also incorporates Native American themes, often based on Potawatomi symbols.
Sibilsky has earned awards from New York arts organizations such as the Art Renewal Center, Manhattan Arts International and the Salmagundi Club. Those awards, exhibiting around Wisconsin, and an active Instagram presence have garnered her national and international attention.
When she started out, she often did demonstrations during which she would ask for a volunteer from the audience and then sculpt the individual’s likeness in two or three hours – about as long as the audience’s attention would last, she said.
“All my work starts out as clay, but clay doesn’t do well outdoors in all seasons; its longevity isn’t good,” Sibilsky said.
It’s also apt to get broken during shipping, so she prefers bronze for her final product.
“Before we built our foundry, I really wanted to work in bronze, so I began doing cold casting with bronze particles suspended in resin, and then you can buff it out with steel wool,” she said. “It looks like bronze, but it is a lot lighter, and it, too, can be set indoors or outside.”
Their foundry is small – mostly limited to pieces that are 10 inches by 14 inches, which is fine for her smaller work and for the workshops that Sibilsky holds in the spring and sometimes by special appointment.
“We have students who return each year and have a whole year to build their pieces for next season,” she said.
Some students come for two or three days of private instruction – rather like a private vacation before the grandchildren arrive – and she may see more people seeking that desire for quiet time. And as the world gets crazier, preferences in art may change as well.
“People might not want a face in their art because they have spent a day looking at faces, mostly on their screens,” Sibilsky said. “We are bombarded by so many visuals – we carry them in our pocket [with phones]. Before smartphones, jewelry was the closest we came to that.”
She finds her own values rooted in nature, time outdoors, communing with horses and working with clay.
“My spiritual time in working in art is through clay in my hands,” she said. “I can smell the clay. The computer misses our need to have that tangible touch, touching the earth, creating that clay piece.”