Loren Eiferman Eco Sculptor

How overwhelmed do you feel about the environment we are passing onto the next generation?

As with most of my circle, I feel very stressed about climate change.  It is here and happening before our eyes.  Lilacs now blooming twice a year:  once in spring, and again strangely in the fall. Insects and diseases that were often relegated to the Southern Hemisphere are now prevalent where I live  — in the northern hemisphere.  Spring peepers (frogs) are chirping away the first week in March instead of in April, and of course much worse outcomes including bleaching of coral reefs and many species are on the brink of extinction.  This is not normal. These are indeed strange and changing times that we are all living in.  But I remain hopeful that human ingenuity and knowledge will get the upper hand and be able to reign in and realign this runaway train. Both of my daughters are working on addressing climate change and are seeking fundamental new pathways to alleviate this global problem.  I am proud that they and many in their generation have chosen this path, and for this reason, I remain hopeful.

Prunella Gradiflora Self Heal, 2022, 150 pieces of wood, pastel, linseed oil, 62 x 31 x 5

Do you work one series at a time, exclusively?

I used to work exclusively on one series at a time.  Often working within a certain framework of what captivated my imagination for several months to years at a time.  Now, it seems that I frequently hopscotch between series, and I am not rigorous about sticking within the confines and parameters of a particular series anymore.  I find myself experimenting and playing more these days in my studio.

Where does your current inspiration come from?

My current body of work is inspired from different sources. One source is the mysterious illustrations found in the late 15th century Voynich Manuscript.  This manuscript was written in an unknown language, by an unknown author and filled with botanical illustrations of plants that don’t exist in nature, past or present.   For the past eight years I have been translating the botanical section of the manuscript into three-dimensional wood sculptures.

Another source of inspiration is the black and white photographs from the early 20th century German photographer, Karl Blossfeldt.  He photographed nature in extreme close-up and the photographs from his seminal book, “Urformen der Kunst” (“Original Forms of Art”) are extraordinary. The way a plant curls or the shape and color of a tight bud always inspires me. It is ultimately the nature that surrounds me, in all her myriad forms and wisdom that I draw daily inspiration from.

You collect most of your material locally.  What is the process from then? 

I start out every day with a walk and collect tree limbs and branches that have fallen to the ground.  I never chop down a living tree. I carry those sticks back up into my studio.  I then let the wood sit for many months in what I call my “sea of sticks” to make sure the wood is dry and won’t check or crack. I usually do a drawing first and that drawing acts as a road map of where I want the sculpture to go.  From there, I start looking for shapes found within each stick to correspond to the lines found in my drawing. I then cut small naturally formed shapes, joining these small pieces of wood together using dowels and wood glue. Next, I make a putty to fill in all the open joints. I then wait for the putty to dry and sand the putty until it’s smooth.  The goal is to make the line of the wood seem continuous and all the joints appear seamless. I usually reapply the putty, wait for it to dry, and sand it at least three times.  I want the work to look as if it grew in nature, when in reality, each sculpture is built from hundreds of small pieces of wood that have been meticulously crafted together.

I think of my sculpture as drawing, but in wood. This is a very time-consuming process, and each sculpture takes me a minimum of a month to construct.  I frequently work on two sculptures at a time since there is so much down time waiting for the putty to dry.

 When and why did you decide to work with wood?

It’s been a long circuitous route to get to where I am now.  I used to be a painter.  I was working in my tiny apartment in Manhattan’s Little Italy, making large oil paintings on paper.  I had three studio walls that were filled with nearly completed paintings.  On one particularly hot and humid August day, the paint wouldn’t dry, and I had no more wall space.  I was stuck with three very wet paintings that couldn’t be moved.  I am wired to always be making and creating art.  Since I couldn’t paint, I instinctively picked up a piece of balsa wood that I had been using for a framing material and a straight edged razor blade and inexplicably proceeded to whittle away.  Literally time stopped.  After eight hours of being in an almost trance like state of crafting this piece of balsa wood, I realized that I derived more creative fulfillment as a sculptor than as a painter! From that point, I evolved from whittling balsa wood with a razor blade to getting a proper whittling set.

New Growth, 2021, 142 pieces of wood paper clay, linseed oil, pastel, copper metal coating with green patina, 38 x 16 x 8

Eventually, I realized that balsa wood is a terrible sculpting material and I started gathering sticks in Central Park and hauling them via the subway back to my studio.

I also started using better tools, including a small electric Dremel and now a Foredom flexible shaft tool.

I’ve been working with sticks now as my main material for decades. While my work has evolved from totemic style carvings of my earlier period into a more nature-inspired and botanical direction, my material, and my decades-long love of working with wood has remained.


Lunaria 2024 78 pieces of wood, pantyhose, 50 x 157

Tell us about your commission with the MTA Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Inside/outside 2014 Steel, Pelham NY Metro-North MTA station

How did the commission come about?

I received a call from the director of the MTA/ Arts and Design saying I was one of five artists chosen for a commission at the Metro North Station in Pelham, NY. I didn’t know how that happened since I never even applied to the open call.  I later found out that one of the curator judges on the panel put my name forward. So, I went about visiting the train station, learning about the history of Pelham and synthesizing many ideas to come up with a way of working in metal. I created a vision board with my proposed ideas for the project and happily I received the commission.

What were the perimeters?

The project was open, to all ideas, and we could design anything we wanted. We were given a budget, and I originally had another whole design that was to run the length of the station’s platform that would’ve been attached to the overhang–but that ended up becoming too costly.  So, I scaled it back to have the eight black steel panels built into the stations existing railings, which is the project that was ultimately commissioned.     

What was the inspiration?

I researched the origins of the Town of Pelham. I discovered that the Town of Pelham was incorporated in the late 1880’s. During that time, William Morris, the Roycrofters and other popular designers from the Arts and Crafts movement were active.  I wanted to emulate the carpets and wallpaper designs that were commonly found inside the homes in Pelham Heights at the time of its founding.  So, I came up with the concept for “Home: Inside/Outside” where I designed eight tri-layered panels made from textured black painted steel that emulated the patterns of these carpet and wallpaper designs. There were three separate iterations that were installed throughout the station’s hand-railings. The shadows created by these panels were integral to the design, such that standard MTA railings now can be read as vertical planks of wood flooring across the platform and the panels that were built read as interspersed carpets within that flooring.  I wanted these carpets to be visually contemplative, indicative of a modern-day mandala but in metal.  These carpet-like screens hopefully engage the viewer into seeing new forms in the negative and positive spaces and in that moment of engagement the viewer goes back “home”, is connected to the outside from the inside, is entertained, is engaged in a new way, allowing them to meditate on the value of “home”.  I wanted to convey the idea that “home” can be anywhere and everywhere one might travel, even if it’s just a week-day commute into Grand Central Station.

Butterfly cropped

Discuss the material you used and why?

I decided that my wood work would be best translated using black metal textured rods. Metal rods and wooden sticks have a similar cylindrical form, and I could texture the metal to resemble wood. The material needed to be totally weatherproof and stand up to the strict standards and guidelines of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  I wanted the metal to appear like my wood sticks.  Together with the fabricators help, we came up with a unique way of working with the metal.  Like my singular process of working with wood, the metal needed to be cut into small pieces and then welded and formed into the shapes and forms I had designed.  This way of working was new to both of us, and it was a very exciting process to be part of.

Lollipop cropped

Take one or two pieces of that have needed much taming.

Before I start a new sculpture, I usually do a pencil drawing first in my sketchbook. This drawing frequently is about the final form and what I want the shape of the completed work to look like.  I don’t always take into consideration how I’m going to get from Point A (the drawing) to Point B (the finished work).  That’s where the difficult part comes in.  I am giving myself a challenging task and it’s almost like, why did I just give myself this impossibility?!! So, for instance, when I went about building “Albutilon”, I knew that I wanted all the petal like forms to touch, but I had no idea how to make that happen spatially.

Albutilon, 2022, 118 pieces of wood, pastel, linseed oil, silver metal coating, 33 x 32 x 17

So, for this work, I drew a preliminary drawing in my sketchbook, and then had to draw a larger full-scale drawing.  That larger drawing became almost a dress-makers pattern that I could follow to help guide me.

Albutilon (center side super close up), 2022, 188 pieces of wood, with pastel, linseed oil and silver metal coating, 33 x 32 x 7

I laid the small pieces of wood right on top of this full-scale drawing. I had never done that before with a sculpture, but this work demanded a new way of working. This work was very complicated to build, and it took 118 small pieces of wood that were seamlessly jointed together to make it come to life.

Specimens (full view), 2018,287 pieces of wood with graphite, 46x56x5

Another work, “Specimens” had so many twists, turns and angles in it that it took me months to build.  This six-part wall work was made from 287 small sometimes tiny, sometime carved, pieces of wood that were jointed together and then covered with powdered graphite.

Comment on your older work in clay. 

‘Take the Money and Run’.

Take the Money and Run

My clay work came about during a very difficult period for me.  I didn’t have the energy or time to focus on creating my wood sculpture.  Each wood sculpture needs hundreds of hours to create and build.  For a year I didn’t have that calm focused energy or strength for this type of creative outlet.  I needed to work with something that gave me more immediate results. I started making clay portraits that could be finished in a couple of days to a week instead of taking months to build.  I started working with self-hardening clay and sculpted portraits of people that were profiled in the pages of the New York Times.  This was 2010-2011, the time of the financial crash and the subsequent bank bailout, the Arab Spring, and the Fukushima disaster.  These were the stories at that time that were captivating me both emotionally and politically.

The political background?

“Take the Money and Run” shows four CEOs from four separate financial institutions and how much money each made because of their golden parachute. These CEOs became extraordinarily wealthy while the Main Street investors were completely wiped out. These clay portraits were the CEOs from four financial institutions: Merrill Lynch and his $161 million dollar payday, Countrywide Financial and his $121 million dollar bonus, the CEO from Washington Mutual who made off with $18 million dollars and the head CEO from Lehman Brothers that made $22 million dollars.  These four CEOs are nestled in a suitcase filled with hundred thousand dollar bills and the exterior of the case is covered in pennies. The vintage travel suitcase has an interior mirror so that the heads with an engraved brass plaques that states their financial payday are now reflected in the mirror and I put heavy duty casters on the bottom.  So, “Take the Money and Run” seemed like a perfect title.  This work now lives on my studio floor.

Take one clay work and discuss it in detail.  Also, why you have chosen this one?

The final work from this period was a work called “Dreams of Our Ancestors”.

Dreams of our Ancestors

This work portrays seven extraordinary women, each of whom had a profound impact on a world religion.  Women such as Sun Bu’er, the first Taoist; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American ever canonized by the Catholic Church; Margaret Fell Fox, who was known as the mother of the Quakers and the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, Mirabai, a 16th century poet, mystic and Hindu saint who was devoted to Krishna and Hildegard de Bingnen  who was a saint, visionary theologian, musician, polymath, artist, scientist and Benedictine abbess from the Middle Ages.  These seven women are all together, resting and dreaming together on a pillow.  As strange as it sounds, it was the strength and energy from these dynamic women that helped to heal my distress.

Dreams of our Ancestors detail

I realized that my source in creating art does not come from a place of anger or politics but rather from a more connected interior space. Completing this clay series allowed me to finally return to my wood work with renewed vitality and inspiration.

You are very diligent and do a drawing every morning, discuss.

Each sculpture that I build takes me a minimum of a month to construct.   As previously mentioned, I used to be a painter, and I was really missing working with colour. I also missed the immediacy of creating work and seeing results quicker.  I needed those “art” endorphins coursing through my mind and body. I also needed to be making work that takes up less physical space, something that is always a sculptor’s dilemma.  I came up with what I call my “morning drawings”.

Parallel Lives

I usually read The New York Times daily and tear out images that strike me.  From there I go about working on my drawing in an 11 x 14” sketchbook.  Each drawing is usually based on an image found in the paper.  I frequently work on the drawing when I first get into my studio in the morning, and I might continue to work on it for several mornings till it’s completed.  It’s a way that I trained myself to focus and not get so distracted and be productive at the same time.  I use many different materials in working on these drawings such as: crayons, chalk, powdered graphite, earth, matte medium, pen, watercolours. I had a college art professor from when I spent a year in France who taught us that if you put your body in the position of work, then the work will flow from there.  This was one of the most useful words of wisdom that I learned throughout all my art classes. I repeat it frequently and it has become my daily mantra. I find beginning-starting a workday is frequently the most challenging for me. My morning drawings are a simple way to sit at my drafting table and begin to focus and start my workday.


Loren Eiferman

Loren Eiferman@gmail.com


Instagram: @loreneiferman

Deborah Blakeley, Melbourne, Australia

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, April 2024

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