Fairfield artist designs sculptures for Frank Lloyd Wright estate


Fairfield artist Sue Berkey made this sculpture of a blue heron taking flight.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUE BERKEY Fairfield artist Sue Berkey made this sculpture of a blue heron taking flight.

Fairfield artist Sue Berkey received quite the honor last summer when she was chosen to create a pair of sculptures at a prominent Frank Lloyd Wright estate on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin.

The two metal sculptures are of blue herons. One heron is shown just as it takes flight. The other heron was sculpted so that we see its true form above, and its wavy reflection below, as it if it standing over a body of water.

Berkey employed local businesses to help craft her masterpiece. Creative Edge Master Shop made vector drawings that converted Berkey’s drawings into computer code for its water-jet cutting machines. Berkey also used Schaus-Vorhies to weld the metal pieces to an armature, a metal framework on which a sculpture is molded.

The estate dates to around 1900 and is named “Penwern” (Gaelic for “great house”), a name chosen by Wright himself. Wright, a native of Wisconsin, is among the most well-known architects of all-time. He lived from 1867-1959, and designed more than 500 structures that were later completed. He designed several buildings in Iowa, including homes in Oskaloosa, Marshalltown, and Cedar Rapids, and a bank and hotel in Mason City.

The homeowners of the estate on Lake Delavan purchased it in 1994, and restored it to its original appearance. Wright designed four structures on the 10-acre property: the gatehouse, stables, main home and boat house.

Through the years, Berkey had become friends with the homeowners. Last summer, they sent her an email asking for a piece of art for their summer home in Wisconsin.

“They pretty much gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted,” she said. “When I visited the place, I mentioned that they’ve got blue herons on the lake. Every time I looked around, I saw one. That’s what the sculptures ended up being.”

Berkey thoroughly researched blue herons to learn their anatomy from every angle.

“I looked at hundreds and hundreds of pictures of blue herons to get their legs right, their joints, the size of their wings, what their head, face and bill look like,” she said. “Both sculptures are quite realistic.”

She started making her designs in early July, and took her drawings to Creative Edge later that month. By early September, the herons had been cut from the metal, welded to their armatures, and were ready for installation. Berkey drove to Lake Delavan to install them herself.

The heron in flight was installed near a swimming pool, while the heron with a reflection was installed about 100 feet away near the pool and garden shed.

“One of them is the blue heron with its full wings open, lifting off the ground,” she said. “It’s a glorious moment. The other one is a standing blue and its reflection in water. They are related to each other, and that was intentional.”

Is there a message Berkey wants to convey in these pieces? Not specifically, she said.

“The artist Agnes Martin once said that the viewer completes a work of art, so it’s always a little risky for an artist to say what’s going on,” she said. “That’s part of the joy of viewing art. Hopefully, an artist can take you somewhere you haven’t been to.”