Claire Falkenstein

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Claire Falken­stein
1908 – 1997

An Oregon native who worked in Paris, San Fran­cisco, and Venice Cali­fornia throughout her career explored many mediums including sculp­ture, paint­ings, prints, wall­paper, and jewelry. Falken­stein metal sculp­ture ignored popular trends at the time, in addi­tion to her sculp­tural jewelry made from gold, silver, plat­inum, bronze, copper, and steel. While working in Italy in the 1950’s Falk­sen­stein made one of her greatest discov­eries. Falk­sen­stein devel­oped a way to “fuse” together glass and metal into single pieces. This tech­nique became synony­mous with her creative process and influ­enced her exper­i­mental jewelry-making and sculp­ture produc­tion.

Claire Falken­stein was an inno­v­a­tive and prolific Abstract Expres­sionist sculptor, famous for her striking and often contro­ver­sial metal and glass public art. Using thickets of welded metal, melted glass, ribbons of clay, and inter­locking wood pieces, Falken­stein forged, fired, sawed, welded, and constructed abstract forms that reflect the changing scien­tific and philo­soph­ical trends of the twen­tieth century. For almost a century, the artist used new indus­trial mate­rials and tech­nolo­gies to create archi­tec­tural elements; engi­neered windows, doors, and gates; designed wall­paper, furni­ture, jewelry; and melded the tradi­tional defi­n­i­tions of sculp­ture, painting, and prints into new media.
Falkenstien’s career began in Coos Bay, Oregon, where the natural forms found along the beaches stim­u­lated her interest in the expres­sive qual­i­ties of nega­tive space and the phys­ical harmony of the natural world. Upon grad­u­ating from the Univer­sity of Cali­fornia, Berkeley, the artist had solid­i­fied her modernist style and devel­oped her passion for exper­i­men­ta­tion with both artistic concepts and phys­ical media. Paris was her next home, where she befriended Michel Tapié, an avant-garde art connois­seur and intel­lec­tual who cham­pi­oned the fusion of physics, math­e­matics, and art. Falken­stein devel­oped her interest in topo­log­ical concepts and theo­ries about the contin­uing flow of matter and space. Falken­stein was commis­sioned to create the gates for Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice, Italy. This work exem­pli­fies Falkenstein’s “never-ending screen”- metal webbing inter­spersed with chunks of shim­mering glass in a repeated pattern to form a seem­ingly endless field. This model was later used in her largest commis­sion; fifteen towering stained glass windows for St. Basil’s Cathe­dral in down­town Los Angeles. The kalei­do­scopic colors and reflec­tions, empha­sized by the irreg­ular shapes and angles of the windows, create a dynamic three-dimen­sional space.
Falken­stein returned to America in 1960. She created a series of public works throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding areas including the highly contro­ver­sial foun­tain of copper tubing inter­spersed with Venetian glass for the Cali­fornia Federal Savings and Loan Asso­ci­a­tion. Falken­stein worked until she was almost ninety, never stop­ping in her quest to create works in every feasible media and exploring the infi­nite possi­bil­i­ties of space.