How This Washington Artist Creates Sculptures Weighing Life And Death


Artist Nancy Mintz works with wool pompoms

Nancy Mintz works with wool pompoms for a project she’s considering.

Nancy Mintz’s two-story studio displays the nature of the artist’s work: it is both scrappy and refined, quiet and dramatic, gritty and highly finished. An array of completed sculptures and skeletal fragments adorn the surfaces of the Ferndale, Washington, space—a kind of ever-evolving vision board. “A lot of my ideas about a piece happen from the corner of my eye,” the artist says. “How I interact with my work is not by looking at it face-on. It’s by walking past it.” 

Several small works compose a larger installation

Syncopation, an installation made of several small pieces, will be on view at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

Natural materials in the artist's studio

Natural materials are on display in the artist's studio.

A large sculpture, Ancestor 1, towers in Nancy Mintz’s art studio

A large sculpture, Ancestor 1, towers in Mintz’s art studio.

Some of the sculptures are fan-like

Her fan-like artwork, called Ganoderma, is named for the type of mushroom from which they draw their shape.

A large wall-mounted sculpture is made of wire and paper

A large, wall-mounted sculpture takes on an ethereal quality.

While the unfolding of life is how Mintz develops her freestanding and wall-mounted sculptures, they often begin with the subject of death. “My work is about the amazing things nature produces, but it also deals with what happens after,” she explains. “It’s about the husks, when they are no longer green, no longer growing.” 

And yet her works are luminous, with light gently filtering through the finished pieces. On the lower level of her studio, Mintz and her assistants hand-assemble the skeletons for her sculptures, all of which begin with soldering brass wire into carefully engineered forms. Upstairs is the “clean room,” where the artist applies layers of paper—she uses Japanese gampi for its subtle translucence—and glue to create the off-white, membranous surfaces that give her sculptures shape. 

Mintz’s biomorphic and geometric forms pulse and undulate, her pieces often arranged in site-specific installations that cascade down walls, drip from ceilings and sprout from floors. “I wish for my work not just to be a piece on the wall but to be in conversation with the architecture around it,” Mintz says as she gestures toward Syncopation, a large piece set to be exhibited at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art this year. 

Ultimately, Mintz’s artworks—and her practice—are about time. Often, parts and pieces will sit untouched in her studio for weeks before she is inspired to develop them into full-fledged, finished sculptures. Upstairs, a soft orange sofa offers a perch for the artist, whether working out an idea or simply daydreaming as she considers the spectral artworks dancing across her studio walls. “For me, the creative process resides in coming here every day and doing something that builds off something else,” she says. “When you put time into a thing, it creates its own life.” 

Photography by: Chona Kasinger