Chanel, Hermes and Byzantine cathedrals are all icons in their own right; though not necessarily ones we would expect to find in the same sentence. However, for master carver Barbara Segal, these icons all weave the same thread through her work and life. In her studio, stone is seemingly transformed into folded leather, metal chains and accurate stitching; however they are far from just replicas of fashion-forward runway styles. The artist’s intricately detailed stone sculptures of clothing, and of designer bags like the Birkin, are inspired by the pristine architectural wonders that she witnessed during years of traveling.
Segal’s work is steeped in history – both her own and that of the world. Her way of reconnecting with the beauty that she’s witnessed around the world is to bond it with the beauty that she retains in her memories, of family and childhood, and vice versa. This perspective produces works that are relatable and familiar, yet also intensely personal.
As a young adult, Segal studied stone carving in Paris and Italy, where she became fascinated by the architecture of Byzantine cathedrals. Upon coming home to New York, she found that nothing matched the beauty she experienced abroad. The only thing that came close was her mother’s clothing.
She began to depict clothing that aesthetically mirrored architecture that she had seen in her time abroad. Those inspirations soon took on lives of their own – color patterns from Notre-Dame de la Garde made their way onto a marble and onyx shirt, and the columns from San Michele in Foro formed a marble and bronze dress. Says Segal: “The influence of Renaissance and Baroque art is obvious in my work. The beauty of the church has always held sway for me. So it was an obvious next step to incorporate the architecture of the bag and the church together.”
Segal’s works have become a study of the play of power. These sculptures, like the ones that have stood in churches and museums before them, reflect a symbol of power within their society. Designer bags like those by Hermes and Chanel are often seen as status symbols, representing identity in a society that is heavily steeped in materialism and commercialism. The cathedrals’ beauty has the power to make the viewer think, feel and remember. Segal mirrors the ideals of each: “My sculptures reinforce the bags’ iconic status – presenting an object that is by nature ephemeral, and then transforming it into an enduring, almost religious, idol for worship.”
The power of memories and shared experiences also plays a part in the work by incorporating personal experiences into sculpture. Her collection “Little Girls’ Dresses” explores a symbol reminiscent of the time she had spent with her father before he passed away, capturing a lost childhood that is now preserved in the work. These memories, as expressed through her art, has connected Segal to her childhood and to the most beautiful and transformative experiences of her life.
Little Girls’ Dress assembled from onyx,
orange calcite and Portugese pink marble
“I want people who view my work to be awed in the same way I was awed when I walked into a magnificent cathedral in Europe for the first time. However, I want them to see beyond the beautifully finished work and get something out of it, even if it’s their own experience that they are bringing to the work.”
(photo above: Barbara Segal photo: Leslye Smith for ArtsWestchester)