Metal Sculptor Linda Van Hart works in her Union Bridge Studio.
A selection of Carroll County artists will open their studio doors to the public this December as part of the 11th annual Studio Arts Tour. To help commemorate the event, now entering its second decade, the Times will feature profiles of participating artists biweekly in Life and Times.
Before embracing the visual arts as her life's work, sculptor and jeweler Linda Van Hart began her life planning on becoming a concert pianist.
"A lot of my mother's family were musicians," Van Hart said. "As a little teeny kid, I would climb up a ladder and sit on the stool to play piano. I had to develop a very wide finger spread to play a whole octave."
Van Hart said she experienced some success as a child pianist, but soon realized she didn't like having to practice after school while her friends got to go out and play.
"Starting at age 5, I announced that I was not going to be a concert pianist; I was going to be an artist," Van Hart said. "That's when I started gathering envelopes and scraps of paper to draw on, because I didn't like that coloring books already had lines."
She said she learned to draw quickly, and grew up around hammers and tools thanks to living in a family with a number of uncles and older men working with their hands. She said as a young girl, she would take after them and pick up whatever tools they were using. When she was introduced into a jewelry-making class while attending Towson University, her love of art collided with her love of tools and working with her hands.
"I fell into it like a romance," Van Hart said. "The feeling I had with metal then has lasted to this day."
Today, Van Hart continues to make jewelry as well as botanical-inspired sculptures from copper and steel as well as silver and gold. She said one of her biggest influences is the natural world, combined with narrative elements taken from history or mythology. In her work, Van Hart said, she attempts to bring an aspect of storytelling to every finished piece.
Her latest series is built around the concept of heart armor — a protective shield for those experiencing life turmoil — designed after the look of dried milkweed pods.
"Everyone sees them on the side of the road," Van Hart said. "When the wind blows the seeds away, inside is this beautiful, smooth surface, while on the outside they have this interesting surface texture."
Van Hart said she noticed that when placed together, two milkweed pods formed a heart like shape, and she began to explore what function they could provide on the body. She said the final work is sort of a talisman to pull your energy together during adverse conditions.
Van Hart's passion for floral forms started when she was a child. She said her grandmother was a plant-napper, who liked to take plants and move them to a new home and help them grow. Van Hart said she picked up that habit from her, and when she sees something beautiful, likes to take a little cutting in order to trace them and create patterns based on the beautiful shapes. She said she has a gift for repeating the images and structures of plant life in her art.
"If I see a plant, I can make it," Van Hart said. "As long as it inspires me to tell the story of it, the techniques I can see instantly."
Van Hart has been a part of the Studio Arts Tour ever since the original tour in the mid-1980s. She said it's one of the highlights of the year to have the opportunity to meet with people and discuss her work. Van Hart said she loves to have people see her in action.