It’s a small but important collection, documenting the work of a local woman who lives in two worlds, those of art and business. She has managed to create an amazing collection of ceramic sculptures while also helping to run the family business (Parkway Corp.), begun by her parents, Herman and Lee Zuritsky. Moreover, a collection of over 500 photographs of performing artists, taken by her late husband Allen J. Winigrad, between 1973 and 1989, has been in the collection of the Penn Libraries since 1994.
Etta Zuritsky Winigrad is a Philadelphia artist and Penn graduate (FA’58 Ed’59) for whom ceramics have been her primary, though not her exclusive medium. Her thought-provoking sculptures, which combine figurative and fantastical elements, reflect her focus on the situation of humanity in the world. As she herself says:
From the very beginning, my sculptural work has been a continuing exploration and attempt to illustrate ideas and concerns of the human condition, both whimsical and serious.
The figurative element in her work, as seen here in “Reborn,” provides a point of entry for the viewer.
By combining realistic and fantastical elements I am trying to encourage the audience to draw on their own imagination and life experiences for interpretation.
Over time, she developed a firing technique for her sculptures, which is fascinating, combining a conceptual framework with the serendipity of real life.
The recent sculptures are of a low fire white clay body that easily absorbs the smoke and carbon from the newspaper I burn around it out in the open after it has been fired to maturity in the kiln. The smoke acts as a paint brush which allows the color to appear as if created by the hand of nature and not as an applied coat of paint from the hand of man. By controlling the smoke, to some extent, I can use it to emphasize the forms and the way the audience views the piece.
Her influences are many, coming from the African, South Pacific, and pre-Columbian art that she and her husband collected, and which is on display in her home.
I especially like the simpler primitive shapes that speak to us so powerfully and seem to tap into those forms that we have genetically accumulated in our psyches.
Etta (born July 25, 1936) recalls being six or seven years old when her parents, Herman and Lee Zuritsky, began their business. While her father was good with people, Etta says that her mother was the brains of the operation. Every day when her father returned home from work, he told Etta’s mother everything that had happened that day, and she advised him on what to do the following day. One of eleven children, Lee Zuritsky was the only one to finish high school, which Etta describes as being due to her courage to do what she saw fit.
She is unaware of there being any artists in her family, but she does remember drawing in art class in elementary school and liking it. In the late 1950s, when she went to Penn, she applied to the School of Fine Arts, rather than the College for Women, knowing that it was easier to get into the fine arts program, but that once you were in you could take any course at the University that you wanted. After graduating, she briefly taught junior high school before deciding that teaching was not for her.
She admits that up until the time she got married, she thought art consisted exclusively of painting and drawing. After she was married, with two children, she would have a babysitter come in for a few hours and use her free time to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for classes in drawing and painting. One day the teacher gave them some clay and asked them to use the model to create a three-dimensional work. This was an epiphany for Etta, who discovered that what she couldn’t do with paint she could do with clay. However, everyone who works in clay begins by making pots, which Etta found to be limiting, so she began to look for whatever would teach her about sculpture. After that she looked for classes on sculpting with clay, even traveling out west to take them. Between 1968 and 1996, she took continuing education courses at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, as well as workshops at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other institutions across the nation.
Etta and Allen lived for years in Cherry Hill, NJ, raising their children there. It was there that she had her first kiln, built in a shed from bricks, where she did more traditional kinds of firing, like Raku. It was originally a gas kiln, but she converted it to electric so that she would have more control over the actual process of firing, since during the process of firing the temperature needs to rise and then lower gradually, so as not to crack the sculpture during the firing process. It was while living and working in Cherry Hill that she first developed the smoking technique that was to become one of her signatures.
When she moved to Paoli, PA, after her children were grown, she had a big studio with an indoor kiln, the largest one they made, allowing her to make much bigger sculptures. She smoked them after firing in the driveway. The studio in her current apartment (seen here) in Rittenhouse Square, to which she moved more recently, was designed to hold a smaller electric kiln, this one computerized to fire her work to her specifications without constant monitoring, since the firing process can take days. However, the final smoking process now takes place in the driveway of her son David’s house in Penn Valley.
When asked how she came to the smoking technique that she uses to provide a patina to the surface of her sculptures, Etta says she probably came to it accidentally. She was looking for a way to unify the surface and move the eye around the sculpture without using traditional color. Color doesn’t speak to Etta the way it does to what she refers to as “real colorists.” Color draws you to a certain point, and she didn’t want viewers to focus on color, but on the whole piece. She didn’t want color to pull one away from the sculptural aspects of her work. And when she occasionally uses color, it’s intended for a specific purpose.
The success of this technique depends on both the type of clay she is using and the firing technique she employs. High-fire clays can be fired at high temperatures, which allow the clay to “vitrify,” that is, undergo a chemical change that drive out all the water molecules and makes the object waterproof. However, low-fire clays have open pores after firing, meaning they can absorb water and, in the case of Winigrad’s smoking technique, the carbon byproducts of combustion. Etta works with plain clays, generally white and gray, which work well as a receptive surface for tinting with smoke. The result is that it looks like the coloring has grown out of the piece rather than being applied to it.
She insists on using the Philadelphia Inquirer for her smoking, shying away from pages with color as well as the sport section. To “smoke” a sculpture, she wraps newspaper around the sculptures and carefully sets fire to it, manipulating it as it smokes. She uses wet paper to mask areas that she doesn’t want smoked. After smoking she sprays it with a fixative so that the carbon patina becomes a permanent part of the sculpture. Continue reading