Having started making things at the Eli Whitney Museum, in Hamden, CT, when she was six years old, Sylvie Rosenthal has followed her heart and her head to an enviable point for a young maker. She has a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts, formal training augmented by visiting artist residencies—at San Diego State University, Anderson Ranch Arts Center and Tainan National University of the Arts in Taiwan, among others. She has also been an active participant in the Penland, NC, community, building artisan houses and honing her woodworking skills, collaborating with retired rit professor Doug Sigler as well as engaging with the faculty, staff and students at the Penland School of Crafts, which has been a rich ground to feed her conceptual thought. This diversity has given life to a body of sophisticated work remarkable for someone who has been working barely a decade.
Rosenthal’s work is beautifully made, with an unusual attention to detail and an important conceptual aspect. Her sculpture has a fine-furniture maker’s sensibility while her furniture, such as Hope, possesses a sculptural quality that exhibits utter ease at flowing between the genres. The sculpture is ironic, funny and mysterious. Birds are major players in her landscapes, commenting on the human condition. Indeed, most of Rosenthal’s animals—birds and fish in particular—stand in for people and their quandaries. Much of the work, like Equilibrium Balance III, is kinetic, with simple robotics that give the animals a repetitive aspect that speaks directly to a daily routine. I have to force myself to get beyond the jewel-like craftsmanship so as not to miss the point. She always has a point.
Of the many things I admire about Rosenthal, her desire to learn from her experiences—whether travel, teaching or living and working in the vibrant artists’ community that is Asheville, NC—keeps my admiration at full throttle. Within a few moments, one begins to understand how her life has influenced her art. Juxtaposition dominates: a female in the largely male house-builder trade; Connecticut native in North Carolina; a teacher who is often a student. These combinations are often manifested in birds bound to objects and unable to fly; an inanimate object trapped in a cage-like sculpture, such as Self-Portrait; boats partly completed or partly deconstructed on a waterless sea. The situations are impossible. Or are they?
Juxtapositions serve as a pathway for transformation. Rosenthal’s work, a combination of superb woodworking skills and a healthy dose of humor, illustrates her evolution. The humor will be important as Rosenthal continues her career in a world that is changing rapidly. Her ability to evolve will be even more important. She is a maker to watch.
Andrew Glasgow is the former executive director of both the American Craft Council and the Furniture Society.