In this series, the artists working at Creative Gateways give us behind-the-scenes insight into their current works in progress, inspiration, and creative challenges. Today, we look at Sumati’s newest elephant…
A life in animals
Sumati Colpitts has made a wide variety of animals during her many years as a ceramic artist. Some are big, some are small, but all are infused with incredible personalities as a result of her unique style. Although she is constantly creating new animals, sometimes there is one that seems to stand out for her. Such was the case for her latest ceramic elephant.
Teaching an old elephant new tricks
“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.” – John Donne
All of Sumati’s animals are wonderful, but the demand for them can vary based on the type of animal, time of year, and type of buyer. Elephants, however, seem to be more consistent. “Oh, they’re very popular,” Sumati explains. “Firstly, they’re endangered animals in real life, which gives collecting them [in art form] a really strong appeal. People have a soft spot for them, and can feel connected to them through art.” But Sumati’s pieces in particular have an additional appeal. “Honestly, it’s really hard to find happy elephants in sculptures. A lot of people tend to try to go completely naturalistic, and it ends up making the elephant look pretty sad. Personally, I like all my animals to have a happiness and warmth to them. So having a happy, smiling elephant is something most people don’t see very often.”
Sumati has made elephants before. Her most common were sitting elephants who joyfully raised their trunks to the viewer. Other types included a much smaller version that walked on all four of its legs. They were each adorably and undeniably works of Sumati. But for her newest elephant, she wanted to do something a little different.
“It struck me that I wanted to make an elephant with a new, fun pose.” This was particularly challenging for her, as photo references of elephants are not as conducive to unusual poses. “You don’t get a lot of help there. You really have to use a lot of your imagination.” For this elephant, Sumati wanted not only her typical energy, but the sense of connection and engagement seen in so many of her other pieces. Not only would this elephant by looking up at the viewer with a smile, but also reaching out, asking for interaction.
When the elephant was finally finished, Sumati could not have been happier. “I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made. I was so pleased! It’s very engaging – you can just feel its spirit, which is what I love, and I know viewers love. I was also happy because it photographs so well from nearly every angle. Sometimes that’s hard to get with sculptures, but for this one it turned out great. It even looks good head on, which is very rare for elephant sculptures!”
Perhaps the most interesting compliment Sumati received about the elephant came as she was displaying it at a recent show. “This woman came up, stopped, and stared at it for a long time. Then she looked at me and said ‘I don’t collect elephants. But if I did, I’d absolutely get this one.'”
Be part of the herd
To see Sumati’s latest elephant, as well as the work of all our resident artists, visit Creative Gateways Open Studios and Gallery, open 7 days a week 10am-5pm.