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Brenda Drayer’s sculpture “Twisted Torso” is displayed at a New York women’s exhibit.

Pursuing a new lease on life

Local student, 50, fulfills sculpture passion at IPFW

Brenda Drayer uses hand tools to work with clay in the Visual Arts building on the school’s campus.
Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Brenda Drayer, a junior at IPFW pursuing a fine arts degree, molds clay into her next piece.

After years of soul-searching, 50-year-old Brenda Drayer uprooted the life she knew. She resigned from her job, moved into a smaller home and started pursuing her fine arts degree at IPFW.

“I tried to do what I’m supposed to. I worked in mortgage lending even though I had no passion for it. I did it because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do,” she says. “Then I decided to start doing things for me. I realized I want to produce things, not acquire them.”

Last week, Drayer traveled to New York City for her professional debut in the art world at the National Association of Women’s Artists juried competition exhibit, “Clothing Optional.” As the first professional women’s art organization in the United States, Drayer joined a group of women across the country to exhibit her ceramic sculpture “Twisted Torso.”

The organization was founded in 1885 by five forward-thinking artists who wanted a space for women to exhibit their work and discuss their interpretation of art. The “Clothing Optional” exhibit is the organization’s response to how less than 3 percent of artists represented in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art are women, but 83 percent of the nudes are female. The exhibit selected works from nearly 60 female artists who used their own interpretation of nudity to produce art pieces.

“I’m just starting out so I’m trying to building a résumé. I wanted the experience of trying to get into a juried show. I had no expectations of being accepted at all. I was anticipating a ‘thank you, but no,’ ” she says.

Drayer’s piece is a hollow, flesh-tone vessel formed as a male’s torso, the muscles taut as if she captured the body as it was turning around. She says that the male’s body is often perceived to be strong, but the inside of the sculpture shows an inner weakness. She says that the sculpture didn’t start out as much – she had simply closed her eyes and felt the form take shape.

Although she admits it is not one of her best pieces, it holds personal meaning for her, defining how outside appearances can mask a person’s inner-most feelings – and how she lived an unfulfilled life for 30 years.

“The torso is a little bit twisted, not knowing which way to go. It’s in a torn, confused state of mind,” she says. “People can see the physical, but they do not understand what’s happening inside.”

Drayer says that both of her grandmothers were painters. She grew up looking at their art books and developing her own appreciation for art and art history. Graduating high school, Drayer trained at Burris Laboratory School, established by the Teachers College at Ball State University. The school’s mission is to provide innovative and experimental instruction to help students from kindergarten to 12th grade reach their full educational and artistic potential.

“Burris Lab School really helped me see there is so much freedom in the art world,” Drayer says. “I got a real grasp of art, and I started doing projects on my own.”

Moving to Fort Wayne after graduation in 1982, Drayer says she played it safe, pursuing careers that would be more stable than art, until a few years ago. She says that making the decision to pursue her degree in fine art has been an exciting change.

As an IPFW junior, she says that her courses seem even easier this time around than it did the first time she was in college.

“Being an older student, you appreciate the opportunity more. I’m learning because I want to, not because I should,” she says. “I want to know more than what’s on the test. I just want to understand and grasp as much as I can.”

Her interest in art history inspired Drayer to focus on sculpture. She says she works with mostly ceramic and clay; however, she has taught herself to weld by watching YouTube videos.

She describes her style as figurative since she often enjoys creating the human form.

“When you’re sculpting, you have to have a strong vision. When you have a two-dimensional object, you can only show one side; when you’re working with a three-dimensional medium, you can interrelate messages,” Drayer says.

“It’s almost less forgiving than a painting or drawing because it can be viewed from all sides,” she adds.

She is in the beginning stages of her senior thesis project on nostalgic Americana by depicting average people who live on campgrounds, traveling across the country. This month she traveled to Michigan to sketch various subjects, which she says she will use to create oil paintings. The paintings will help zero in on the context she will use to create the sculptures.

Similar to her choice to pursue art, she says the people she has met seem genuinely happy living the lives they have destined for themselves.

As an artist, she wants her art to communicate those inner messages the viewer may not see on the surface.

“Art is such a great form of expression. With sculpture, you can touch it and see how the negative space sometimes is a part of the sculpture,” she says. “I just love the experience. They are things of beauty in this world that we don’t see anymore.”