Carol Leskanic is a multi-disciplinary artist and master gilder based in Bantam and NYC. Join us inside her light-filled studio for a conversation about her path from art history student to the fashion world, a fateful ad in the newspaper for an apprentice gilder and why her art resonates with me and perhaps with you, too...
Martha: How did your path to master gilder and artist begin?
Carol: After design school, and a stint in the fashion world, I really wanted to return to making things with my hands. I answered a random ad in the newspaper looking for an apprentice gilder. I worked my way through the process of apprentice, journeyman, master gilder and then went on to work for a restorer in TriBeCa where I became head gilder. It all grew and evolved over years to then having my own studio. I was learning the process and playing around with the materials until I felt I’d mastered them, then they just naturally became what I turned to in making my own work. The first material I used on my own as an artist was pure white gesso. All of my early work was nothing but white! It was a renaissance technique called pastiglia, meaning paste work. It’s a building up of layers to create dimension on a flat surface. My goal was to heighten beauty to its “nth” degree but in a very quiet way.
Martha: So... gilding was your “job” and your personal “work” started with gesso. How did you then incorporate gilding back into your own personal art?
Carol: Yes, exactly. I brought gilding back into my work when I started working with interior designers and artists. They were pulling me into another world, using the materials I had mastered in my past in a very new way.
Martha: It's the juxtaposition of the two, using very traditional materials in new ways, fascination with the old, with patina and love of modern, that's what resonates so much with me.
Carol: Yes, that's the goal. And that’s what was stretching me and challenging me in the best way possible.
Martha: Where is your challenge today?
Carol: What I do today is to take what I’m doing and continue to push and refine and elevate to the highest quality possible. If you are making something of a quality that is so high, and it may take months, then it's not just a lamp, it's a piece of artwork, you have a different reverence for it. It becomes an heirloom that touches people in a different way. It's much deeper than that…
Martha: Is your passion in functional items or art as art?
Carol: I think I’m not sure yet. I swing back and forth between them and I’ve always struggled with that definition… and maybe it's my age because I don’t think it matters. I don't need to label things. And I don’t want to limit myself that way. Noguchi did it. But the more I can strip things down to their minimal essence and push the materials to a heightened state, it then has the potential to move you. That’s the very best part… when you can hit that balance. I think the work I am doing now is an absolute translation of myself. Sculpture feels like an expression of that, like a “feeling” translated into a form.
Martha: I spent my entire career working alongside designers. As a merchant, I felt I was the companion piece to the artist/designer, and I always found they took things so personally because it's such a reflection of themselves, which I really understand now more than ever.
Carol: It's hard to be a sensitive person and put your work out there into the world. Because it's a reflection of the deepest part of you.
Martha: Your work for our SBA Project was an opportunity for you to work in a different medium and it seemed to come so easily to you.
Carol: I’ve never worked with paper before this. I loved the immediacy of it. It's a similar form, an organic shape, that I’ve used. It’s the “feeling” of that form that I’m realizing I go back to a lot. Particularly with this Japanese handmade paper that I appreciate so much. There was a simplicity to working with an exquisite quality of paper, handmade by craftsmen in Japan. Again, it becomes about the heightened beauty of the simplicity of the material and form.
Martha: There was something about the momentum of this project that was so strong from the beginning.
Carol: It was the perfect storm, collaborating with friends, supporting an incredible organization that really needs the extra help right now, doing something good outside of yourself, during the height of the pandemic, a time when it felt so good to shut the world out and just do work that I love. Then the work came through so easily.