In conversation with Elisa Adams

(Photo credit profile picture: Jaina Cipriano)

Born in 1959, Elisa Adams is an award winning, mid career sculptor from Concord, Massachusetts, United States. Creating a space to take a pause, a respite from the constant barrage of crises and hardships in the world, Elisa’s stone pieces invite the viewer to open the heart and to feel a sense of peacefulness.

She’s participated in over 100 shows both nationally and internationally, among them SOFA Expo, Chicago, and her work can be found in private collections across the United States, Switzerland and Germany.

One month ago, Elisa and I met via Zoom to talk about the graceful movement and flowing energy inherent to her works, getting into shows without an important CV, and the importance of art as our escape from the craziness of the world. Enjoy!

Elisa with White Buffalo Boston Design Center photographed by Marilyn Ewer


Hello Elisa, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I read that besides being a professional artist you also work as a chiropractor. Could you tell me more about that and your beginnings in the arts?

I’ve always loved art.  For me that was my happy place. I came from an Albanian immigrant family, and art was not really allowed to be pursued as a career. Back then we listened to our parents! (laughs) I also really enjoy working with and helping people, so I became a doctor of chiropractic, and I’ve been in private practice for 40 years now. In 2004 I realized that there was something missing in my life, and in the mail that day came a card from the local museum saying “classes”. There was a class in wood and stone sculpting, that was what was missing…art making.  The class was amazing! At the end of three months I had made a sculpture! I had never used tools like those before. I knew nothing about sculpting. But I made a piece, “I’m really proud of this and I want to do more.”  Then the school closed, undeterred, “I’m going to buy some tools and try to figure this out on my own.”

Momentum Italian alabaster Alabaster, 2018
9h x 9 x 9 in

6 months later I received a call from the teacher, “The classes aren’t happening, but I work in my basement studio, and I’m inviting a few people that wanted to be in the class.  Do you want to join us?” I was delighted…It wasn’t really a class, it was a group of us sharing studio space and ideas together! Our group was made up of both professional artists and amateurs (like me.) About a year later someone in the group said, “You should apply to a show, this new piece is wonderful.” I said, “No, I can’t do that, I’m not ready for that yet.”  But I applied anyway, and was accepted into my very first show. Even now I’m still like a little kid in the candy shop every time I am accepted to shows.  It’s just thrilling.

When I arrived at the opening there was a book with CV’s and bios of the artists. Many were seasoned and had multiple pages of exhibition and education.   I went to find my husband and said, “Gosh, this is my only show, I have no resumé, I have no CV.”  He said, “You know, you’ve got to start somewhere.”  So I added mine, it consisted of my name, my address and this one show and “self-taught” and that was it, 4 lines on a single page.

Our little sewing circle of hammers and chisels lasted about 5 or 6 years, and I’ve been sculpting on my own ever since.

Receptivity alabaster, 2021
10 h x 10 w x 9 d in
Majestic soapstone, 2019
11h x 12 x 12 in

Your sculptures have very organic, natural shapes. Has that been so since your beginnings in sculpture or did you start off making different pieces and you slowly got into these shapes?

In the beginning, I did a lot of organic shapes. They were abstract pieces, images I had seen or even dreamt.  For instance, I created a sculpture from a Maori necklace, “I’m going to try and make this 3D.” For the first 5 years or so, I stayed with abstraction in my art. Flowing sculptures with openings, curves and softness.  Then, one of my friends said that she had taken an art class in Europe for her 50th birthday, and I thought, “That sounds like fun.” I started searching for sculpture classes. I discovered one in Italy, she did mostly figurative work of which I had never done that before and was uncertain. Deciding to challenge myself, I thought it would be an adventure, so off I went to the Italian Riviera.  That experience opened up new possibilities for making more figurative work and then I began combining 3 motifs, abstraction, of the natural world and female forms. It just keeps evolving.

Can you please share your creative process with us, from the beginning of a piece to finishing it?

On occasions I start with a little clay model or a sketch and I have created a vision board in my studio. But mostly I just look at the stone. I tend to go to purchase my stones in person as I have a chance to choose specific ones.  I look for color, size and shape and see if the stone says something to me. Once I start, I just flow with it. I’m not attached. I have an idea at first and it often shape shifts from  the original thought, it is very organic for me. I just sort of move with the stone.

Art is visual primarily, but sculpting stone stimulates all the senses. In hearing it, I sense the fault lines and solidity of the stone.  When chiseling or grinding it, stones have different smells. And most important to me is touch. That’s something I really love about sculpture, compared to painting, I like feeling it. Because of my chiropractic work — my touching sense is honed — and in touching the stone, you can feel when it doesn’t feel right, it is more acute than just seeing it.  All of one’s senses create the piece.

Luminosity orange alabaster, 2022
11 h x 12 w x 6d in

Could you say how long you take for a piece or is that totally different with each piece?

Oh yeah, it’s totally different. I can work for 8 hours one day and make a small piece from start to finish.  I have another pieces that took me at least a year to make. This one back here [she shows me the piece standing in the room], took quite a long time. I saw Georgia O’Keeffe painting of 3 lilies and thought making her painting come to life in 3D would be a tribute to her. It was complicated sculpture and the sanding process alone took me 50 hours. There are many stages from the beginning to a completed sculpture. It’s not just creating the shape, it’s finishing the piece as well: sanding, orienting it on the base, choosing the base, attaching it to the base. This part is more time consuming that thought to be.

Many artists think that while they are not full time artists, they aren’t really successful as artists. Is that something that has ever crossed your mind, or have you always been happy having your “day job” as well?

Right now I’m very happy with the two. I’m working part time in my clinic, and focusing more on my art, which makes me happy.  It’s quite a good balance. My work life is so extroverted and my studio life is much more introverted, quiet and meditative. I’m focused in the studio. My mind doesn’t wander very much and it feels rejuvenating. Personally, I don’t equate part time with being successful or not. I am committed to both vocations.

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