Friday, March 15, 2013

Yes...metal mesh can be a fiber!

Award-winning, Anacortes-based artist Lanny Bergner can work sculptural magic with a roll of aluminum insect screening or stainless steel mesh, a pair of flat-nosed pliers, a small torch—and a whole lot of patience!

At the Contemporary QuiltArt Association’s March 9 meeting, Bergner described his artistic journey from his degrees in sculpture (BFA, University of Washington; MFA, Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.) to being possibly the country’s largest individual purchaser of industrial screening.

Bergner had a period of working in mixed media, mostly employing non-traditional materials including such oddities as broken chunks of car-window glass, carpet tacks, safety pins, black nylon stockings, etc. Then he began investigating the possibilities inherent in coiling, fraying, twisting, wrapping, gluing and knotting one of the most prosaic of materials—mesh insect screening—and the results may now be found in prestigious exhibitions as well as museum and private collections worldwide.
Rolls of metal mesh and simple tools

One of Bergner's suspended pieces

 Illustrating his processes for the CQA group, Bergner showed how he cuts strips from 100-foot rolls of  anodized aluminum mesh, frays out both edges of the strips, and starts his pieces by pinning first one and then subsequent rows of the mesh around a home-made turntable rig. He connects each row to the next by twisting together the frayed ends with flat-nosed pliers—one pair of ends after another—in a process than can only be called tedious yet meditative. Bergner said that it once occurred to him that this was more or less the same process he had watched as his mother crocheted.

Joining the frayed ends, row by row

 Most of his earlier mesh pieces were vertical hanging or suspended forms, sometimes with secondary, smaller mesh forms within the pieces. Airy and open in appearance, they are also very light, weighing a few pounds at most. Later he began adding glass frit (a glass-making supply) to provide spots of color to the otherwise metallic tones.

Adding glass frit to silicone "blob"
Finished frit "blobs" add decoration

From aluminum mesh Bergner moved on to stainless steel mesh and, over the past 3-4 years, began working in grid patterns, creating some pieces that are reminiscent of quilts. For these, he painstakingly creates little “pillows” consisting of two layers of the mesh, usually with colors added, that are wired together to form wall-size “quilts.”
Grid patterns resemble quilts

Closing the back of a "pillow"

In adding color to the grid pieces, Bergner introduced some new elements: a small torch to create vari-colored patterns on the surface of stainless steel mesh; the frit-covered silicone “balls” he affixes to the pieces, and silicone “blobs” in solid colors that are squished between layers of brass or bronze anodized aluminum mesh. More and more he uses the torch as a drawing tool on the stainless steel, which reacts differently depending on the distance he holds the torch from the mesh. In addition, if he applies a layer of spray lacquer before burning his patterns, a different color can be achieved. 

Squishing colored silicone balls between mesh layers

Using small torch to burn patterns on stainless steel mesh

All these elements come into play in the several series Bergner is presently concentrating on, where he uses largely stainless steel mesh, plus wire in various colors, and often black and white spots of silicone. Some are best described as free-form “baskets”and others as mesh vessels—including some teapots that are deceptively solid-looking!

For more information on Bergner, examples of his pieces, and lists of his many and varied exhibitions and awards, go to

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