Thursday, December 15, 2016

Collecting Canal Street Artists

If you head west on state road 80—the highway that spans the width of Florida--you’ll quickly come to C street. Then if you take a right, and then another right onto the rutted dirt road called Collecting Canal, which, of course, runs along a canal, you’ll come upon a wonderfully hidden residence called Pferdekamper Studio. Don’t bother trying to use your iphone maps app because the address is off the grid.  When you see the sign “Art Show,” you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Slightly outside of Wellington, the home belongs to Gisela Pferdekamper, an artist herself who helps promote other artists. 

Her last name, Pferdekamper, actually means “horse’s camp” which is highly appropriate because Gisela and her husband, Howald, have been involved with horses ever since they married in Germany, from where they both came. When they first moved to the Wellington ranch eleven years ago, it housed many horses. And before that they developed the multi-ranch community of White Fences, and founded the Palm Beach Dressage Derby.  I’d say they’ve contributed tons to the western communities since they first landed in 1976. 

When they moved from Germany, they brought 33 Hanoverian horses in tow. The trip was originally planned for the winter months to enable the horses to more easily acclimate to Florida’s weather—an extreme contrast to northern Germany’s. But complications prevented them. When they were ready to crate the animals for a flight west, Gisela said that the crates they received were the wrong size. They were meant for cows and only stood about four feet high. This would never work for a horse on a 9 hour flight. So the journey was delayed two months while they farmed out the horses to nearby ranches and waited for the right sized crates to come.  Finally, the horses boarded—two months late—and they arrived in Florida during hot and humid April. Many horses lost weight during the ordeal, but eventually recovered.

Gisela has a love for both art and nature. Her compound is evidence of it. Outside there are pergolas and walks, as well as great botanicals thriving everywhere. She even has a bird aviary. It once held several white peacocks. Now there’s just one named, “Come, Come,” one dove—who incidentally loves to perch on “Come, Come” and groom him—one pheasant, several non-egg-producing chickens and one cockatoo. A few large dogs rule the roost.

The horses gradually spent out their season and Gisela renovated the barn into an artist’s studio. The high ceilings and open feel create the perfect place to display and work on her paintings. She specializes in a series called “Fat Horses.” They are truly funny. And I doubt anyone is offended by the un-politically correct adjective when applied to a horse.

 “A Rose is A Rose”
Gisela’s more modestly proportioned horses are wonderful, too. They all look like they are having a good time. Here is her “Horses over the Clouds.”

"Horses Over Clouds"

A while ago, she branched out to painting zebras explaining that, “A zebra is kind of like a horse.” The zebras have been a big hit with admirers.  She cites their popularity to their dramatic color contrast and playfulness.

"Happy Zebras"

The barn-turned-studio is also home to a large kiln. It wasn’t long before Gisela started working with clay.  She forms everything from hand without a wheel.  Here’s a three-dimensional version of her full-figured equines.

Gisela’s clay specialty is the Tangine. The Tangine is a Moroccan pot that uses water and a return system to cook meat and vegetables. Unlike a crock pot, the ingredients do not get cooked to death and retain their nutrients. 

Because of the domed or cone-shaped lid of the Tangine, steam is trapped and returns the condensed liquid to the pot; hence a minimal amount of water is needed to cook meats and vegetables to buttery tenderness.

Gisela also paints fiberglass horses in various themes. These are also popular works.

Twice a year Gisela puts on an art show in her barn studio. She recently held one that featured potters, jewelry makers, illustrators and painters.  While the sales were a bit down, “It was a great party,” she said. If it’s her goal to showcase and promote other artists, she’s certainly doing her part.

When I asked Gisela if she’d like to add anything more, she said. “Yes. Wellington is not high on art. They love their horses, but art is not as important to them. This is why I have my shows.”

Perhaps that will change. In the mean time you can see more of Gisela’s work on her website. Don’t miss her next art show in March.   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mehri Danielpour - The Starving Artist and the Queen

Pablo Picasso once said, "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

The first time I read his quote was at the Norton museum with my children just after Hurricane Katrina had wrought distruction in New Orleans.  The news repeatedly ran stories of suffering in the streets and at the Astrodome, ad nauseum. So I scooped up my kids and headed out for an antidote of art and culture to counter the social milieu.

Picasso was right.  

I immediately felt soothed and restored after an hour's walk through the beauty, order and color of the museum's paintings and sculptures.

The dust of life is thick again--especially in the political arena.  More than ever do I long to lose myself in some Monet garden or in Van Gogh's starry night or at a lonely Edward Hopper street cafe. It feels like an almost panicky need to escape to the serenity of art, and experience the cleansing of the creative realm.

I recently found my refuge from the electoral storm in the sculpture of a gifted artist named Mehri Danielpour. She  happens to have lived in Wellington's back yard for several decades--or rather, front yard--in Palm Beach.


At first, Mehri Danielpour says, she could not get the hang of color. Although her mother was a painter, Mehri did not inherit her grasp of the integration of hues and dyes.

It wasn’t until age 18—when Mehri traveled to Italy to study art—that she found her medium.   She says, “I was bad with color and paints. But when I saw Italian statues, I said, ‘This is what I want to do!’ I fell in love with sculpture.” Without a doubt, she found her niche.

That was the beginning of her artistic career.  She continued her training with a six month session at the Art Students' League in New York, and also studied under john Terken. Other than that, she was self-taught--and obviously very gifted.

Born in Iran, her family immigrated to America shortly after WWII when Mehri was 8 years old.  The 5 month long trip started through India. The family boarded an American military ship that took them from Mumbai to San Pedro.  From there, they traveled to New York where friends resided.  Mehri got married and eventually settled in Palm Beach in 1965.

Her husband was a business man and a poet, and treated her royally. He wrote her a poem a day until he lost use of his hands due to Multiple Sclerosis.  His condition forced Mehri to find a way to make a living.  Sculpture was what she knew, so she transformed her ‘hobbyist’ art form into a professional trade.  Since her husband had so lovingly spoiled her, she also had to quickly acquire a few new life skills—like writing a check!

After setting her mind to a professional sculpting career, Mehri experienced ‘miracle after miracle,’ as she puts it.  In her early art days, she had always dreamed of sculpting the Iranian Royal Family.  Shortly after her career launch, she received a call from the Iranian Embassy.  Someone had seen one of her sculptures in Brazil and requested her portfolio. Well, she didn’t have a portfolio, but quickly went to work on compiling photos of her best work.  It was followed by a commission to sculpt the Shah and Queen Farah Pahlavi. 

Mehri’s dream and artistic goal had come true.

But it didn’t end there. The Queen kept calling Mehri to ask about her kids and invited her to come to Washington DC for a visit at Potomac.  She was also included in the 1971 celebration of the 2,500th year of the Persian Empire—the most expensive party ever! The Queen used her portrait bust, sculpted by Mehri and cast in silver, as a gift for each of her guests. Mehri mused on that irony that she, a starving artist had become friends with a royal Queen!

Mehri’s style ranges from realistic to abstract. Rarely does an artist excel in both arenas.  She defies genre stereotypes.  Her artwork has been displayed in several shows including a 1976 exhibit with Andy Warhol at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. She recently did busts of Tommy Hilfiger’s wife and son.  

Mehri Danielpour and Andy Warhol

A favorite of hers—“The Year of the Child”—once stood at the former site of the West Palm Beach library on Flagler Boulevard.  It now stands in the trendy Northwood area.

The Year of the Child

Mehri doesn’t sketch before sculpting.  She goes directly to clay on an armature.  There is no measuring of the subject.  All her carving is done “Eye-to-Hand.”  She has a very good eye!

Sculpture is a multi-tiered process that relies on metal foundries.  Mehri utilizes foundries in Sarasota and Miami.  She also used one in Riviera Beach, but it has since closed down.  A bust can take three to four 1-1/2 hours sittings where Mehri chisels away at her clay. 

Next a rubber mold is created. Liquid wax is poured into the rubber mold.  A porcelain mold is then made over the wax mold.  The wax is melted, then molten bronze is poured into the porcelain mold. After the bronze hardens, the porcelain is broken to reveal the final form. Much cleaning and polishing follows. Then a colored patina is applied and heated with a torch to finish off the piece.

The mood of Mehri’s subjects varies from serious to amusing.  Her series called, “Do You Hear My Cry?” shows Mehri’s social commentary and advocacy for Persian women.  


One time, in Vegas, she was captured by the Cirque de Soleil characters and she subsequently created another series—on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum—called “Cirque.”  These sculptures are so different from her others. They use a variety of materials and are animated!  Her idea was to clothe the figures in a thick lace. But no craft or fabric stores carried the type that she envisioned. Then one day, while foraging through her mother’s old sewing box, she found the perfect coarse, eyelet-style lace. As she wrapped the material around the torsos and legs of her muses, Mehri realized that her mother’s legacy would be forever encased--and celebrated--in these whimsical sculptures.  Even their masks were made out of small cuttings of the fabric. 

Ms. Danielpour considers "Escape" as her master piece.  It was inspired by those fleeing Florida's 1928 hurricane. However, the piece can be applied to any scenario on the same subject.


Mehri also works in crystal Lucite.  Her Wild Horses is a stunning example of her use of this material.

Discover more of Mehri's work on her website and enjoy the beauty and restoration her artwork exudes.  I think you’ll agree she is a queen in her own right!

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