|"Rides" is one of Chamberlain's creations, but the frog portrayed in it is more real than in many of her works.|
Most little girls are scared of frogs. Reptiles just are not their thing.
But that wasn't the way it was with Lisa Chamberlain. She liked frogs, a whole lot.
"When I was a little girl I had an imaginary friend who was a frog," she said as she stood in her Helper studio working on yet another rendition of a frog sculpture. "He was bigger than my dad and wore clothes."
So it shouldn't be amazing to anyone that Chamberlain likes to look at frogs, study frogs and then sculpt them in clay which ultimately ends up in bronze.
Her sculptures of the wet, green wiggly things have entranced many art collectors across the nation, and every day she gets a few more admirers.
And it wasn't like she lived on a farm and had a long time family pond from which to draw inspiration either. No way. As a girl her family moved from place to place. In fact she says she was born in Provo but never really lived there. She spent time as a kid in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.
But her tall green friend followed her around and as he did she began to play first with soap then she turned to clay.
"My mother used to go crazy because I would carve up every bar of soap in the house," she says. "But then my mom was also great to let me be creative and make messes."
Chamberlain said she would carve on anything she could find, apparently having a sculptors disposition from the beginning.
But art, as it was structured in school was never her thing.
"I failed at art in school, getting mostly D grades," she states. "In fact when I went to Snow College I got a D in the only art class I took."
Despite the fact she loved to sculpt and carve she majored in special education in college and then got married.
"I continued to sculpt between the diapers and the lunches," she says. "I didn't think about making it a full time thing until I got divorced and suddenly I decided that it would be a way to make a living."
|Lisa Chamberlain working on an unnamed piece of frog art in her studio. It potrays two frogs carrying a human baby. "The name of this piece just hasn't come to me yet," she says as she sculpts.|
That was in 2000 and she looked for somewhere rural to move. As she looked she found Helper thinking it would be a great place to live and work and not even realizing there was an art community there.
"I was drawn to the place, but I had no idea there were all these people here who were doing art. I only realized that after I came here."
As for the many renditions she has created that look like and even seem to act like frogs she has no clear explanation.
"There is no perfect answer to it," she states. "They are symbolic to me. I think they are messengers because they are very simple creatures."
One would think after years of watching and holding frogs as a child she would be tired of them.
But that doesn't mean she can't do sculptures that have to do with people. In fact the frogs are often partially human in image.
"When I do something that is realistic, I call it a strait shot," she said as she looked at a sculpture of a man and a little girl that she has created. "I think that this is a representation of the outside world, so it is a strait shot. My other work is more whimsical and symbolic. It is about the world inside of us."
She says the whimsical is the way she gets her inner feelings out.
|"Haven" is a portrayal of a real man with a real child. A "strait shot" as Chamberlain sees it.|
But her frogs are generally not purely frog. They have another quality about them. Sometimes human, sometimes a combination of the human form and other animals as well.
"I have to use those other characteristics to have my frogs doing what they are doing," she says. "I like all animals."
While her work may seem wild to some, she says that all her sculptures are really about the human condition.
Sometimes whimsical doesn't mean frogs or animals either. Sometimes it means other things. One prominent piece in her studio is titled "Jam." Looking at the piece some could get visions of heaven, and for others maybe visions of hell. The piece has a carved base, that is base like, with arms, feet and various other things sticking out of it. One hand has a stack of colored buttons, just balanced perfectly on it; but the imagery is that they are ready to topple over. Another holds a light bulb above the entire piece, giving it light. Two legs with feet stab out of the top of it as if someone had dived into the base looking for something.
"I took this to the hospital to show it to my father who was in there for awhile so he could see it," says Chamberlain. "It took on a whole new meaning there with arms and legs sticking out of it."
She says she thinks it would be the perfect sculpture for a psychiatrists waiting room.
Nutty, maybe. But in some ways it reverts the mind back to the psychedelic days of the 1960s. As with her other work it draws the viewer into the detail.
And when one looks at it there is a frog there too. Its face is on the base.
"I couldn't resist putting that there," she said as she pointed it out.
Chamberlain's many pieces of whimsical art and some not so whimsical, are spread across the land. She has or has had pieces in galleries in Utah, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and even as far away as Maine.
"I know it is not art everyone appreciates, but it is a niche that I think I fill."
And the frogs don't seem to mind either.