Marianne Weinberg-Benson, a professional sculptor with experience in permanent monumental public art projects, opens her home as a tour de force of her cerebral élan. Specializing in realistic bas-relief carved brick sculptures, abstract and representational ceramic and glass mosaics, her own work is co- mingled with local treasures and those of faraway worlds. Constantly curating, Weinberg-Benson never shies away from making a statement. “Over a span of 10 years, I developed the photography and ceramic programs at the Chastain Arts Center. In 2018, at its 50th anniversary, I was the only living full-time instructor.” At home in Vinings with cat Sissy, she peels away the layers of life’s chapters that contemplate the meaning of art and initiation of its conversations.
Jaffe: Share some back story on how you came to your art?
Weinberg-Benson: My father was an Atlanta cardiologist, which was my motivation for designing the public art at the Medical Center MARTA station “Healing Line of Light,” a tribute to him and the invisible sense of healing in medicine.
We lived off Peachtree Battle. At age 6, I began working at Olga Heatley’s clay studio in Buckhead. Fast forward to age 42, when I went back to the University of Georgia to get a masters in ceramics. It was not easy studying for the GRE at that age!
Jaffe: Who are the inspirations that impacted your creative development?
Weinberg-Benson: I would break it down this way. My University of Florida undergraduate photography professor Jerry Uelsmann influenced me to the extent that I changed my major. I have his original black and white photograph, which later was used for the Bon Jovi album cover. He was extremely talented and the first to manipulate a photograph in the dark room.
Charles Counts was a mentor. He shipped the wonderful pottery by Ladi Kwali in the master bedroom as a wedding gift from Nigeria.
The late Polly Harrison was my dear friend. She was known for her use of recycled materials like the sculpture upstairs constructed from old cellulose acetate movie film. Her work, as is mine, resides in the permanent collection at the Atlanta High Museum of Art.
Jaffe: What has been your role on the Atlanta public art scene?
Weinberg-Benson: I did a permanent sculpture commissioned by the Fulton County Arts Council for the Robert E. Fulton Library in Alpharetta. Two monumental brick sculptures are life-sized figures carved from wet industrial brick in bas-relief, each in repose under “From Reading To Writing under the Tree of Knowledge.”
As part of a team, I won a regional competition to create a historical sculpture at the Ben Hill Recreation Center for the City of Atlanta, incorporating carved brick, stainless steel, fiber optic lighting and landscaping. It won an Atlanta Urban Design Commission Award of Excellence in public art.
For the Southwest Arts Center I did two columns – a ballerina and African drummer, also in carved brick.
My late husband encouraged me to keep an assortment of my work in phases, which was later shown as a retrospective at the LaGrange art museum.
Jaffe: What are some of your most treasured works at home?
Weinberg-Benson: I sculpted these 10 tall white organic porcelain columns, “Clay People” (1990), in the dining room, reflecting the personalities of my fellow graduate school classmates.
Perhaps I am best known for sand-blasted pottery, where the process opens the pores of the glaze and allows me to freely draw on the surface. The piece in the dining room, “Head Trip,” is from my “Chess Set” [series] where half were cobalt blue and the opponents were white. Blue is a best seller (laughing). Every artist must have her ‘blues.’ Each piece reflected psychological games people play.
Then there’s my bust of a gentleman thinking about his life in Africa by the fireplace.
In the master bedroom is my piece “Is There a Dragon in Your Marriage?” (Cracked Liberty Bell Series.)
I have done teapots and have teapots by others. They are fun to create and a challenge to do well since there are so many different elements.
I have two super-sized acrylic paintings from decades ago. The layered alabaster one upstairs garners a lot of comments.
Jaffe: Describe your techniques.
Weinberg-Benson: I developed ceramic cloisonné, sandblasting a glazed surface, rubbing powered pigment, then drawing onto a porcelain tile to create a multi-dimensional process.
Beginning the creative process for a public space, I reflect on what’s happening in the community, who will be enjoying it, and what’s happening inside the building.
Jaffe: What are some of the most unusual works of others that you collect?
Weinberg-Benson: I have several Moulthrop wood bowls. I had a close relationship with two of the three generations: Phil and Ed, and own work by all, including Matt, who specialized in native Southeast wood.
The stained glass panel in the master bedroom (Frank Garrett), “Four Seasons,” which arrived broken from England and was repaired by monks in the Conyers monastery.
In the dining room is a digital photograph “Small Storm” by Maggie Taylor, and a burgundy charger by Steve Joplin, Janis Joplin’s brother. I also have a Ben Smith painting “Boardwalk Fortune Teller,” which is on the rare side since he is known for his woodcuts.
The early frosted glass piece by Ginny Ruffner is pretty special.
I treasure the cheery bird in front of her Vinings home by folk artist Nellie Mae Row (mixed media – crayons and paper in layers). I have an unusual Noah’s ark lamp done by Chris Moses.
Jaffe: What’s next for you?
Weinberg-Benson: I pick and choose my projects at this point. My primary focus is mentoring a young artist who has had success in getting into the public art domain. I am proud of that.
As has been for most of my life, travel is my passion. Soon I’m off for a seven-week European jaunt.
And … I never stop collecting!