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Young Sanibel artist shows depth of feeling in work that belies her youth

By Staff | Jul 29, 2011

Leila Walker and her Broken Promises sculpture

When Leila Walker started making dolls out of fabric as a kid, she had no idea it would lead her to sculpting. She started her college career as a drawing major at Florida International University in Miami, but found more of an interest in constructing than drawing.

“I’m better at hands-on work,” she said.

This young Sanibel artist has already experienced what every artist dreams of selling her work. She sold three of her four life-size pieces created for her college thesis during BIG Arts 2009 Biennial Sculptors Exhibit in which she took first place for her Hollow Victory sculpture.

“I felt successful,” she said of selling the pieces that she nearly threw in the trash. “It was awesome to win, too.”

While she creates each piece for herself, she finds a way to relate them to others. Her wire wrapped sculptures are power packed with materials and symbolism, while leaving space for her to insert a hand-written poem on canvas or dried flowers, pebbles, a broken mirror all clues to the depth of feeling she explores while creating her pieces with hemp, wire and string.

Leila Walker's Tug of War sculpture series at Watson MacRae Gallery in The Village Shops

“It puts the reflection on them and it’s not about me anymore,” she explained.

Leila may be a young Sanibel artist, but she is far from the proverbial starving artist. For nearly two years, she has been working in the Watson MacRae Gallery, located in The Village Shops along Periwinkle Way. Her favorite parts of the job are meeting the artists with work on display there and others getting to see her work. She currently has three pieces on display in the gallery the Tug of War series and Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams.

“It takes me out of the small box and into the world of art,” she said of working in the small unique gallery that sells exceptional fine art and unusual jewelry, ceramics and glass.

Interestingly, scale does not seem to hinder the effectiveness of her work. Her small figures are as strong as the life-size, the large as insightful as the small. But all are created with the same passion, attention to detail and care. Already in her short career Leila has won several awards, including the President’s Education Award in 2004, first place in the Rauschenberg Gallery Student Exhibit in 2006 and the 2009 BIG Arts juried sculpture exhibit.

When asked which artist she admired most, she couldn’t narrow it down to just one. On her list are Helen Frankenthaler, an American abstract expressionist painter; Kiki Smith, best known as an American sculptor classified as a feminist artist; Deborah Butterfield, an American sculptor known for creating horses out of objects like metal and wood; and George Segal, an actor who inspired her turn pieces into a story.

As for her future plans, she will be taking it one step at a time. But for her immediate future plans, she will be traveling to California for a couple of weeks and then to the Big Apple for a month, where she will immerse herself in the world of art.

“I love it,” she said of creating art. “It is how I express myself.”