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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

A 3-D Illustrated Story

"Sculpture isn't a thing you set out to do and succeed in. It's a thing that gets at you; it nags you and haunts you, so you have to come to terms with it sooner or later. Then, you have some peace for a bit until the whole thing starts over again." Agatha Christie, Artist Francine Kavanaugh's sculpture occupies large and small spaces. Each one embodies an illustrated story, a moment captured in time so subtle no one first notices. With a glance, an intriguing object snatches your attention, and you lean in to discover its secret.

Francine came to form during this time in Spencer, Iowa. She states, "My life has always had art in it. Growing up, my mother painted in watercolors on silk and decoupaged collections of images that would have you gazing through the piece for hours." Francine's mom ensured her young daughter developed a rich appreciation for the beauty in all things. As a young adult, Francine recalls working in macrame, decoupage, oil paint, clay, and jewelry. She says, "No matter what medium I was exploring, the one thing I repeatedly returned to was a type of fiber or metal artwork.

When Francine was 6, her mom and grandmother moved to Phoenix due to Francine's trouble with rheumatic fever and asthma. The thought was a warm, dry climate would benefit Francine’s health. Her mom and grandmother opened a Hasty Tasty at McDowell and 15th Avenue in Phoenix. Francine attended Franklin School, then Saint Gregory's for grade school, and Xavier for High School. Francine was interested in nursing at the time, so she enrolled in classes at Phoenix College with that goal in mind. Along the way, she met her husband, married, and became a mom to three children.

At one point, Francine worked as the store manager at Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix. "I have always been drawn to Native American traditions. I find their art forms inseparable from their spiritual beliefs and love of the land." As a result, she decided to deepen her understanding of both. Francine enrolled in classes in Navajo weaving in Tempe, Arizona, which led her to attend classes with Jenny Slick and Emily Malone on the Navajo Nation.

Through her interest in weaving, Francine was introduced to Native jewelry making. Her curiosity brought her into contact with fragile metal forms; this was her first introduction to the world of metalwork, which was a new challenge. At age 70, Francine picked up a torch and began learning to create beauty out of steel. She describes it as "I am fascinated by how fire could make a hard element pliable enough to be reshaped into a new form." Today, her bronze animals exemplify Francine's dedication to capturing the feeling or attitude expressed through the connection to Mother Nature.

"I am fascinated by how fire could make a hard element pliable enough to be reshaped into a new form."

Francine's workspace is a portion of her garage where she has set up a welding area that houses the MIG welder, her acetylene torches, a plasma cutter, and all the other tools necessary to work in metal. She admits that during the summer, she has a small studio in her home where she works on her clay sculptures out of the heat. She describes her inspiration as "Any idea or thought that grabs my attention; examples may be baby birds in a nest waiting for dinner, seeing a deer stroll across her backyard, or any other wildlife that may walk, run, scamper, or slither across my path while walking my dog.”

Sculptor Francine Kavanaugh lives in Gilbert, Arizona. She is a juried member of the Sonoran Art League. Her sculptures are sought after by individuals for private collections in Arizona, Washington, Alaska, and Canada. Items for purchase are at The Store at Mesa Art Center, The Finer Arts Gallery in Cave Creek, Arizona, The November Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour the last two weekends of November, and On the Edge Gallery in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. She has exhibited at the Shemer Arizona Arts Festival, the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. In Francine Kavanaugh's world, "What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye: Passion, Perseverance, and a Goal a Day."


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