Portrait of a Creative: Edite Cunha

This week I interviewed my friend Edite Cunha.  Edite is a creative who sees the world a little differently, and doesn’t quite fit into any box.  She is a thought leader who positively influences people through her writing, visual, and performance art.  She spreads beauty and life wherever she goes!

Her most recent sculpture was included in the community art exhibit hosted by Exploded View.  The Catch & Release exhibit will be installed at the Great Hall at the Discovery Center in Turners until May 29th. It’s open Weds-Sunday, 10AM – 5 PM

Here is the interview I did with her Weds while  tagging along on her mission to buy some goat’s milk and eggs at a farm out in Montague.

Q: Is there an artwork that you’re most proud of and why?

Edite:  The last thing,  because that’s what I’ve been most engaged with just now.  I just had to transport her today from the Catch and Release show at the Discovery center back to my garden.

Shad Sister/Cutlery Girl Sculpture by Edite

I’m probably going to use her again at another venue in Shelburne Falls on June 10th outside at the Potholes.  This question reminds me a lot of one of my favorite authors; Toni Morrison.  When people ask her which of her books is her favorite, she always replies with the most recent one.

Q: What inspired this piece?

Edite: I started out  building a sculpture with things that I found  in the river, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I was thinking that it was going to be a fish and all of these different thoughts. Then I started reading about the history of the Cutlery. The inspiration for this piece came from reading about the industry in Turners Falls, particularly the Cutlery .  It was just an amazing structure.  It was massive, and employed hundreds and hundreds of people; including children. The librarian found some old photos of very young girls (around 11 years old) who worked at the Cutlery, so it, and the people who worked in it became a very central part of my piece. Those girls photos were very haunting to me, and I merged them all into one girl in my imagination.

John Russell (the owner of the cutlery) was one of the people who developed the town of Turners, along with Alvah Crocker. They also built the dam to hold back the water and channel it into the power canal they were building. The dam presented a challenge for the Shad because they couldn’t get over it and continue their journey (which they have no choice about).  They have to go back to where they were hatched to spawn. So Somehow those two merged. The young girl and the Shad roe.

I had a vision of this girl, and in it I saw her turning her back to the river as if not wanting anything to do with it,  because she had to spend six out of seven days surrounded the water in that huge factory.  On Sunday her brothers would tease her to come to the river because it was cooler, and the fish were running, but she wanted nothing to do with it, because that was her one day to be away from it.  So I just went with that, because it was such a strong feeling in me.   All of the words for my piece came from that vision, which came to me after I had been reading the history books and looking at old photos.

Q: What inspires you to create in general?

The first thing that comes to mind is feeling well because for long periods in my life I felt very unwell.  I kept on creating when I wasn’t healthy, but not to the extent that  I’m able to do now.  While I consider myself primarily a writer, I also avoid my writing.  I find that when I combine visual art with my words, that’s when I get really inspired.

I used to do these shows demonstrating how I make some of my mosaics, and people would watch because they were fascinated by the process.  I used to break china and use what I broke for my pieces.  People would come and tell me stories as I worked.  These stories inspired me, so I started to collect them and share them on my website.  Sharing the stories is as important as feeling well is to my creative process.  These are what really inspire me!  There is so much that is potent in people’s stories and experiences, and in being able to express them. Some would tell me their stories in a way that felt really fresh.  It surprised them when I would react to their story, and comment about how marvelous and brilliant it was.  They just thought they were sharing this one crazy little thing that happened.  They didn’t hear what I was hearing with my writer’s ears though.

Q: What is the most important tool in your studio?

Edite: I think it’s in my body. I think my brain is my most important tool.  Brain and heart.  I”m so eclectic in the things that I make, and so multimedia that the tools might change from week to week.  If I have to pick one or two items, I would have to say one of them my computer. because of my writing.and all the research I use it for, the other is my drill.  I bought myself a small cordless drill and I love it. I use it to work on my sculptures, as well as many other projects.

A glimpse inside Edite’s studio

Q:  How did you start making art and why?

Edite: I think we all start making things in order to save ourselves in some way.  At least that’s true for me, and I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of artists and writers talking, and they often say that in different ways. One feels compelled.  They have to create.  It’s  a way of being alive and vital.

This mosaic piece is called “Our lady of smart cookies”

Q: How do you know when a piece is finished?

Edite:  That’s a great question, and a hard one. You know, I think you have to listen to the piece somehow.  There’s a certain kind of listening and awareness, being connected with it, and you kind of just know. This is true with writing as well for me.  Even though I’m addicted to revising and revising, there is a point at which I go-I can’t mess with this anymore, it’s telling me not to.

With a piece like Shad Sister/ Cutlery Girl, it’s something different, however.  that’s piece that can keep evolving.  I imagine that there will be a time when it says “I’m cooked, don’t mess with me anymore”, but I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.  It feels to me like a piece that keeps evolving and transforms itself depending on what the needs of the venue are.

If it’s a painting or another kind of sculpture like some of my little shrine sculptures, then those definitely have a point at which they are done.  It’s kind of a mystical thing.   If you aren’t tuned in that way, and you’re not listening to your work, then you can easily over do it.  Hopefully you can undo what you did at that point, and often you can.   I find myself not worrying so much about that.  Maybe I’ve gotten to a point where it’s become intuitive, and I don’t feel like I have to worry about it anymore.  I just know that I haven’t worried about it for quite some time.

Q: Is there something about you that when they first meet you, they miss.  Something that you wish they knew?

Edite: It might be something about spirituality.  A lot of my work is based in the church.  The roots of it are in my exposure to the Catholic church, which I have a lot of trouble with. I use a lot of the iconography in an ironic way.   If you go up to my bathroom, it’s full of virgins, all of these religious objects that I’ve collected.  I call it “the ladies room”.  People who don’t know me will come and ask if I’m religious.  I’m not religious for the record,  but I am deeply spiritual.  I don’t know if I wish they knew that about me, because anyone who is important enough will eventually know.

This is part of the performance art Edite did at the opening to Catch &  Release:


If you want to see more of Edite live and in person, she will be using her sculpture for another exhibit and opening performance in Shelburne Falls near the potholes on June 10 @ 4 pm.  It’s so worth the trip up the trail to see it!

Oh, and just one more thing.  The fish in the Connecticut river are running now, and the viewing area of the fish ladder in Turners is open now from Weds- Sunday 9-5 until June 18th.  (Yes including Memorial day!)