If there’s a current that runs through the career of metal sculptor Linda Leviton it’s that she seeks harmony in the combination of opposites. From her early days as a graphic designer to her present, well-established career as a professional artist with hundreds of national commissions, collections, and awards under her belt, Leviton has created works where visual tension resolves into a harmonious whole.
Like the pieces she creates, Leviton’s career reflects a unique harmony between seemingly disparate elements: practicality and passion, science and art, intent and adaptability. Walking this tightrope of contradiction is a skill she’s practiced since her earliest days, one that she’s embraced in her work and used to her advantage in creating her dynamic metal sculptures.
Leviton has been successfully making art for more than 25 years, but it took more than a little patience to get where she is today.
She earned a graphic design degree in college because she knew it would give her career options after graduation, but her desire to work as a professional artist was always there, a realization confirmed at her first job out of school. “I was working for a medical supply company, and they asked me to design artwork for the new corporate headquarters that would be made from their products,” Leviton recalls. “I sourced all sorts of medical glassware and other materials from the company’s warehouse and handed the design over to an artist to fabricate. But I realized at that moment that I wanted to be the one making the piece. I just thought: this is what I want to do.”
It would be eighteen years before Leviton could leave her graphic design career behind. She took a class in quilt making but soon found herself wanting to make the fabric both hard and more dimensional. She learned metalworking techniques such as welding, brazing, and shaping with hammers and metal brakes, and began creating copper quilts from recycled copper roofing.
She also began experimenting with surfaces, patterning, painting, and etching the metal to achieve various effects. “I knew enough to be dangerous,” Leviton laughs of this time. “I knew enough to work with the material, but I wasn’t constrained by the notion of what you were supposed to do with metal.” She worked in non-ferrous metals, which were both lighter and less dirty to work with than steel or iron. Her quilt-derived metal sculptures—and career—grew from there.
When she was finally able to make the transition to full-time artist, she developed further innovations for her work that were both practical and adaptable. “I began working as an artist in the basement of our house and had to bring my pieces up through a narrow stairway, so I fabricated modules that I could later assemble into larger pieces.”
“No one else at the time was making metal art quilts or metal compositions like mine,” Leviton notes. “My pieces started out flat, with small squares riveted together to make pieces that were up to 4′ x 4′ and could be hung like a canvas.” She entered one of her copper quilts in a show sponsored by the Surface Art Quilt Associates and was introduced to the American Craft Council and its national shows shortly thereafter. “I didn’t even know art consultants existed!” recalls Leviton, “but I started getting requests from them to create larger pieces. They’d ask me to mock up a piece and send them an estimate, and thanks to my background and experience in graphic design, that was easy for me to do. I was used to customizing work based on a client’s requests and needs. I knew how to develop a project budget and execute a piece within an agreed-upon deadline and price.”
Requests for larger pieces of art drove Leviton to investigate new materials and techniques for her work, which today include colorful copper, brass, and stainless steel quilts and etched panels over undulating wood frames; organic, laser-cut wood wall pieces; and three-dimensional wire sculpture. Commissions she has completed include projects for major hospitals across the United States, Shell Oil, Kaiser Permanente, Michigan State University, Wells Fargo, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She has also created more intimate pieces for private residences and places of worship.
The Client Relationship
Most of Leviton’s work comes through professional relationships developed with art consultants, architects, and designers, and is designed for interior public, corporate, and residential spaces.
She encourages potential clients to look at her website for inspiration for their own projects and often sends photos for reference as needed.
With direction from a client on preferences, Leviton develops layouts and color options to meet their budget. “I try to gauge budget early because statements like ‘not a big-budget’ can mean different things to different people. I may not be able to make the piece a client wants in the material they want, but I have many options at my disposal to make a project work within a budget.” The system of modules Leviton developed early in her career, for example, continues to be used in much of her work today and provides great flexibility to clients in terms of design, budget, and installation considerations. Once a client accepts a design, she sends metal and color samples and photos of the piece as it’s being created. “I don’t like surprising my clients,” Leviton says, “and this documentation helps them understand how the final piece will look in their space.”
Modular pieces can be scaled up to 40′ for larger spaces and may be hung vertically or horizontally. Colorful, etched patterns are inspired by nature, but can also have an architectural or graphic feel. “My pieces are designed to activate their space as well as the negative space around them,” Leviton explains. “Patterns provide visually stimulating content that’s not tied to one particular meaning or interpretation.”
Leviton also creates pieces to commemorate events and donors—such as the donor wall created for Ernst & Young and the timeline for the U.S. Army Medical Research Facility in Aberdeen, Maryland. She encourages her clients to make these pieces beautiful as well as functional. “Donor walls are rarely artistic,” she notes. “I think that if you’re going to display it in your space for years to come, it might as well ‘read’ as a piece of art. I have the graphic design skill to handle text and the artistic know-how to make a donor wall or a corporate history a work of wall sculpture.”
The goal with any piece, Leviton says, is to make both her client and herself happy. “I just like making things,” she says. “Creating art is my happy place. I constantly see images in my head and I see how these disparate images can fit together. Creating something new from these images is what gives me joy. I’ve stuck with this passion for making things and have found a way to make a living as an artist by sharing my vision with my clients.”