Teresa Moorehouse

A woman in an enclosed, womblike space looks up, measuringly, at the ceiling above her head. Her left hand faces the viewer in a fingers-played gesture of”Wait!” The fingers of her upraised right hand poke tentatively at the barrier above her head. Outside is the sun she will discover when she breaks through, and there’s no doubt that she will be emerging, transformed, from this cocoon-like space.

“I have taken my ideas of what is and rearranged them many times,” Teresa Moorehouse writes of this image she calls “Changing Our Perception.” “Let’s go, there is only a small window of opportunity.”

In her just-published Soul Stories: Narrative Sculpture, (Larson Publications, $24.95) Moorehouse has added the story-behind-the-image to her richly-detailed bas relief sculptures. Sculpture has always been her medium for self-understanding, finding words, images, “and trying to figure out the story I was currently living,” she said. “I didn’t think of myself as a writer, I thought of myself as being able to recognize, after I finished the sculpture, what I was going through. Then I sort of got the interior instruction that whenever you figure something out for yourself, you’re to share that with others.

“I had a 13 year-old girl looking at my work with her mother and aunt. She looked at one that has open doors and a fire just inside the first door, and said, ‘I really want to go in there, but I don’t want to go through the fire!’ Then the other women said together, ‘You’ve got to go through the fire, honey.’”

Moorehouse’s daughter, Isadora Leidenfrost, noticed women frequently weep when they see her mother’s work. Moorehouse lives a nomadic life, participating in about 35 fine arts exhibits each year, criss-crossing the country with a truck and RV. She says the connection women feel to her art is an important indication she’s tapped into shared experience. “When you’re speaking of something at a deep level inside you, you’re speaking to the soul,” she said.

Born in Canandaigua, Moorehouse began sculpting early. “Since I was three, [I] literally picked up the clay out of the earth. I was always more interested in making things than playing with others.”

She studied with a variety of teachers at Buffalo State University, the Art Students League, and Cooper Union in New York City, at Cornell University with Jason Seeley, a few of whose whose sculptures of welded chrome automobile bumpers may be seen on campus. Seeley told her, “Why don’t you just get out of school and open your own studio?” She did. 

While her daughter was young, she channeled her creativity into motherhood. Later she returned to serious sculpting. Struggles with weight and “the constant yoyo between heavy and lighter,” became works like “The Dance of the Body Image.” She experimented with many different materials but now works almost exclusively in cast bronze. Even after she began a gypsy journey between exhibit venues, the Ithaca area remained her home base, the place she would return for studio work and reconnection with family. 

These days, “I have a studio in Jupiter, Florida,” she said. “I don’t have a house. I’m only interested in working. That’s where I create new work, make molds and cast. I don’t finish there, but load up my truck with display stuff and stuff to work on. For the past 10 years, I’m showing, working or driving. I’m on the road full-time.”

About 20 years ago, while working at Cornell University, Moorehouse became close friends with three other women. Although their paths have scattered them, the four, plus Moorehouse’s daughter Isadora, get together each year for a reunion they call a “Board Meeting,” to reassess their lives and encourage each other. Her “board” insisted that she put the book together. “They said it would reach more people than the ones who just come to art shows, and it was important for me to do that,” she said. “We’ve really pushed each other way past where any of us would go on their own. They would never let up on the book.” 

Moorehouse is signing her book and displaying artwork at Leidenfrost Vineyards in Hector, Sunday, August 18 beginning at 6 p.m. The book will be available at Handwork and Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, as well as from Larson Publications (larsonpublications.com) and online retailers.

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