First published on Africa Geographic’s Blog
Imagine a childhood dream of a ferocious lion on your heels, ready to pounce. Would you keep running away forever? Or one day turn around to face your fears?
I interviewed American sculptress Rosetta to find out how she fought her recurring nightmares of big cats, and how this has spawned her love for dancing cheetahs and has driven her passion as an artist ever since…
Q: How did you first get ‘in touch’ with wildlife?
I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood on the east coast of the US where there was actually no wildlife at all. My family didn’t travel much and my father had spent his youth with the hardships of life on a ranch. He had no interest whatsoever in taking me camping or fishing, although I often begged. My pursuit of wildlife was relegated to searching for a glimpse of deer whenever we were near a wooded area.
Q: Despite this healthy curiosity, as a child you started having nightmares about being stalked by big cats. With time this fear transformed into a heartfelt passion and deep admiration for these animals. What triggered this fascinating evolvement?
I have no idea where the nightmares came from, but they were persistent. A big cat was pursuing me and it kept coming no matter how many doors I closed behind me. The transition from terrifying to gratifying came one night when, in the middle of that recurring dream, I said to myself: ‘This has gone on for too long!’ I went into the room where the cat was and made friends with him. I never had that nightmare again.
Q: And after that you began experiencing dreams filled with wonder instead.
Yes, and that is equally mysterious to me. I remember one dream in particular. I was in the house and looked out at a picnic table when I saw two cheetahs … they stood up on their hind legs and started dancing! I continued dreaming about big cats, mostly about encounters with them in the wild, thrilled at the sighting but wary and aware that they were wild and unpredictable and worthy of a healthy respect.
Q: This fascination has fuelled your passion as an artist ever since. You describe your sculptures as hard-edged yet soft, sensitive yet powerful, with elements of grace, power and nobility. What has inspired this style of ‘Interpretive Realism’ as you coin it?
During my first career as a graphic designer I spent 20 years developing an appreciation for graceful, complex flowing lines. I learned to eliminate all but the most essential shapes and forms from an image, retaining the essence of the subject. For me, this all easily translated into three dimensions. When I started sculpting I had not spent much time observing wildlife but my feelings for the animals, especially the big cats, were so strong that there was no question about them becoming my prime subjects.
Q: Is there a sculpture and subject you feel especially fond of, one to which you perhaps have a deep emotional connection?
On my fifth trip to Africa in 2012, I enjoyed watching a cheetah mother and her three cubs resting in the tall grass in Kenya. Our patience paid off when mom got up, sauntered over to a large termite mound and jumped on top, followed by her young. We were treated to quite a show as she tried to concentrate on finding dinner while all the kids wanted to do was play. Upon returning home I couldn’t resist doing a sculpture to immortalise the experience in bronze.
Q: Which have been your favourite destinations in the wild and what do you enjoy most about travelling?
When my parents both died in 1999 and I found myself with a small inheritance, I decided I was going to use it to go to Africa. I had no passport and no idea how to travel overseas, but I was determined to go. Since that first trip, I have fallen in love with the experience of being in the African wild, amongst its animals. I have been on safari in Zambia, Botswana, Kenya and northern and southern Tanzania. All have been special in their own way, but I think my favourite so far has been the Serengeti – in tents, not lodges.
Q: Imagine yourself falling asleep in your bed at home and waking up somewhere in the wild – where would that place be and which of the big cats would be at your side?
The place would be the African savanna, under the shade of an acacia tree. The cat would be a female cheetah that had decided to bring her cubs to meet this strange human animal … one who wanted nothing more than to be accepted into their world as a friend.
As a full-time sculptress, Rosetta has completed corporate, public and private commissions, has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally and has also received numerous awards for her work: ‘I don’t consider creating sculptures to be part of my job. They have always been something I have done for the pure joy of it.’ To experience the world of Rosetta’s sculptures, visit http://www.rosettasculpture.com