Zina Burloiu is a Romanian sculptor and a brilliant exponent of this ancient art. She has been recognised as one of the best woodcarvers in the world and her works can be found in prestigious museums as well as in exquisite private collections. You might expect an artist of her calibre to be somewhat remote, but she is not like that at all: Zina is profound and sophisticated in her work, yet, very simple, grounded and humble. That’s why I want you to meet her, here, in OZB Magazine.

By Anda Ene

“I fell in love with the trees… Very few people are prepared to devote their lives to a craft, but that is what it takes.” – Zina Burloiu- Romanian woodcarver

Since ancient times Romanians have maintained a strong connection with pre-Christian symbolism, rites and rituals. On days of celebration, also in everyday life, our ancestors wore clothes on which were sewn ancient arcane symbols. Some of these symbols we have them carved in wood, in plain sight or in hidden parts of houses, on gates, on decorative and household items. It was believed (and still is), that they have the power to avert evil, while others, on the contrary, attract abundance, health, fertility, harmony and other good wishes. These ancient symbols are still to be found aplenty in the work of Romanian artisans and artists.

Zina Burloiu is a Romanian sculptor and a brilliant exponent of this ancient art. She has been recognised as one of the best woodcarvers in the world and her works can be found in prestigious museums as well as in exquisite private collections. You might expect an artist of her calibre to be somewhat remote, but she is not like that at all: Zina is profound and sophisticated in her work, yet, very simple, grounded and humble. That’s why I want you to meet her, here, in OZB Magazine.

  1. Zina,  how did everything start for you? Did you find your talent or did your talent find you?

I could say it was both. I was born and I grew up in a small village with all these traditions. When I was little I ate with wooden spoons and wore traditional clothes, as did almost every little girl in the village at that time. I was taught by my mother to sew symbols on clothes or other fabrics, both useful and decorative pieces. I also learned to weave and spin wool.

My father was so in love with the forest and he used to take me there for long walks and teach me a lot about trees. I can say that I enjoyed all the things I did with my mother, but most of all I fell in love with the trees. I started playing with wood and decorating the bark of the green branches with repetitive geometrical motifs like the ones I used to see on household items. Later, I started shaping the wood and creating different objects. All of this ended when I was thirteen and I left my village to go to high school, but the seeds for everything I am now were already planted in my childhood.

At the age of twenty I went to Brașov to attend university. In Brașov I heard about Nicolae Purcărea, maybe one of the best known traditional wood carvers at that time. I saw a few photos of his work and I went to see him. I immediately fell in love with wood carving all over again and that was when I started my carving career. It has been a long journey, from very traditional to neo-traditional, and now more creative, but still with a traditional touch.

  1.    So you draw your inspiration mainly from traditional wood carving art and nature… from where else?

For a long time I used to be inspired by traditional objects, paying attention to the form, which in these pieces was heavily influenced by utility. As my work evolved I started to find inspiration in everything. I had mastered traditional work, but that was not enough. I didn’t want to be stuck with the same every day. Eventually I went to the School for Popular Arts and studied sculpture. During this time I really developed an appreciation for the work of Brâncuși, who also had traditional roots and was influenced by peasant designs.

3.  Can you briefly describe how you create your objects, from concept to execution?

It is a complex process and it varies. Sometimes it starts with the shape, or even a single word or a theme triggers my imagination. Sometimes the decoration leads me on another journey that I love to explore. There are ideas all around us if only we can see them – like a child sees the world. I look at the stars, or a pattern of clouds in the sky. I see the curl of a leaf, or the veins in an insect’s wings.

 

 

But most of the time I start with the form. Maybe I trained myself in this direction through making traditional art, because the shape of the object is always the first consideration. The decorations, signs and symbols, come second.

  1. What is behind these signs and symbols? Your artwork has incorporated the power of sacred geometry or is it too much to assume that? 

Yes, even in my new work I use these signs and symbols, and sometimes I reinterpret them or I challenge what people perceive as the stylistic rules of the traditional decorations, such as symmetry, repetition and rhythm.

One of the most used motifs is the simple triangle called the wolf’s tooth, inherited from our ancestors, the Dacians. This motif it is often used to create other more complex motifs.

I also use the zigzag pattern known also as hora, which is a traditional dance. There are so many meanings given to this motif. It is a dynamic pattern and it expresses joy, pain and the challenges of life.

A universal motif that I often use is the rosette, the symbol of the sun. It has many different geometrical variations and it expresses life, light, fertility, richness.

Another is the rhombus, a geometrical representation of the egg. It expresses fertility, birth, death and life. The egg is the symbol used by Brâncuși in The Endless Column.

I sometimes use zoomorphic motifs such as the snake or the rooster, symbols of protection, or the fish, the symbol of Christianity. I also use the bird as a symbol of the soul. Another motif is connected with the tree of life, which is present in many traditional customs such as baptisms, weddings and burials.

5. Are you preparing anybody to carry on your craftsmanship, to pass on the tradition, as a “call of duty”?

I have been teaching quite a lot. I don’t see it as a duty, but because I love doing it. But I have to say that it is very hard for a young person to do this for a living, or even to keep doing it in their free time. It requires a lot of things – space, tools, wood, and most of all, hard work. When people watch me they think, “Oh that looks easy”, but it only seems easy for me because I have spent tens of thousands of hours doing it. Very few people are prepared to devote their lives to a craft, but that is what it takes. If a new young Zina Burloiu found me, it would give me the greatest pleasure to mentor her, but I have not found her yet.

 

 

Zina Burloiu travels all over the world with her work, but one can sometimes meet her on feast days at The Peasant Museum or The Village Museum.

 

Anda Ene is a coach, entrepreneur and owner of The Romanian Blouse. This is a project dedicated to promoting the most talented Romanian artisans, to help them carry on their traditional crafts into the future.

www.romanian-blouse.com

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