Family, loss and the firing of imagination

  • Inspired masterpiece: future Masterworks “visiting artist” Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Inspired masterpiece: future Masterworks “visiting artist” Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda-inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda-inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Sculptor Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Sculptor Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda-inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Sandra Vlock with one of her Bermuda-inspired metal fire screens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • A metal fire screen by Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    A metal fire screen by Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Artist Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Artist Sandra Vlock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


Sculptor Sandra Vlock has been vacationing on the island, on and off, for 40 years.

But it wasn’t until her brother, Michael Vlock, built a house in Tucker’s Town in 2010 that she really got to know the community.

“Over the last several years I have really invested myself in getting to know the community, not only enjoying my family and friends,” the Branford, Connecticut resident said. “That was extraordinary for me. I have met some great people. It seems very easy, in some ways, to step into a different experience.”

On the day The Royal Gazette spoke with her, she had morning coffee with local artist Graham Foster. “Art is not a solitary experience,” she said. “There’s lots of collaboration in it.”

She will be holding a coffee morning at Masterworks on Saturday to talk about her metalwork, and in October, will be holding an exhibition at the Paget art museum. The show will feature several Bermuda-themed metal sculptures.

She did not always think of herself as an artist.

When her husband, Glenn Arbonies, died in 2013, the couple had been running Arbonies King Vlock, an architectural firm in Connecticut, for 30 years. But with Mr Arbonies gone, the joy just went out of things for her.

“The enjoyment just wasn’t there,” Ms Vlock said.

She knew she needed to reinvent herself, but was not sure how. The answer came from a birthday gift she made for her brother, Michael.

“I acquired these two old metal mooring buoys,” she said. “They were about 58 inches in diameter. These weather-worn orbs with their hulking shackles were initially intimidating to me. I saw them as iconic ancient mariners with their own powerful stories to tell and I was reluctant to impose my own story on them.”

But she got over her hesitancy, taking a plasma cutter to them, creating decorative holes in the metal.

“I didn’t know if it would be worthy,” she said. “But I was amazed by the dimensionality of the ball and how powerful that was. Architecture is three-dimensional. It is volume; it is light. Light is a form giver to architecture.”

She knew she was taking a bit of a risk, since the ball was so big her brother would not be able to stick it in a closet if he did not like it. As it turned out, her brother did like it, and so did other people.

“I had this great aha moment,” she said. “I thought this is everything I enjoy about architecture which is engaging people. It’s about creating something that is not just delightful but has a lot of meaning and invites curiosity. I started to create from that, other things which are similarly story based or narrative based or nature inspired.”

She began making and selling fire pit balls and also metal fire screens. One of her fire pit balls is now at the Caroline Bay Marina in Sandys.

Ms Vlock said most people would see something like a fire pit or a fire screen as strictly utilitarian, but the architect in her saw them as “prime real estate”.

“I was thinking about how I could make them more engaging,” she said. “I wanted them to tell a personal story.”

Her work caught the attention of several high-profile magazines. In 2014, The Wall Street Journal featured her art in an article about using your lawn in winter.

She saw the opportunity and opened art space, Vlock Studio near her home.

In October, she will be the official Masterworks “visiting artist”. Masterworks stopped their long time Artist in Residence programme, and switched to a visiting artist project, which has no official residence.

Ms Vlock said working with Masterworks gives her the opportunity to think over all the trips she has made to Bermuda.

“Over the years I’ve always carried a sketchbook with me,” she said.

But she never really showed her drawings to anyone; they were just for her. Now she is using them to make her metalwork.

“I wanted to create things which I can engage people with that would be more sculptural,” she said. “I wanted to stitch together my visits here, and invent things that are Bermuda-inspired.”

One of the things she loves about Bermuda is the strong connection between the arts in Bermuda and New England.

Several artists from the Old Lyme artist colony in Connecticut, such as, William Howe Foote, also painted in Bermuda.

She feels she is carrying on the tradition.

“I feel I am part of the Connecticut lineage,” she said. “It makes me feel very connected to here. I love that Masterworks has sustained that connection between artists and plein air art and Bermudian life and culture.”

Sandra Vlock’s coffee morning will be at Masterworks on Saturday at 10am. For more information or to register, e-mail art@masterworksbermuda.org

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Published Jan 3, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 3, 2019 at 7:13 am)

Family, loss and the firing of imagination

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