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‘Spirits’ Exhibit Opens at Hand Art Center

Elevated, ghostlike sculptures with huge heads, clothed in white, robe-like garments and wearing talismans representing their identities, appear peaceful with an eternal gaze.

These six stoic statues with massive heads and various heights are called “Big Spirits,” which are sculpted in architectural red clay, cast in Hydrocal cement and suspended from the ceiling with heavy-duty chains. The sculptures summon viewers to come closer and discover figurative sculptor Deborah Masters’ family and friends and the famous, both living and dead, who have been her creative inspiration throughout her life.

“Big Spirits” are suspended from the ceiling in Deborah Masters’ exhibit at the Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center at Stetson on June 3-Aug. 3. Photos by Ciara Ocasio/Stetson

Stetson University’s Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center will display more than 45 of Masters’ sculptures, cross paintings and charcoal, oil and pencil drawings during the “Spirits” exhibit, June 3-Aug. 3, with an opening-night reception on Friday, June 14, 6-8 p.m. Complimentary parking is available in the East Arizona Avenue parking lot off of Amelia Avenue and visitor parking spaces throughout campus. Like all exhibits at the Hand Art Center, “Spirits” is free and open to the public.

Tonya Curran
Tonya Curran

“Deborah Masters’ artwork is very impressive and resonated with me because it has a spiritual component,” said Tonya Curran, director of the Hand Art Center. “Stetson University’s core values emphasize global citizenship and campus includes many cultures and religions. We all have different ways of expressing our faith and the exhibit is a springboard for discussions about spirituality.”

Masters, who has a B.F.A. in art history from Bryn Mawr College and studied sculpture and bronze casting at Haverford College, was raised by her mom and grandfather in New Mexico after her dad was killed in the Korean War.

“To show my work that I have done for more than 30 years in a gallery is such a privilege,” said Masters. “The audience who views my sculpture will see the entire scope of what I think about when I’m creating my work. I hope the art speaks to them in the same way it did for me as a child and will make their life better.”

The natural beauty and ambiance that Masters was exposed to as a child in New Mexico influenced her artwork.

“Nature is very important to me,” said Masters. “I think of nature as the church and it’s the religiosity that you see in my artwork.”

The “Little Spirits” sculpture series features small heads of monks, individuals of various cultures and animals. 

She started sculpting with concrete early in her career thanks to her stepfather who taught her how to measure and use the material.

Her artistic process begins by taking photos of people and things that fascinate her followed by her figurative drawings. Masters draws the subjects with charcoal or oil on vellum and rag paper. After the drawing is finished, the sculpture can take up to five months to complete depending on the details and size. Other sculpture elements include fabric and rebar.

While living in Brooklyn, New York, Masters began creating her spiritual sculptures, which she refers to as ghosts because that is how her friends reacted after they saw the big heads hanging with white apparel in her high-ceiling, loft apartment more than 30 years ago.

The “Big Spirits” feature talismans consisting of mixed-media and found objects, as well as 20 pounds of fabric. They weigh around 150 pounds each.

Masters pays homage to her dad who is portrayed in the “Dionysis” sculpture in the “Big Spirits” series. His talisman features two oil cans that represent his Navy pilot profession.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is also one of the “Big Spirits.” The “Frida” sculpture’s head is adorned with sculptural flowers and has a totem featuring bent wrenches. Masters thought the tools represented her complicated life.

Besides the “Big Spirits,” Masters has smaller sculptures called “Little Spirits,” which feature smaller heads of monks, individuals of various cultures and animals.

“The Wall of Crosses” is inspired by the churches that Deborah Masters encountered as a child in Central America.

Masters’ “Crosses” display features imagery on bronze and wooden crosses that she painted while living on her brother’s farm in Pennsylvania. The artwork is inspired by the churches she had encountered in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other south-of-the-border countries as a child, world news and tragedies.

exterior of Hand Art Center and people strolling by

Masters is honored to display her exhibits at the Hand Art Center on Stetson’s historic campus in downtown DeLand.

-Sandra Carr