Earthen clay, fabric, female figures with birds, embellished with large, colorful needle-felted circles-this is the current series of mixed-media figures created by Brenna Busse. “Open to Joy,” the female figure featured on the cover of this issue, is about number 17 in the “Sacred Circles” series that blossomed out of last year’s cold winter.
“I started feeding the birds,” Busse said. “It was like a ritual every day, I’d stomp out to the birdfeeder and within minutes it would be like this whole swirl of life would come, the colors and the cardinals and the chickadees.” Each of Busse’s nearly two-foot tall mixed-media sculptures have playful, colorful birds perched on a woman’s shoulder or head or in her hands.
“I was so thankful for them,” she said of the birds, “feeling a blessing of life. The birds are here, they are living in this frozen landscape. I can survive this.”
Busse worked with a fiber-art technique called needle felting to create the circles on the surface of the fabric figures. Using a barbed needle to attach a wool roving, she found her work mirrored the repetition of the birds at her feeder. “Over and over again, they’re just like pick, pick, pick,” she said. Busse appreciated the layers of connections. The circles are like birds’ nests, a circle of life, the seasons, how winter would pass and color would come again.
Busse made her first doll about 23 years ago. Newly married and wanting to get pregnant, she found herself studying fertility images. She began making small dolls, and as was the practice in many world cultures, she placed the dolls under her pillow. “To me, they were a focus of energy,” Busse said. “And then, I got pregnant.”
And, her artist path took a major shift. Until this point Busse had been a painter, but “Here I am, growing a child within me, and all I wanted to do was make dolls,” she said. “So I just started making them and making them.” And she hasn’t stopped.
Busse lives in Minneapolis not far from the home where she grew up. After finding herself as an artist through mentors in WARM, the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota, she “finally” graduated from college in the 1980s, after a start and stop experience with higher education that began in the 1960s. “Those women [at WARM], oh my god, they just saved my life,” she said. “I knew I wanted to make art, I just didn’t know even where to begin. [They] helped me find my form.”
Now, Busse is a mentor in WARM’s mentor/protégée program, which she noted is another full circle. “The organization helped me so much,” she said. “I see how much women [artists] need support, someone who stands for them, stands for the power of artmaking and believes that they can do it.”
Busse is a full-time artist, making her living by selling her mixed-media images at art fairs. She creates figures in a variety of sizes and price ranges. She calls herself a populist, believing that that art needs to be affordable to everyone.
She embellishes her sculptures and collages with a variety of found objects from buttons to bubble wrap, shredded money to old keys, balloons to zippers. “Everything is game,” she said. But what is constant is her connection to nature and the female figure. “It’s important to me, using earth clay,” Busse said of her artwork. “They are of the earth.”