No need to don skinny jeans and tease your hair to see “Heavy Metal” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The exhibit, the fifth in the museum’s Women to Watch series, is literally about metal — specifically, sculptures made with materials like steel, bronze and pewter. Smelting, soldering and other metalworking processes have traditionally been considered man’s work, exhibit curator Virginia Treanor says. As something of a corrective, “Heavy Metal” showcases the skill and ingenuity of 20 contemporary female sculptors from the U.S. and around the world. “I was really struck by the variety of work that was out there in metal and the variety of appearances metal takes on and what these artists were able to create,” Treanor says.
‘As It Comes to Bear,’ by Venetia Dale
After artist Venetia Dale came across a plastic keychain ornament depicting a teddy bear in an armchair, she made hundreds of duplicates in pewter and pressed them together until they formed a smooth, solid mass. “I think of her work as memorializing these everyday moments of our lives,” Treanor says.
‘Falling in Love: 1999,’ by Susie Ganch
This sculpture, made of found objects encased in a steel frame, is the approximate shape and size of artist Susie Ganch’s outstretched arms. Inside the frame are buttons, beads, plastic sheep and baby-doll arms. “It’s her way of visualizing the molecular makeup of her being,” Treanor says.
‘Touchmarks: Made in India,’ by Venetia Dale
The Massachusetts-based Dale cast a cheap plastic basket in pewter, an alloy that was commonly used in her state’s Colonial past. Dale likes working with it because it’s an unassuming material, almost an underdog. “A silversmith friend of mine describes pewter as the Velveeta of metal,” Dale says. “From a metalsmith perspective, it has a lowbrow reputation.”
‘Inverted Star,’ by Paula Castillo
To create this piece, sculptor Paula Castillo welded together industrial byproducts and finished them with automotive paint. “It has this wonderful matte quality to it. It looks like it could be made of felt or ceramic,” Treanor says. When viewed from above, the piece looks like a three-dimensional star with the points turned inward.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW; through Sept. 16, $10.