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For Rocknak, her pieces have a personal significance. Carved out of a wide range of woods, her figures retain the warmth of the living trees from which they are carved, while capturing the pain and emotion of the human condition. A self-taught wood carver, Rocknak works with the medium in its natural state, using the knots, cracks, discoloration and grain to enhance the expressiveness of her pieces. Her quest for meticulous detail is aided by a technique she developed, whereby wood oil (such as lemon oil or feeders finish) is used to soften the wood while she carves. The oil does not affect the final finish since Rocknak sands back the surface. In fact, some of the finer details, which give the pieces their distinctness, are brought out by the sanding process.
Although Rocknak was a relatively "late starter" in this field, she has met with her share of success. Her work has appeared in shows and galleries across upstate
As many of Rocknak's pieces do, Figurehead plays with expectations and tradition. Figureheads are traditionally women, dragons or sea serpents; they stand as a ship's proud emblem. Historically, sailors protected them at all cost, based on the belief that the ship's fate was tied to that of the figurehead. Hence Figurehead represents a slave struggling to escape, the proud emblem of the captives who rebelled, captured the Amistad, and eventually gained freedom. The sculpture stands as a reminder of the captives' resilience but also of the captors' cruelty--simultaneously an emblem of pride and shame.
Although Rocknak has been interested in wood carving since childhood, she did not start carving in earnest until after graduating from college. As an American Studies and Art History Major (with a concentration in painting) at
On returning home, she began to study philosophy and sculpt in earnest. She received her Ph. D in 1998 from
Rocknak feels her carving is a release from the hyper-rational work of philosophy--her sculptures result from emotive expressions that seem to flow from her without thought. Though not self-consciously working in the style of another age, Rocknak is critical of "trendy" contemporary art, much of which is inaccessible and contrived. "My work is unapologetically representational and shuns elite, intellectual interpretation. I strive for immediacy, and hope that my figures speak directly to the viewer." When asked about technology's influence on the skill of artists, Stefanie Rocknak replied: "Nothing will replace the intimacy of the human touch. Art isn't about technique, but about ourselves." That said, the motorcycle-riding leather clad professor returned to her studio to live like a gerbil among the wood chips.