Employee’s Sculptures Have Created a ‘Zen Space’ at Beardsley Zoo

Old or ancient stone configurations, like the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge or the monolithic heads on Easter Island, are magical and mysterious to Yale staff member Kim Kuzina, who says she senses “there is an ancient wisdom to them.”

At the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport and in private gardens throughout Connecticut and New England, her own cement sculptures — whether large spheres or obelisks, birdbaths or fountains — evoke a sense of beauty, fun, solace or magic in others.

Kuzina, a senior administrative assistant in neurobiology, recently spoke about her art with the Yale Bulletin & Calendar. Here is what we learned.

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Sculptures by Kim Kuzina

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From cloth to concrete: Originally trained as a textile designer, Kuzina worked for a Manhattan textile company for 15 years. During that time, she missed being able to create art with her own hands and re-discovered the medium of sculpture. She first began creating human figures in clay, but a workshop she attended inspired her to switch to concrete — a material that fit her interest in creating art that could remain outdoors year-round.

In 2003, shortly after leaving the textile industry and returning to her home state of Connecticut, Kuzina opened her own sculpture business, Concrete Dreams. She created many of her first pieces — stepping stones imprinted with objects from nature, planters, birdbaths and other small-scale sculptures — for the gardens or yards of friends and family members. She later began to sell her sculptures at garden centers throughout the state. She also was invited to create chandeliers, human form sculptures and functional outdoor sculptures for clients from New England, including the owners of mansions in Newport, Rhode Island.

Not “big box” retail: Kuzina found, however, that it was difficult to make a living solely as an artist, particularly with competition from the garden centers in such large retail stores as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Agway. She began full-time work at Yale two years ago, but continues to create part-time for Concrete Dreams, working from a greenhouse studio at her Middletown home.

“Stores like Home Depot can sell a birdbath made in China or Mexico for $65, while my least expensive one costs $200,” says Kuzina. “While I have had success selling my works at craft sales such as at Wesleyan Potters [in Middletown], it can be difficult to sell handmade art in this economy.”

Child’s play: Over time, Kuzina’s love of sculpting in concrete has led her to create increasingly larger sculptures, such as benches, columns and spheres.

Using concrete, you’re basically playing in a sandbox,” says the Yale staff member. “You have your sand to dig in and cast into and all these cool things to work with. It really appeals to the big kid in a lot of people. I could get any sculptor to fall in love with it.”

Leaving an imprint: For artistic decoration, Kuzina sometimes presses or casts objects from nature, such as seashells or fern leaves, into the concrete.

“I’m really moved by and attracted to nature or to artifacts from nature-based cultures,” Kuzina comments. “I love things like the ancient giant steps of Antrim in Northern Ireland, the stone circles in various countries that have some kind of celestial correlation or the stone configurations in Mexico that are so in tune with their environment.”

Places even closer to home, such as America’s Stonehenge in New Hampshire and an old brownstone trough in Chester, Connecticut, also inspire her, Kuzina says. “I love that trough because I imagine it to be almost like an old tree, where you feel that if it could, it would speak volumes about what’s gone on around it.”

For solace, solitude and fun: One of Kuzina’s most recent projects is a memorial for Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, who were killed in their Cheshire home two years ago. She created a fountain sculpted with three hearts. The piece was installed last month at Cheshire Academy, where Hawke-Petit was a nurse.

Her largest sculptures to date — including a “Zen space” featuring benches and columns configured in a way reminiscent of a Japanese temple — were installed this summer at Beardsley Zoo. Kuzina was commissioned to create the pieces for a garden situated not far from the zoo’s entrance. The installation also features Kuzina’s obelisk lights, a birdbath, a moon obelisk and large spheres.

“The sculptures have made the garden a nice little quiet zone or place for solitude at the zoo,” says the Beardsley’s director, Greg Dancho. “Since they were installed, a lot more people come to the garden. Kids love to sit on the spheres, and, with its buffer of roses, it feels sort of like a secret garden. In the morning, when there’s a little fog, the Zen space has an ethereal look to it. It’s beautiful.”

Boats and birds: Kuzina’s other passions include sailing (she races competitively out of Milford) and collecting objects from nature such as bird feathers. These objects, she says, serve as most of the “art” in her own home.

While Kuzina is excited about the recent addition of her works in public spaces, she takes little credit for her artistic creations.

“I know this might sound strange, but even though I know the hard work involved in creating a piece and know my process, in the end I almost feel like I didn’t create it — that I’m just a medium,” she says.

— By Susan González

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