What sound does a tree make when it’s falling? It snaps, thumps and hits the ground. Niki Hildebrand doesn’t want to hear trees fall. Instead, she prefers the sound of leaves whistling in the wind. Her pieces and work speak to something bigger than herself; in 50 works in her latest exhibition, the earth is central to what she wants to say.
Hailing from London, England, Hildebrand worked for a time in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before making the move to Wilmington, NC. She studied at the London Institute, Chelsea College of Art and Design and then Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Her current exhibition, “Breathing Through the Lungs of the Earth,” will be on display until May 13th at The ArtWorks. Hildebrand’s glass art packs a powerful, colorful punch. The luminous glass she morphs helps refine her vision, and encore got the chance to ask what that is.
encore (e): How did you get into glasswork?
Niki Hildebrand (NH): If I can say glass spoke to me, it wouldn’t be far off. I was the kid always winning all the art awards throughout school, and so at the end I wanted to learn a trade—something I could support myself with. I chose furniture design. I would go to every museum I could get to, and at this time there was a Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibit. The Scottish artist used glass in his furniture, and I realized the glass was calling me.
I followed it up with an internship in London at a glass studio and then headed to Rhode Island School of Design to get a degree in glass—everything from the science of glass to etching, polishing, blowing, casting. So much of life is cyclical! Years later I discovered the grant I was awarded out of college was from the same foundation that had funded the Mackintosh exhibition—which had inspired me to go into glass!
e: What have you learned about life in general, living as a working artist?
NH: That no matter what your field in life you must be true to yourself—especially in art, where you’re open to so much of everybody else’s opinion. Opinions can be interesting and progressive but also be damaging and distractive, especially when you’re trying to create something that might open ideas and thoughts for humanity in general.
When I create my own work, it’s like I give birth to my children—that’s how much energy gets used up, and the nurturing and love, and then the letting go. Turns out, letting go is just as important in life as forming, creating and taking action. Your energy flows where your focus goes; I make sure it flows in the direction of higher thoughts and awakening for all of humanity.
e: Where is all your work being shown worldwide?
NH: I have the leaf installation that is up at The ArtWorks and also Eclipse Gallery at Blue Moon, both in Wilmington. There are quite a lot of various private collections worldwide. My next solo show is in Munich Germany and then later in the year a group show near Hamburg, Germany.
e: What’s your greatest accomplishment thus far?
NH: Currently, it would be the artist residences that I’ve been doing and getting my work back over in Europe again. In particular, the residence in North Carolina earlier this year at Penland School of Crafts was self-motivated and inspirational. My current contract is with the city of Munich on an artist residence, and my work includes humans and trees, which will go on exhibit near Hamburg
e: What connects you to Wilmington’s art community?
NH: I’ve lived here 10 years now and loved it from the moment I set foot here during vacation. The pull for me was so strong that I went back to Northern Ireland and tied up all my loose ends and moved here a month later. I walked Wrightsville Beach and couldn’t believe people lived in paradise. For me, as someone who is so visual, my surroundings are so important. I’ve been in big cities all my life and Wilmington was just what I was looking for.
e: What is the message or idea behind “Dreams of the Lungs of the Earth?”
NH: The installation of “Dreaming of the Lungs of the Earth” came about because I was making glass leaves for some other sculptures. As I was making them, I was thinking about all the trees that we’ve been cutting down [in Wilmington]. When you look at the lungs of a human, the blood vessels look very much like tree roots, and it’s not a far stretch when you realize trees are breathing the carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. The trees are like lungs on this earth.
There’s been extensive cutting of trees from Eastwood to River Road and a friend in passing answered, “And then they’ll wonder why the temperature went up by 2 degrees this year.” There’s a video that goes along with the installation and it’s projected onto the screens around the disconnected bedroom furniture. It features trees moving in and out, and the sound of my breath in reverse first breathing out and then in. The glass leaves sparkle in the afternoon sun as they hang above the tiny glass bed of a dreaming figure in the center.
e: What’s next? Are you working on any big themes in your next series?
NH: Having broken my hand last year, I started working more again with wood and so wood has become part of my sculptures with glass. It makes sense since all my imagery at the moment is about trees, leaves and human connection.