The Ice Age Goddess

I have been fascinated by Ice Age goddess sculptures since seeing the Venus of Lespugue at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris when I was a child.  In 1978, when I saw “Avant Les Scythes: Prehistoire de L’art en U.R.S.S.” at the Grand Palais, I had just started to carve stone.  Returning to my studio filled with awe, I wondered how people living at the edges of glacial ice could produce such expressive sculpture with stone tools.  What also intrigued me was how the figures evoke the sculpture of Arp, Miro and Moore, Modernists who have long informed my work.

When I first began to think about ways to create my own interpretations of these ancient figures, I felt humbled by the magnitude of my intent.  Gradually, though, as I read and sketched, I gathered courage to carve.  While my natural orientation is to abstract matter to convey essence, Cro-Magnon carvers already discovered the essential core of what they hoped to convey.  Other than the carving material itself, the only change I made was to alter the scale of the figures so their surface details would become more visible. 

Initially, deciding which goddesses to carve was based on strong emotional responses to photos I found in books and museum catalogs.  After narrowing down the field, I found that quite by chance, I has selected a broad geographical representation ranging from southwestern France across Europe into the Ukraine and over to Siberia.

Although somewhat abstracted, most of the shells in which the goddess figures are displayed were inspired by shells that have informed my work through the years.  Others are total inventions.  My earliest sculptures were shells, and I am delighted they have found new expression in this exhibition.

For me, the Goddess figures represent the Great Mother as archetype.  She is responsible for life, death and regeneration.  I have deep admiration for the skill and perseverance of the artists who carved these figures.  They were creative human beings communicating complex ideas in a symbolic language we are still struggling to comprehend.

Cornelia Kubler Kavanagh