By Lucia Viti
North Park artist Moni Bloom finds her whimsy with totem artwork
Many believe that pole totems hold sacred and spiritual powers. Merriam-Webster defines a carved and painted totem as an “object serving as an emblem of a family or clan.” The sometimes tall-towering relic is often adopted as a family crest and/or as a token of power.
Moni Bloom — artist extraordinaire from North Park — has made “fun” totems her life’s work. She builds whimsical, ornate, colorful, mystical totems that would inspire the likes of Dr. Seuss.
Touting titles of Tweet Tweet, Runaway Thought, I Can’t Square Dance, Hare Brained Thought, Celebrate Your Inner Party, I Love Cupcakes and Candy Explosion, Bloom sketches, constructs and glazes slab sculptures and abstract wall pieces for commercial and private collections.
“I embody an idea,” she said. “That is, I take a form and change it so the viewer gets an idea of what it is without knowing exactly what it is. I explore organic shapes that convey a message without having something that’s super representational. My forms are whimsical and my colors are juicy. Bright glazes heighten their humor and motion.”
Bloom’s rise to fanciful fame has had its share of interesting twists and turns.
Born in San Francisco, Bloom lived in Tripoli, Libya, while her father worked for Dr. Armand Hammer as vice president for the Eastern Hemisphere of Occidental Petroleum. She became enamored with clay while visiting Garian, a small town in Libya built from clay. She watched “a thin shirtless potter throwing a 5-foot tall, olive-oil vessel,” with its power generated by a “donkey walking in circles around the potter’s wheel.”
Fascinated and inspired, Bloom’s interest in working with clay “never waned from that point on.” The Bloom family moved to Bakersfield, California when King Idris was overthrown by Col. Muammar Gaddafi. She studied with two well-known ceramicists, Vic and Pat Bracke, and “fell in love with throwing from a wheel.”
Learning and growing
Lauding degrees in studio art and education, Bloom graduated from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. During the artist’s “formative years” she taught ceramics, stone and wood carving, and drama, “of all things,” at the Catalina Island School on Catalina Island. She described teaching kids as fun and challenging but more importantly, as the impetus that “segued me into the arena of becoming a full-time ceramic studio artist.”
Graduate classes at San Diego University for welding and bronze casting followed suit. Although she enjoyed working with bronze, she turned her sights to bigger — much bigger — artifacts to work with. Bloom ventured into the corporate world and became a machinist.
“I threw on the wheel for years, but it was confining and expensive,” she continued. “After college, I couldn’t afford the foundry fees required for making bronze sculptures so I worked solely on sculpting after a full day of working as a machinist. I learned how to manipulate the blade, the mill and the drill press.
“I had always envisioned making heavy art objects and huge wall pieces out of steel. I brought wrecked-pieces home to make sculptures. I taught myself how to hand build with slabs.”
Twenty-seven years ago, Bloom was laid off from her job as a manufacturing engineer at General Dynamics. Without regret, she ventured into full-time artistry, producing an incredible array of hearts, masks, figurative work, sculptures and totems. All inspired from fairy tales, circuses, movies, candy, children’s games, abstract pieces, hearts and “of course, Dr. Seuss.”
Finding her niche
Today she creates ornate, glazed 12-foot, 6-foot and 4-foot-tall totems. Designs are contrasted in forms and glazing.
“These contrasts evoke joy, happiness and excitement,” she said. “People love the spark, the accent my totems give living spaces and yards. Every piece is as unique as the feelings that emanate from viewing the different shapes and colors. I describe my zigzag pieces, the side-to-side movement, as a drunken Dr. Seussian look. My work is imaginative, humorous and unpredictable.”
Totems are born from sketch drawings.
“Drawing saves time,” she said. “I augment forms. In some work, I create or add accents and accentuate what I’m trying to convey — the humor, the motion, the emotion — to give the piece a punch of joy. Colors are based on the feelings that I get from the glaze colors.”
Red is Bloom’s happy, exciting and eye-catching color while black and white combinations represent “an excellent leaping point.”
“Black and white are colors with good energy that give the eyes a moment to rest,” she said. “Black and white reminds me of See’s Candy boxes, European palace floors, games, even the tiles in my own home.”
Each totem takes between six and 12 months to complete. Smaller pieces take equally as long as their larger counterparts because of the ornateness of the glazing. Work is described as “laborious, tedious, intricate and elaborate.” Since her work is labor intensive — “I work every day with few vacations” — Bloom exercises regularly. Workouts include long distance and rough water swims, weightlifting, running, yoga and Pilates.
“I wedge and lift heavy clay, so I mix up my workouts as much as I can. I have to stay strong,” she said.
Finding a community
Bloom is a member of the Clay Artists of San Diego, a group of “like-minded friends and colleagues.” The organization is open to everyone who poses an interest in ceramics including professional potters, clay artists, sculptors and those who use clay in mixed media.
“These ceramic artists support the future of ceramics in San Diego County,” she said. “They offer fantastic, professional input and provide the clay community with seminars and workshops, including hot clay.”
Bloom hosted a show at the Bakersfield Museum of Art and hopes to do the same in San Diego. “I worked every day for an entire year to assemble an extensive and thorough body of work for the Bakersfield Museum,” she said. “It was a great experience. I truly hope to do the same in San Diego.”
Bloom continues to show and sell her work at juried art shows in California and Arizona and exhibits in museums. She also regularly attends workshops to “broaden my scope with ongoing educational and cultural events.”
She is also a member of ArtReach San Diego. She donates 5 percent of her sales at various shows because she believes that “it’s invaluable for kids to have art in their curriculum.”
ArtReach is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that joins artists with San Diego County schools — kindergarten through sixth grade — to provide visual arts education. Working with thousands of students since its inception in 2007, ArtReach offers after-school programs and workshops for a myriad of youth organizations. ArtReach believes that all children should have access to art regardless of budgets and/or socioeconomic status.
—Contact Lucia Viti at email@example.com.