Lin Emery | Artist Feature

Lin Emery, named by some as “the world’s foremost kinetic sculptor.” Over her 40+ year career, Emery’s iconic kinetic sculptures have been placed around the world. Her sculptures can be seen shimmering around New Orleans, Emery’s adopted home, and far-flung locations such as Singapore and Japan.

Lin Emery was born in New York. She studied informally under Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1888-1967) in Paris before joining the Sculpture Center in New York, where she learned to weld and cast bronze. She settled in New Orleans in 1945, where she continues to live and work. Emery’s first commission, which was to make seven figures for a Catholic church, came in 1952. While her early work was figurative, she soon turned to abstraction, making works in bronze that indicated her later preoccupation with movement.

Emery’s first venture into kinetic sculptures was inspired by happenstance while washing dishes. Lin stated, “I was washing dishes, and a spoon was balanced on the edge of a cup, and the water was moving in it. That was such a revelation that I started doing, just to amuse myself, little water things, where I could make things go up and down, and then I found I could make them go round and round.”

After exploring aquamobiles, Emery explored other ways to set her sculptures in motion. Next, she used magnets to set her sculptures spinning. Emery eventually landed on specialized ball bearings to add mobility to her sculptures. The ball bearings were the final piece Lin needed to set her sculptures spinning in the open air.

Emery begins each of her large-scale sculptures with a scaled-down model. Rather than employing industrial fabricators to execute the final sculpture, she insists on hands-on-control at every stage of the process. Emery explains: “First I do a poster board maquette to work out the manipulation of the piece, then I do a half-scale model, then one in full size. They change as they grow. They move differently in different sizes. It’s an exploration. I have my good welders to help me, but I design all the mechanics and the interiors of the pieces.” The aluminum is cut, welded, ground, coated, and polished to their lustrous finish.

Emery has exhibited throughout the United States as well as in England, Japan, Australia, Germany, and France. In 1996 Emery had an acclaimed comprehensive retrospective exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In 1997 she completed an immense abstract kinetic sculpture for placement in Osaka, Japan and was awarded the Grand Prize for Public Sculpture in Japan. Emery also installed a major sculpture in the Zen Garden of the Hohen-in Temple in Kyoto, Japan. In Louisiana, her public commissions can be seen throughout the state at sites including the Louisiana State Library in Baton Rouge, Knight Oil Tools and The Neurological Hospital in Lafayette, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel and the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans. Emery is the 2012 Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Opus Award honoree and a 2013 winner of the biennial Kinetic Art Exhibition and Symposium.

Emery photo courtesy of Steven Forster

Lin Emery talks about her work during a visit to her studio in 2009.