What does a horseshoe crab have to do with Burning Man (the annual creativity event held in the Nevada desert), an Island psy chologist and the lost wax technique? These are some of the bits and pieces that make up Sumner Z. Silverman.
A transplant to Vineyard Haven from Cambridge, Dr. Silverman’s passion for both his art and his work as a psychologist began more than 40 years ago. During his childhood he was always sketching and he began carving at age nine. A toy derringer and knife were his first creations.
In school he was somewhat of a misfit, by his own words, and was voted Most Individual at Classical High School in Worcester. A lackluster student, it wasn’t until he was in graduate school that the puzzle pieces began to come together. He was not going into his father’s business of accounting.
Six years ago Dr. Silverman began his yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man, a utopian gathering that is dedicated to “community, art, self-expression and self-reliance,” as stated on burningman.com. The festival is held at Black Rock Desert on a dry lake bed approximately six square miles, just north of Reno, Nev. This year the event took place from August 26 through Sept. 2. As always, the festival begins as a windswept empty space, with absolutely nothing on-site, and grows into a community of over 50,000. The event is completely carry-in and carry-out — water, food, tent, a bicycle to get around this spontaneously burgeoning city and its inter-connecting villages, a guitar and other personal necessities. It is a self-sufficient time of celebration, where no money is exchanged and no commercial transactions or advertising exist.
It is also one of the largest art festivals in existence, and radical art is the cornerstone of the event, along with radical inclusion.
This is the place Dr. Silverman’s creations come into play. Each year he uses the current theme of the festival to produce a visualization in the form of a pendant. This year’s theme was The Cargo Culture. His interpretation was a cargo box with a tiny human peeking out from under the lid. In years past there have been a horseshoe crab for Evolution, a diamond for the Rite of Passage, both a pomegranate and the Venus of Willendorf for Fertility, to name but a few. To create a pendant, Dr. Silverman begins with a hand-carved jewelers’ wax original, produced while he sees his Island clients, most of whom are artists themselves and who appreciate his craft. “It helps me to focus by doing this minute work while listening,” he said in a recent interview. The final wax figure is then cast in the lost wax process in either bronze, silver or, for special orders, gold.
This year there was a new twist. He was invited by the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) to show all of his past and current Burning Man works from the last six years. His art is on display in the main lobby of the airport giving everyone who came to the festival by air, and others not attending the festival, a chance to view his miniature sculptures together with the work of others artist in the Burning Man collective called Artery.
The artistic hands of Sumner Silverman are never idle. His clients back on the Island continue to sift through their own life stories while he continues to listen and create intricate and finely crafted jewelry from wax, ancient ivory and walrus bone, cabochon gem stones and thin sheets of gold. A man of many talents and abilities he offers this recipe for life.
“A happy and healthy person has to have passions to exist in the world and feel fulfilled. You must have something that lights you up.”
Sumner Z. Silverman’s work is currently on display at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport through Nov. 19. Visit szsart.com.