Amid the hustle and bustle of the downtown corridor, one local artist has made it her mission to interject a pocket of levity and joy to residents, visitors, commuters and employees of the neighborhood. In September, the 19th Street Rain Gardens (19th St. NW and Pennsylvania Ave NW) became the new home to four of her colorful sculptures.
Artist Valerie Theberge has lived in the DC area since elementary school, but traveled the world to learn more about her craft. She studied painting and drawing at the San Fransisco Art institute and later she spent 10 years in Asia to study the Chinese language and painting. Her years abroad changed her outlook.
“Aesthetically and the way you operate in the world, it really affected me,” Theberge said of her education and experiences in Asia. “The artistic traditions are so different, and the approach is so different. It was just sort of night and day from being in San Francisco in terms of artistic practice.”
The sculptures are distinct in design and have an intricate design process. They are carved out of foam and covered with layers of mortar and fiberglass to make them suitable for the outdoors. Once each piece is prepped, they are covered with thousands of pieces of hand cut glass, mortar and grout. Theberge describes the creative process as “very labor intensive” noting that it took nearly nine months to create the four sculptures on display now.
The Mount Rainer-based artist has created sculptures, murals and other installations all around the DC area. They can be found in local schools like Garrison Elementary (1200 S St. NW), hospitals and outdoors in parks and gardens.
“I think healing environments are really important to me,” Theberge said of her work. “A lot of my work is about evoking a feeling like lightness of being or the sense of ease.”
Meditation is also significant to her work. Theberge said she aims to “tune into the space” and then “shift the energy” of the space to create levity and uplift those who experience her works. In downtown, she says her sculptures aim to interrupt the seriousness.
“I grew up with a lot of of East Coast intellectual serious,” Theberge said laughing. “I really wanted to speak to people’s spirit and the other side of their brain or their sense of wonder or creativity.”
Theberge credits the community of artists in Mount Rainer as a crucial part of her practice. She said the support of the “biggest arts community in the DC area” is important because, despite the solitary work, the sense of community is strong.
The sculptures are the BID’s latest addition to the corridor and part of their efforts to transform public space downtown into more beautiful, sustainable and culturally rich areas.
The Golden Triangle BID is hosting an art celebration where the community can meet Valerie Theberge on Oct. 17 at 12 p.m. The event will take place at the 19th Street Rain Gardens (19th St. NW and Pennsylvania Ave NW) where you can learn more about Theberge’s work, see the new installation and hear about upcoming projects in the neighborhood.
Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.