Lost and Found
Victoria Savka loses herself in nature and finds herself in art; photos by Michael Hanlon
Victoria Savka likes to begin her day with a bike ride. She pedals through the countryside near her home in Auburn, visiting the farms that punctuate the hills overlooking Owasco Lake. Everything appears to her in motion.
“That’s the marvelous perk of a bike,” she recounts. “You can move quickly, allowing the wheat and corn to wave at you in a blur, or you can pause and observe butterflies swaying atop buttercups or how the bees dance in between the branches of apple trees. Sometimes I’ll even notice a worm wiggling its way crossing the road.”
With one eye open to the world and the other to her mind, Savka greets all she sees with curiosity. She then returns home to sketch the stories that inspire her artistic practice with an unmediated intimacy. From printmaking to pottery, her work flows in between various mediums. But no matter their final form, Savka loves to convene with nature and discover the shape of the story and to engage and reflect upon all that she sees.
This is how it has always been. Everything within her artistic expression is rooted both in the soil of her childhood and between the pages of books. As the daughter of two biologists, Savka was encouraged to explore and learn about the natural world around Mendon Ponds Park.
“I can remember finding ladybugs outside after school and collecting them in small Mason jars. I would watch them interact and munch on the plants, wondering what they might be saying to one another in privacy.” Because her parents instilled a healthy respect for the natural world, Savka let the insects go each night. But she never forgot those ladybugs nor the imaginative tales they whispered.
Savka equally allowed herself to become lost and found within the words of Aesop’s Fables and Beatrix Potter. “I was drawn to how they explained the impossible or unknown both matter of factly and mischievously to become an experience all their own.” It’s these short stories and tall tales, the ones that fascinated her during childhood, that continue to meander and find their home across the surfaces of her work. Functional objects playfully executed.
Savka has never limited herself to a single medium. Whether it be watercolor, drypoint etching, or ceramics, she considers how different surfaces best suit the story she wishes to tell. Her educational background may have something to do with this approach as she double-majored in fine art and illustration at Rochester Institute of Technology, moving back and forth between distinct studios and studies. Regardless of the final execution, Slavka’s art always begins with gestures and the act of sketching. Everything starts with touch, as direct material acts of making. Loose marks on paper build to become her ideas, one stroke, one line at a time.
“A raw gesture is the first impression,” she says. “It’s loose and messy, but everything begins somewhere. I allow myself to befriend the mark, then explore what comes next. To let the lines build, blur, and be. I’ll start to ask questions about myself and my relation to the physical piece. What is its purpose, its story, its future?”
Sometimes the work is incredibly physical. Take drypoint printmaking: Savka begins with scratching or etching directly into copper before inking the plate, flipping it onto a moist paper, then rolling out the image and transferring it through the press. She then continues to play, inspired by her bike ride views, to apply chine collé and color to the print and explore mood through shape and motion. Savka throws her whole self into the process. Each act of execution requires a feat of endurance both of body and mind.
“It’s what I love,” she says with a smile. In March 2020, Savka’s work took a more intentional shift and a new direction when she stepped back from her role as a kindergarten teacher in the Catholic Diocese of Rochester to fully devote herself to her artistic practice. Her stories also took on a new surface and shape when she rediscovered the medium of clay and began to create three-dimensional pieces.
Rather than wheel throwing, Savka sculpts her vessels by hand. Her finger prints often remain visible in the clay.And while porcelain may have a reputation of being refined, she has found the material to be less than forgiving. “You have to be careful, and you have to work quickly. The moment you make the first squish, you’ve committed.”
In ceramics, Savka can indulge her desire for speed in the building, with time for the meditative and meticulous painting, all married by gesture. She makes practical forms: mugs, bowls, candlesticks—intimate objects intended to be held in hand at home.
Her stories begin in the everyday to evoke the whimsy she found so charming in the words of Beatrix Potter. She often throws characters together, then asks, “what happens next?” One example from her personal adventures in composting inspired the Worman and Orange Friendship story. Savka learned that worms disliked citrus, but rather than becoming an adversarial relationship between the two, she envisioned them bound in respect and painted them across the surface of her mugs accordingly. “The Oranges are not bitter, and the Wormans see beyond their acid past! Both look forward to a fruitful future friendship!”
In her work, one sees multiple nesting narratives. As objects, they can stand alone and convene with whoever holds the story (like a book) between their hands to be treasured. One fills a cup and is nourished. One lights a candle to see. Savka’s vessels honor what we choose to pour and put within us.
Savka is thrilled her work speaks to so many. She hopes her audience is inspired to find their stories, whether imagined, invented, or recollected from experience.
That being said, she may be coming to the production limits of her home studio, which is currently limited to half of her dining room table. “I vacuum a lot,” she says jokingly.
If you can’t find Savka on her bike in Auburn, look for her outside her parents’ home in Scottsville. She might be greeting their chickens, otherwise known as the Austen chicks (Jane, Lizzie, Fanny, Lucy, Charlotte, and Georgiana), ever gathering inspiration.
“The world around me will always be in my work as they are the stories I know.” So too, they are the stories to which she returns.
Savka lives in Auburn with her husband and their grey tabby, Flooop. Find her ceramic work locally at the Memorial Art Gallery, Little Button Craft, and Main Street Arts Gallery, Clifton Springs. An exhibition of her 2D work will be on view at Kinetic Gallery, SUNY Geneseo, March 31–April 15, 2022.