Queens-born sculptor featured in Brooklyn Federal Courthouse
The Federal Courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn is a giant fortress that most people recognize as a building to report to for jury duty, or because it houses many high-profile trials.
What many may not know, however, is that the back of the building’s first floor lobby is home to an art gallery that features breathtaking artwork by artists from Brooklyn and the Eastern District of Long Island.
Over the last month, the gallery has featured the sculptures by Queens-born artist Barbara Rocco, whose show, “Res Ipsa Loquitur,” or “Thing Speaks for Itself,” will run through Dec. 1. The exhibit features many of the sculptures she has created in the past five years, since she began working with ceramics.
“When I worked in two dimensions, I would stretch canvas — and when I had a big white canvas in front of me, it was like, what do I put on the canvas?” Rocco said. “It was like a writer having writer’s block. I would think for days and days.
“With clay, it’s like I have so many ideas that I don’t have enough time in my day that I can do what I want to do,” she continued. “It’s the exact opposite, and I’ve found what makes me happy. It really does.”
The judges of the Eastern District are happy to carry out the legacy of Hon. Charles Proctor “Tony” Sifton, who proposed the idea of the gallery to remind people that the courthouse is a public space. Sifton wanted the building to include a warm, welcoming area for people to visit when they were there.
“The courthouse is a special place where important work is done, but it’s a public building. It’s a public facility that belongs to the public,” said Hon. Raymond J. Dearie. “We had to find a way to send the message out to the public that we are not all about lawsuits and verdicts and sentences and motions. We’re a public building and a public facility, and to add something like this is a perfect way to demonstrate that message.”
Rocco did not set out to become a sculpture artist — it happened by accident.
She was always something of an artist, and she worked as a clothing designer after she got her master’s in fashion design at Adelphi University. After Rocco retired, she went back to the university to take a ceramics class, motivated by a ceramics artist she had met.
Her initial plan was to create practical items such as plates or pots, but one evening, in frustration, she collapsed the project she was working on. Looking at the pile of clay provided inspiration, and Rocco began to sculpt people and faces.
“Once I started working with the ceramics, people always had a strong reaction,” Rocco said. “People in my class would just come up to me and say, ‘I love that.’ I was working late at the school one night, until about 10 or 11, and the security guard even came up to me and commented on how much she liked my work. Everyone had great reactions.”
She took her first class in 2009, and by 2014, she had her first solo gallery show at the courthouse, where she continually received great reactions from lawyers, judges and other passersby.
“It’s been a very positive response,” Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon said. “My favorite piece is when the fellow is looking into the medicine cabinet to select his head [in “Facing The Day”]. That is my all-time favorite piece. I just love what that says.”
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