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Sculptor Caprica Peniza’s “The Last Woman”

Caprica Peniza - The Last Woman

Caprica Peniza won the Bertha G. Harrison Award for Best in Show for Figurative Sculpture this month.

The Last Woman, the garment-like terra cotta sculpture, was not only the first piece Caprica had ever entered at The Art League. At one time, it was the last piece of her artwork she had.

Caprica’s story of The Last Woman:

I’m native born creole from New Orleans. My mother has nurtured my art from day one.

The Last Woman’s journey began in Savannah, GA, where my husband and I studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I was a teacher’s assistant in the sculpture department. She started as an example of slab construction using a model — she was pregnant; so was I. But we lost that pregnancy.

She (The Last Woman) is different because of her make-up. She is formed from a special terra cotta in that her clay is lightweight and smooth like porcelain. Formulating glazes and clay bodies is my speciality. The glaze comes from a racuce glaze that I adapted for a kiln firing. This gives the glaze a bronze look to it.

The Last Woman by Caprica Peniza
The Last Woman by Caprica Peniza

Once I was done sculpting her, she became more to me than a teacher’s tool. This was after our loss. I didn’t finish school. I had one class to go and I was young and in love. Rene (my hubby) finished school and got a job working at NASA, so we left for Newport News, VA, where I thought I could continue my art career. But Newport News is dead as far as art. So I planned to have a show in New Orleans for Christmas. With high hopes, I took 15 sculptures and 10 paintings home to New Orleans (except for my girl, The Last Woman).

Then Katrina hit and all was lost. I was so devastated that I all but lost the will to paint or sculpt. From the stress we lost our third pregnancy.

The Last Woman was my last piece of work, my treasure. She was now my symbol of joy and sorrow. From everything to nothing, my husband and I started over. But sadnesses followed us: we’ve gone through eight miscarriages and my husband has had three job losses which caused us to surrender our home and move to a small apartment. On the third job loss we felt like we were done. Then a miracle happened when my husband got a job working for the Department of Defense, so we moved again within eight months.

The Last Woman (detail) by Caprica Peniza
The Last Woman (detail) by Caprica Peniza

A girlfriend from my church told me to go to the Torpedo Factory and told me about The Art League. I said to myself, “I have nothing left to lose, so just put her in. She should be loved by everyone as much as I do.”

So her form and shape has been myself: I have worn her and tempered in the fire to become stronger. If I was seen crying it is because being accepted in the show was so humbling and I felt that at that moment God gave me justice. The relief, the joy, and tears came pouring out at once. I had to have that journey to come here. The fact is that myself and many other women have worn her as The Last Woman.

— Caprica Peniza

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