Mountain of inspiration: Kings Mountain bestows both materials and the muse for mixed-media artist Werner Glinka

By Andrea Gemmet
The Almanac
Wednesday, August 15, 2001

When high-tech marketing consultant Werner Glinka, 49, moved to the sylvan community of Kings Mountain four years ago, he had a passion for the sleek, steel-and-glass modernism of the Bauhaus movement, an appreciation for the simple, functional grace of Japanese landscaping, and an aesthetic sensibility shaped by the stark, industrial city in North Germany where he grew up.

These serene and wooded surroundings might seem like the last place such a man would find himself at home. But not only did Mr. Glinka fall in love with the mountain, he found the inspiration to devote himself to creating mixed-media artwork using natural objects he finds on his walks, combining a modern, minimalist sensibility with the shapes, textures and colors of the forest.

In his work, a single fallen leaf may be highlighted, or it may be combined with dozens of others to form an intricate, overlapping carpet. Soil, twigs, pine needles and ash form landscapes of texture, which contrast with oil paint or pieces of barbed wire.

"What I loved right when I saw it was just how much it reflected Woodside," says Peggy O'Brien of Mr. Glinka's artwork.

Ms. O'Brien is the senior library assistant at the Woodside Library and coordinator of its art exhibits. A selection of Mr. Glinka's work, entitled "Fallen Leaf," is on display at the library through August 31.

"What spoke to me was that it was the first time I've seen nature that combined, rather than clashed, with technology," she says. "That's what I think Woodside is really about, how people blend the two."

It was enthusiastic responses like Ms. O'Brien's that emboldened Mr. Glinka to try to bring his art to the public for the first time, after working on his mixed-media pieces steadily for the past year and a half and showing them only to his wife and some friends.

"So far, I have made very little money with selling my art, but I've seen people just light up. That reaction, you can't pay for that," he says. "If people react that way, then it was worth it. Then I made a difference for that minute or two minutes."

His unlikely career as an artist began while on a walk near his home one day when he spotted a fallen madrone leaf that struck him with its fading beauty. It was yellow and green and speckled with tiny black spots that his wife told him was the result of disease.

"It was absolutely just beautiful," Mr. Glinka says. "I thought, this really wants to be framed or something, and that's when I started to experiment with these things."

The experiments evolved into techniques for affixing and preserving the leaves and other materials he finds on the mountain. The earthy, natural look of many of his art pieces belies the technology used to create them. Mr. Glinka employs everything from a microwave oven to dry out leaves, to a variety of glues and plastic coatings and varnishes to construct and preserve his artwork.

It is here that his background as an engineer and his skill at designing and building things comes into play.

The son of a coal miner, Mr. Glinka says his family had no money for visiting museums when he was a child. He describes the bleak city of Gelsenkirchen, where he is from, as being like "Pittsburgh in the '60s," a coal and steel town with little in the way of greenery and frequent smog warnings. But it was there, as a member of a Boy Scouts-like youth organization, that Mr. Glinka tried his hand at crafts like basket weaving and painting. He was an apprentice to an electrician, and later worked as a computer design engineer, he says.

"I always did like to build things," he says. "I think I've been an artist all my life, but I would never have used that word."

Before he moved to Kings Mountain, Mr. Glinka says he created wire sculptures for many years. But his artistic potential wasn't fully tapped until his wife convinced him to make the move up into the Santa Cruz Mountains and they became a part of the close-knit community of "mountain folk."

"I was lucky to get to know a lot of people who also do art," he says of his neighbors. "Maybe that's what started it, because I really got interested in doing this when I got up here. It's probably the natural surroundings, with a little bit of ignition from the people who live here."

The mountain is a steady source of inspiration and contemplation, in addition to being a supplier of raw materials for his work. He is even enthusiastic about the fog, which provides a milky and diffuse quality to the lightthat he finds beautiful.

Prefacing his comments with a warning that he is about to get philosophical, Mr. Glinka says that the dying madrone leaf that inspired his "Fallen Leaf" series led him to reflect on everything from man's efforts to control nature to the youth-worshiping culture.

"Now we all equate beauty with being young, but there's beauty in everything," he says. "A young leaf can be quite boring, but an old leaf that is ready to die ... it's like this is its last effort to show that there's still something left here. It's displaying this beauty that is absolutely fascinating."

But just because he can get philosophical about his art doesn't mean that he wants to interpret it. Whenever someone asks him what a piece is supposed to mean, he is quick to answer, "I didn't mean anything by it."

"I would never be so presumptuous as to tell anybody, 'This is what it is,'" says Mr. Glinka.

A piece of artwork is valuable only if it evokes some sort of reaction in you, he says. That concept makes art a product that is very different from the high-tech devices he helps to market for companies such as Sony and Hitachi at his day job.

Although he knew his marketing expertise would be useful in furthering his art career, the decision to "come out of the closet" as an artist has still been difficult because he is more personally and emotionally attached to his artwork than he is to his employers' products, he says. There's nothing worse than hearing the dreaded comment "Interesting..." in response to his creations, he says."

I know what is involved in promoting things, and I will use these tools in promoting my art career. I'm determined to make it work," Mr. Glinka says.

With art, you sell emotions, you sell feelings, you sell something very personal, he says. You can employ all of the mechanics of bringing it to the public so that they know about it, but then it is up to them and how they react to it, he says."

If I could finance a living this way, there's no question that I would do art," he says. "It's not a job, it's just pure joy."

A bit like living on Kings Mountain, perhaps. Mr. Glinka spent most of his years in California living in the South Bay, and he says he wishes he had known about Kings Mountain sooner.

"My only regret is that I didn't know this existed 20 years ago," says Mr. Glinka. "I would have gone straight to the mountain."