NORTH BERWICK — Kim Bernard just happened to Google “quantum physics” when she came across a graphic that showed a cross-section of hydrogen atomic orbitals.
At their nucleus were concentrated clusters of electrons that captivated Bernard’s eye and imagination.
“I was fascinated by the image and its sheer beauty,” she said, showing off a series of sculptures she created based on the atom graphics that she discovered on the web. “I wasn’t trying to make a science exhibition. I just liked the image.”
The half-dozen pieces that she made are on view through June 22 at Boston Sculptors Gallery in an exhibition she is calling “Spherical Harmonics.”
The Boston show is one of three solo exhibitions for the North Berwick artist in 2014. This year is shaping up to be one of the busiest of her career, which spans nearly 30 years and lately has been marked by many successes. Since earning her master’s degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2010, Bernard has won prestigious regional grants and shown her work across New England.
The Boston show is built around arrangements of 3,000 ceramic balls 1-inch in diameter that Bernard spent the winter forming and painting.
The little red and black balls represent electrons, which are arranged on six flat wooden panels that are painted to blend into the gallery walls. Also on view is “Wave Line,” an interactive kinetic piece that is more typical of Bernard’s recent sculptural work.
She made this one with 100 lead sinkers, which she purchased from a marine store and hung in a 25-foot line. Visitors are expected to touch the balls, setting off a wave of motion.
Although she insists she is not a science geek, Bernard has demonstrated a pattern for making art that shares a boundary with science. Both pieces continue the artist’s exploration of order and beauty in the natural world. Her work investigates the intersection of science, spirituality, playfulness and humor.
“I think it’s fascinating there are these patterns that are created naturally, and I’m interested in work that demonstrates science in a really simple way,” she said. “I don’t like science-based art that I cannot wrap my head around. I appreciated work that allows us access to it. I see this as a tangible way of seeing things that you cannot understand.”
This spring show at Boston Sculptors Gallery begins a busy six-month sprint of exhibitions for Bernard, who has made her home in North Berwick since 1989.
She shares a late-1800s farmhouse with her husband, painter and boat captain Christos Calivas. They have built what appears to be an idyllic life in this quiet southern Maine town, where Bernard served on the regional school board when her kids were younger. They are grown now and out of the house.
Bernard and Calivas each maintains an active studio practice in an attached barn. Calivas makes oil paintings during the cold months, and sails the Maine coast in his 30-foot Bill Tripp-designed fiberglass sailboat in the summer. These days, he’s preparing the boat for an impending launch.
He spends his days under a shrink-wrapped storage shed on the side yard, painting, varnishing and doing the other tasks that occupy a boat captain’s time and mind.
Bernard works year-round on her art, which includes painting with wax as well as making sculptures. She also works in ceramics.
On these quiet spring evenings, Bernard and Calivas often meet for a glass of wine in their lush pasture to compare notes about the progress of their respective days.
“It’s very nice down here,” Bernard said. “We have lots of space, and it’s very quiet. We love it.”
BUSY, BUSY, BUSY
This year, Bernard is particularly busy. She has three solo exhibitions: The current sculpture show in Boston, an exhibition of wax paintings at Arden Gallery in Boston in August, and a November sculpture show at the University of Southern New Hampshire in Manchester.
She spent her winter making the sculptures for the current show. She is finishing work on the painting exhibition, and soon will begin creating a new body of work for the New Hampshire show in the fall.
“It’s perfect timing,” she said. “As soon as I finish making work for one show, I get a little time to regroup, then start in on the next show. I’m staying busy.”
Zola Solamente, gallery director at Arden, recruited Bernard after coming across her work when Solamente judged an exhibition for the Montserrat Encaustic Conference. She loved the paintings, and asked Bernard to show at the Boston gallery. “Her work feels organic, unique and beautiful at the same time,” Solamente said.
Bernard’s first exhibition at Arden sold well, as have several others since. “People in Boston respond to the richness of the materials and the motion within the work,” Solamente said.
For her current show, Bernard began working on the clay balls during a drive from Maine to Key West, where Calivas was showing his winter paintings. While he drove, she rolled clay to make the little balls, then arranged them in rows in their hotel room at night to dry. She knocked out about 1,000 during their drive to and from Florida.
Back in Maine, she kept at the task, making about 200 balls a day. Rather than dreading the repetitiveness of the process, she relished the opportunity for meditation and listened to audiobooks while she worked.
At first, she painted the balls a variety of colors — orange, red, yellow, green, blue and purple.
After painting nearly all of them, she changed her mind. Though she appreciates playfulness in her work, the many colors felt distracting. So she repainted them red and black.
She cut plywood birch to match the shapes she saw in the on-screen graphic, and then created orbital patterns by attaching the balls by nail.
Bernard is industrious and handy. She is comfortable working with a variety of materials and designs sculptures with movement in mind. She uses wood and metal, and casts in bronze, aluminum, lead, plaster or concrete. Whatever the pieces demands, she finds a way to make it work.
She is as apt to buy her materials in a hardware store or marine store as in an arts supply store.
“I love working with materials and figuring out how to work with them,” she said. “I’m not afraid to try something new.”
Her versatility makes her a popular artist in Boston, said Boston Sculptors Gallery director Jean Mineo.
“Spherical Harmonics” is Bernard’s third solo show at the co-op ince 2008.
The gallery is open, light and airy, with big windows that face out to Harrison Avenue.
Bernard’s pieces lure onlookers from the street, Mineo said.
“There is something really whimsical and fun to her work, which makes it very distinct. It’s also really approachable,” Mineo said. “People walk by and see it, and they’re just drawn in. They have to see it, walk under it, touch it and play with it.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: