A dozen little faces keep watch over Sinda Puryer and the library patrons at Flathead Valley Community College. The clay heads range in age, gender and size — with the smallest being just a few inches tall, and others about the size of a baseball. Puryer’s creations delight some and baffle others who wonder, what on Earth inspired her to craft the series of bodiless faces?
For the 27-year library technician, the head sculptures are her creative outlet and a means of showcasing her self-dubbed “wicked” sense of humor.
“This is kind of fun and it freaks people out,” she said with a sly grin.
Among her favorites is the elderly opera singer, with a wrinkled face, pearl necklace and voluminous gray hair. Next to her sits an Asian woman with dark hair and a wide face sculpted into a peaceful expression and farther down the row, a mustached man complete with spectacles and a cap.
“I love looking at people’s faces. We’re all so different and everybody has this beautiful head and such unique features,” Puryer said. “So, I’m always looking at people, how their nose is shaped, who their ears are shaped, their lips, eyebrows.”
Her inspiration comes from people in her life, from her mother-in-law to her childhood clarinet teacher. Library patrons themselves are also creative fodder for Puryer’s sculptures.
She began crafting the clay sculptures in the early 2000s when a student of the college introduced her to the art. They’d convene on weekends and spend hours making clay heads together. The student graduated and went on her way, but Puryer kept up the hobby.
“I like it because when I start working on making a head for three or four hours, I’m just so involved in creating that time flies,” she said. “I forget about anything else. What’s really cool is the clay becomes whatever it wants to. If I try to force it into something, it never works out. It just happens. The clay becomes what it wants to be.”
She starts each piece will a ball of aluminum foil, which she uses as a base to mold the clay around. Once she completes the face, she’ll add details like hair, eyes and makeup, much of which she sources from local thrift shops. Her foray into clay doesn’t stop with heads — she’s made a set of hands and even a pair of feet for a friend in reflexology friend. She said eventually the heads will become dolls, but she’s waiting until retirement to build the bodies.
“For now, they’re fine way they are,” Puryer said. “They’re just watching over, making sure everything’s OK.”
While normally, the heads are displayed on a shelf over her desk, Puryer gets creative with her creations around Halloween. One year, she placed them in a display case, surrounded by white, fluffy material.
“I had a sign that said if you don’t return your items this is what will happen,” she said. “Some people thought it was kind of creepy, others enjoyed it.”
The heads are more than a source of amusement for the library tech — they’re also a conversation starter.
“I have my back to (the heads) and I’m watching the patrons as I’m typing in information or checking out. You can see their eyes roaming around looking behind me and then their eyes will get larger and they have this funny expression on their face,” she said. “It’s kind of an ice breaker. People ask questions — they want to know how I make them and how I get inspiration.”
Creating the heads, however unusual it may be, gives Puryer a sense of accomplishment and joy.
“I don’t sell them — it’s just something fun I make for myself,” she said. “We’re also unique and beautiful, we just don’t realize it.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.