Hide and Seek

“I was a kid hitchhiking down to Big Sur when I met Edmund Kara at the Bal Masque,” says longtime friend Glen Cheda. At the Halloween party at Nepenthe, Kara favored grotesque masks like these.

Locals in the know consider sculptor Edmund Kara one of Big Sur’s most illustrious and secretive artists. He was the exclusive dressmaker for Lena Horne for three years and worked in the wardrobe and costume departments for Universal and Paramount Studios in the 1950s. But he switched to wood sculpture for good. He did a sculpture of Elizabeth Taylor for the film The Sandpiper, and “The Phoenix” on the deck of Nepenthe in Big Sur is his.

Although longtime friend and estate manager Glen Cheda says he was beloved among Big Sur locals, and lived in “outrageous” fashion, he was also shy and reclusive. He didn’t show his pieces for decades, if at all. When he worked, in his home studio overlooking the Big Sur coast, he would forget to eat, and left cigarettes to burn themselves out.

“He couldn’t wait for the sun to come up,” Cheda says.

Kara’s work is showing again at Seadrift Studio in Sand City, belonging to painter and sculptor J. Stewart Cook and shared with African tribal art collector Jeffrey Clifton.

Kara’s work is arresting enough. Smoothly finished and curvy wood masks, Biblical figures and mythological creatures, large and imposingly heavy looking, confrontational, dark with emotion. They add heft to the clean, bright studio. But one room in the back is a show stopper. That’s where his “Seven Deadly Sins,” an allegorical creature, is surrounded by pieces from Clifton’s collection and Cook’s paintings, a crescendo of art unlike any other in the county. It has to been seen to be disbelieved.

EDMUND KARA: RETROSPECTIVE is showing 6-9pm Fri, 1-5pm Sat-Sun, and by appointment through July 17 at Seadrift Studio, 473 Orange Ave., Sand City. Free. 241-0202

Walter Ryce has been an arts writer, calendar editor, culture columnist, sometime photographer, and one-time web content coordinator for the Monterey County Weekly. He began working at the paper, which is based in his hometown of Seaside, in 2007.

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