Winged Woman Walking IV

Winged Woman Walking VI, 1990
Stephen De Staebler (1933–2011)

Artist Stephen De Staebler once wrote:

“How often would we rather have
Wings than have arms
To fly, float, to soar, is
To be.
To have arms is only to do.”[1]

The artist’s poem might describe the figure in his Winged Woman Walking IV.

The headless, armless woman riddled with cracks and breaks may appear battered and weak. Her feet could be pulling her to the ground as her only wing weakly attempts to lift her upwards, suggesting humans’ undeniable relationship to the earth. Or the figure could be seen as effortlessly bending backwards, her single wing outstretched behind her, proceeding on tiptoe, one foot confidently striding in front of the other, as though ready to take flight into the air, leaving earthly life behind. She could be powerless or thriving—or perhaps both simultaneously. 

De Staebler referred to the figures in his Winged Woman Walking series as angels, representing the tension and contradictions between life and death, matter and spirit, and the tangible and abstract. Much of De Staebler’s work deals with the theme of the destruction and the healing of the body.  These themes are apparent in Winged Woman Walking IV, where dual symbolism and interpretations are present. Viewers’ perceptions of the piece rely on their own personal impressions and past experiences.

De Staebler worked primarily with clay in the first part of his career and transitioned to bronze in the 1980s. He was known to break apart unwanted ceramic figures, separating the body parts and burying them in his back yard. When he started to work with bronze, he would unearth the discarded clay parts and use them to cast full figures in bronze, as a means to experiment with different configurations. With these fragmented body parts, De Staebler was able to demonstrate humans’ temporary position on earth, as well as to reference human suffering and sadness.

De Staebler was born in a suburb of Saint Louis, Missouri and received his AD in theology from Princeton, in 1954. In 1958 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he received his MA from Berkeley, in 1961. He later taught at San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Art Institute. De Staebler’s works are displayed in public institutions throughout the United States, and he is remembered as one of the Bay Area’s most admired sculptors.

[1] Stephen De Staebler, quoted in artist’s Memorial Celebration remembrance card, 2011.

Stephen De Staebler (1933–2011)
Winged Woman Walking VI, 1990
Gift of Morgan Flagg in memory of his mother, Mabel Flagg

Listen to Timothy Anglin Burgard, The Ednah Root Curator of American Art, Curator-in-Charge, American Art Department provide his perspective on Stephen De Staebler’s Winged Woman Walking VI.