Virginia Hoffman creates sought-after sculptural furniture.
by Anu Varma Sarasota Magazine 2003
In her early 20s, young Sarasota resident and Ringling grad Virginia Hoffman was chafing for change and ready for big-city life
A couple of decades later, Hoffman is still here in the town where she grew up–but her sculptural furniture sits in homes and businesses as &r away as South America and Japan. And right here in her hometown, Hoffman has built a thriving business–a full-service decorative studio where she creates customized pieces that make an artistic statement in any room. Her work has been included in several books; and this month she will be profiled on HGTV’s popular show, Modern Masters.
Inspired by the contemporary art movement and industrial design of the 1950s, Hoffman fashions metal and glass into flowing abstract sculptural furniture. Decorators don’t come to Hoffman with designs in hand; they come with floor plans and specs, asking for a Hoffman piece that can work in that space. One coffee-table top she created is kidney-shaped; another is comprised of two interlocking pieces of varying heights in etched glass. Silver-and copper-leafed “legs” of stainless steel pyramids and brass balls curve and soar in unexpected angles.
“I love clean design, texture,” Hoffman says. “I love to see beautiful forms in space.”
Hoffman spends up to two years on a project, often creating several pieces for one client. She describes her work as very technical and involved, and though some of her happiest times are spent creating, she admits it’s hard work.
“It’s very hard physical labor to do metalworking,” she says. “It’s hot, heavy, noisy, dirty. But it’s a whole lot of fun.”
Hoffman graduated from the Ringling School of Art and Design with a degree in graphic design but didn’t enjoy the advertising field. So she worked for a stained glass studio and learned the etching and staining techniques that won her initial fame. She began to develop a solid network of designers and architects, who would come to her for pieces; and she soon branched into metal work, a suitable medium for the self-professed tomboy and daughter of a builder. She learned her craft by apprenticing herself to master metalworkers and traveling through the United States and Europe to learn from the best. Over the years, she’s created everything from furniture to sculpture, murals, doors and screens.
“You can’t put me in a box,” Hoffman says, grinning.
She may occasionally deplore the lack of a progressive element in Sarasota art culture, but she’s comfortable here in her rambling studio with its lived-in air and “Jerry plus Virginia” (her husband of nearly a year) spray-painted exuberantly on the wall outside. Inside, she stores designs of past projects in the rafters and has mounted massive speakers on the wall so she and her long-time assistant can belt out James Brown lyrics as they work.
Ask Hoffman about her old big-city dreams and she’ll tell you this story: One day a police officer showed up at her studio, responding to a noise complaint. He found Hoffman absorbed in a blues tape she was playing at full blast, boogying and hollering along as she worked (this is, after all, the woman who had the HGTV producer belly dancing with her by the end of the shoot). Rather than citing her, the cop–who, as it turned out, once belonged to a blues band–ended up borrowing the tape and joining Hoffman’s large and varied stable of friends and acquaintances.
Leave Sarasota? Not any time soon. “I’ve learned the value of deep roots,” she says. “I don’t want to give up what I’ve built.”