Howland sculptor gives shape to life and art

HOWLAND — Sculptor Hoda Rouweyha of Howland was born with a sense of style and creativity.

“If you meet Hoda, she is someone who expresses herself in her appearance, in her dresses, in her jewelry, hairdos, in her manner,” said Marianne Nissen of Warren, an art historian and local art patron with a Ph.D. from Munich University.

Since her childhood, Rouweyha’s daughter, Randa Rouweyha of Virginia, was aware of her mother’s fashion sense and artistic flair.

“I always knew my mother was artistic. She had an eye for color and for putting things together in a very unique way. She has such an amazing eye for color combinations,” Randa Rouweyha said.

Hoda Rouweyha’s interest in art began as a young child growing up in Lebanon. Her family spent summers in the mountains, where it was cooler. She found clay in a nearby cave.

“I used to take that clay and make figurines out of it and furniture and a house. I’d dry it in the sun,” Rouweyha.

Professionally, she did not pursue a career in visual art. Instead, she became an educator. Her mother was a young widow with six children to educate when Rouweyha was ready to attend college.

“I wanted to do medicine or dentistry. You have to pass an exam because they take a limited number. I passed the exam. I was chosen for the dental school. My mother said, “Hoda, you are the oldest and it costs lots of money to go to that school.”

Her mother encouraged her to apply to the new Lebanese University. If she passed the test for admittance, tuition was free and they would help her get a job.

“I said, I don’t want that. She said, ‘Try it.’ I did try and I passed it. This is how I went into French literature and education,” she said.

She did teach for a while, but became a high school principal at an all-girls school.

She moved to Howland because her husband, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Marwan Rouweyha, found a practice in Warren that needed a partner. He is now retired.

“I didn’t work when I got here. We wanted to build our house and we had kids to raise,” Rouweyha said.

Once her children were grown and because of her interest in sculpture, she took art classes at Youngstown State University.

“A professor told me, ‘Hoda you have taken so many classes, why don’t you get a degree?’ So I did. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics,” she said.

She has found benefits in expressing herself through art.

“It’s a joy. It relieves the mind. It’s another you. You pass from one stage to another completely different stage. You are in the presence of beauty. You begin to see everything beautiful. Your mind is thinking out of the nitty gritty of everyday stupid things. It’s like suddenly you fly. You are on the earth and you fly above everything. That’s what you’re feeling.”

She has worked in a variety of media from ceramic to glass to her recent work in casting bronze.

“Not a lot of people have the courage to go into bronze because of the process. It’s very tedious,” she said.

The process involves creating a figurine from wax or a pre-made mold, using slurry, cooking the mold at very high heat, wearing protective clothing, inserting silica into the mold, putting it in sand to cool down and letting it dry. This is done eight times. Silica is cleaned off of the final sculpture and a patina is put on it for color. The entire project takes several days to complete.

She chooses the subject matter of her sculptures from what she finds interesting, intriguing or challenging to create.

Her work includes self-portraits in bronze to “The Opera Singer” in ceramic — an homage to her daughter’s profession — to “The Hug” in light blue glass.

Nissen describes Rouweyha’s selection of artistic subjects in the following way: “She is very sensitive to her subject. She does the detailing of the clothing.

“They are all realistic, but they also transform more into a mood or a representation — maybe majestic or historical or they can be just a little girl who reads poetry lying down.”

Artistic tendencies are in her genetic makeup. Her mother was a painter and sang. Her aunt was a poet and also a painter. Her children and grandchildren are also artistically inclined.

Because of her passion for expressing herself through her sculpture, she said she will continue to be creative.

“It helps me in every way. I take my mind off any stress. All I want to do is feel I am expressing my feelings in a sculpture.

“When you make it with your hands and you have a figure, you don’t think about anything stressful. It goes away. All that you do is what you have in front of you.

“I think art is really a relief for well being,” Rouweyha said.