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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Stephanie Robison

Spirit Rack, Artist: Stephanie Robison Photographer: John JancaI am a first generation college student with not one but two degrees in sculpture. I feel this is important to mention because being a first generation college student allowed me the freedom to get a “useless” degree in art or whatever I wanted without any parental pressure. College simply wasn’t prioritized in my family; it was a place people went to lose their religion and thus not a destination my family wished me to set sights on. The only reason I actually ended up in college was due to encouragement and assistance from a puzzled high school counselor who couldn’t figure out why someone with a 4.0, enrolled in college prep courses, wouldn’t be planning on attending college.

Yellow Cloud Blob by Stephanie RobisonIn college, I was required to take a sculpture course. I put it off until the last possible moment, completely clueless that it held my destiny. That first day of class, when my hands touched clay, I knew my life would be forever changed. I immediately began creating work in series from whatever material I could get my hands on. My instructor, exasperated by my refusal to hollow out my large clay forms (claiming truth to material as my philosophical line in the sand), handed me a brochure for a summer stone carving workshop at the University of Oregon. Eager for more information and material knowledge I enrolled and met Laura Alpert, Kazutaka Uchida, Tom Urban, Dan Michael and David Miller. It was an exhilarating 10-day hands-on experience! I loved learning from these incredible artists and ended up returning to University of Oregon to achieve a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture. Introspection, by Stephanie Robison
Upon graduation in 2004, Tom Urban and LeeAnn Peterson convinced me (more accurately they hounded me and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer), that I needed to go to Washington to participate in a stone carving symposium. This was my introduction to NWSSA. I know you can all relate to that mind blowing experience of seeing 80+ people on a field with pop-up tents, power tools humming and dust blowing. I couldn't believe how incredibly generous with time, tools and information this motley crew of stone addicts was. I fell head-over-heels in love with the NWSSA Tribe and vowed to help in whatever way I could: field set-up, auction, registration, t-shirt & brochure design, recruiting and eventually assisting the director of Silver Falls Symposium until I relocated to California in 2010.
 Pile on the Pier, by Stephanie Robison
Moving to California proved good for my productivity. I am able to carve stone all year round and have been incredibly prolific over the last ten years, continuing to experiment, challenge and improve my skills each year. I always work on several pieces at once, that way if I get stuck I can work on another piece while I consider how to solve problems with the other. I don’t think about style at all but I do think about formal characteristics: form, color, texture, etc. I often use family, friends and relationships in general for inspiration. I like to make work that is intentionally awkward and that references more than one thing because that is how I see our humanity. I am interested in making objects that cause me (and perhaps others) to think differently. Offering by Stephanie Robison

Teaching has been a huge part of my life and artistic practice. I currently teach sculpture for the City College of San Francisco. And I very well might be the only instructor left in the Bay Area that teaches stone carving. What I enjoy most about teaching is introducing students to new ideas, concepts, materials, skills, and artists – I feel that a big part of my job as an instructor is to get them excited about making.

Under The Pink, by Stephanie RobisonHaving knowledge of, and access to, amazing artists work is a gift that challenges me to strive for greatness. A few of the artists that have influenced me over the years are: Louise Bourgeois for her ability to skillfully work with any material and for the narrative quality of her work; Jessica Stockholder for her dedication to formal elements, fearlessness, and propensity for rule breaking. Whenever I am being too cautious, or conforming to expectations, I ask myself “what would Jessica Stockholder do?” Rachel Feinstein uses humor and familiar materials to bring us something new. Her work has a cartoon or animated quality that I admire. I find the organic forms of Richard Deacon compelling. He is a great example of someone who works hard and is extremely prolific. I am obsessed with Ron Nagels color combinations, textures, and small but powerful forms. I like to look for artists that use materials in interesting and unusual ways. Red Arch by Stephanie Robison
What interests me most about sculpture is how it engages the audience in a physical way. It responds to the body. I love the complexity three-dimensional work has– a sculpture can look completely different from the first view but as you walk around the composition changes. Sculpture for me is about tangibility and transformation. It involves technique, knowledge of materials and practice. Being able to manipulate materials with your hands, transforming it into something else, is a magical process and an extremely educational one. Every time I make something I learn something and it inspires the next thing. Creating an intimate relationship with materials slows one down and can generate a different level of thinking, one that our convenience-based society does not often engage in. Exploring materials with your hands also engages body or muscle memory – a different way of storing knowledge. Making and focusing on craft has the ability to conjure up collective material knowledge and experiences. It causes one to reevaluate objects; how things are made takes on new meaning. I work in a variety of material but stone is always there as a constant. I like using materials that are familiar in unexpected ways. I have always been attracted to forms that are in direct opposition to each other or challenge their final aesthetic/functional appearance: I have intentionally carved stone to appear soft, or sewn fabrics to appear rigid and architectural.
Pandemic 2020 by Stephanie RobisonDying Cockroach, by Stephanie Robison Attachment, Artist: Stephanie Robison Photographer: John Janca  
My latest series of work consists of mostly wall pieces that combine traditional stone carving and the process of needle felting wool. Many of these pieces are marble (which is a material that I absolutely love). I find that I can play and experiment with marble in ways that I cannot in other materials. Wool is a fairly new material for me. I have only been experimenting with it for about two years. The process of needle felting is amazingly versatile; it can be worked both additively and reductively. This journey has been exhilarating and I feel stone and wool have so much more to teach me. Both materials are labor intensive and the challenge is keeping the work fresh and not overworked. I find that skill and material knowledge are an investment in exploration and discovery, as well as hard work and practice. I am focusing on forms, materiality, and color with this new work. By merging incongruous materials such as wool and marble, I am able to synthesize organic and geometric, natural and architectural, handmade and the uniform industrial, merging the new with the traditional and ultimately hoping to generate a dialogue that didn’t exist before.

Stephanie Robison
www.stephanierobison.com/

Artist Spotlight - Adrian Hoye

Adrian in the new shopI have always been a person who likes to take things apart and find what lies hidden inside. Maybe that is what draws me to carve stone: the idea that there is something within waiting to be released. I have been hesitant to call myself a sculptor. Sculptors are those other people. I do this as a hobby, but by creating sculptures I have slowly been able to accept the idea that yes, I am a sculptor.

This transformation has taken me most of ten years, about 18 sculpture symposiums, and about 30,000 miles of driving. Almost always, John Thompson, my friend and the person who started me down this path, has been right there in the truck helping with driving, loading, talking, and listening. Through the years, going to and coming home from these camps, we have talked and dreamed of what next. How could we start a studio, work stone year-round, feed off each other’s ideas and excitement, and maybe even teach others?

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Artist Spotlight - Renda Greene

Renda with A Gift From the Sea ShellI can’t remember a time when making art has not been a part of my life. My dad commented once that I was born with a pencil in my hand, and he did so much to keep those “pencils” around me.

In kindergarten, my favorite place was at the mini easels, spreading brightly-colored tempera on large sheets of newsprint. I wasn’t satisfied with a single-colored finger painting, and insisted on three or four colors that I would mix and blend, and I would use more than just my fingers to find different textures. Sandbox time would have me creating large piles of packed, damp sand that I would carve into turrets, towers, and moats, using popsicle sticks taken from the art corner. My kindergarten teacher was a very tolerant woman.

All through school, I gravitated to classes and projects that allowed for my need to create. This was difficult sometimes, as we moved almost every year during my middle school and high school years. I was able to take art classes the last two years of high school and got my first taste of stone carving when I released a small seal from a block of soapstone.

It was no surprise to family and friends when I entered college as an art major. Finances dictated that I would attend the local state school, though my father regretted that I didn’t get training of a more classical nature. I worked on the basics. Drawing: walking into that first class was an eye opener—my first exposure to drawing nudes; Painting: we did not make our own paints, but we did stretch our own canvases; Ceramics: my preference was hand building, a choice that was encouraged by the instructor Rudy Autio; and Sculpture: stone was not part of the curriculum—the teacher was into “found” and “performance” pieces.

 A Gift From the Sea Shell by Renda GreenrIt was an Art for Elementary Education Teachers class that influenced me most in my philosophy about my art. The class was not a required course for art majors, but it was taught in a space next to the painting studio, and I was fascinated listening to the lectures by the instructor, Richard Reinhardt. When I had the opportunity to take a few electives, I signed up.

Imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of young adults who probably hadn’t picked up a paint brush since grade school. In walks a normal-looking guy in a sport coat, and the first thing he does is jump up on a table and tell us to do the same (this is 1984, mind you, long before Robin Williams and “Dead Poets Society”.) As I already knew where this was going, I was the first up, and I gazed down at our soon-to-be teachers of children. Mr. Reinhardt told us to look around, and then asked us to take a seat on the floor and do the same. “Children,” he said, “see from all perspectives and use all of their senses, a process we lose as we become adults.” He then invited us to move about the area, viewing the space in different ways. Many students were still tentative, but over the next fifteen minutes, some were able to get over “looking stupid” and being uncomfortable and get very inventive with their “seeing”. Over the semester, supported by several more insights from Reinhardt, most of these folks bloomed in their creativity. On the day of finals, we presented projects we had worked on in small groups. It was heartening to see so many ideas and so much diversity in one space. 

I moved to Wyoming after graduation, with degrees in Fine Arts and Elementary Education and found myself unable to get a job in my chosen field, as I was overqualified. So I became an emergency medical technician and worked as a ward secretary in the local hospital. Both jobs kept me very busy. Still, I did find time occasionally to work on my art, and since the hospital was in a rural area with long drive times, my ability to think outside the box came in handy on difficult emergency calls. I did this for ten years and was beginning to feel the first twinges of burnout—not unusual in the profession. As often happens in life, an opportunity to move back to Missoula arose, and I jumped at the chance.

During a random perusing of an adult education course book, a beginning wood carving class caught my eye. I knew some carving techniques, but what really piqued my interest was that the class was taught at A Carousel for Missoula, one of my favorite places. The course was taught by Dick Withycombe and John Thompson, and after the completion of the ten weeks, I joined the Ponykeepers, the volunteer force behind the Carousel. As time went on, John reintroduced me to stone carving when he invited us to the studio in his home to see what he was working on (if you ever get the chance to do this, jump on it—pretty amazing space). It was John’s enthusiasm for the stone carving symposiums that had me signing up for my first symposium at Silver Falls.

House Humper by Renda GreeneI did carve at that first symposium—honest, I did. But mostly I immersed myself in the senses of carving, reflecting back to that class in 1984. I watched others carve using so many techniques it was almost overwhelming. I learned the sounds a stone makes when it is nearing the breaking point during the splitting process. I smelled and tasted stone dust on a daily basis, and mostly I touched, feeling a variety of stone in various stages of carving. I became “hooked”. I even purchased a piece of soapstone, the first of many, to be carved at home in my backyard.

That first piece of soapstone became House Humper—a play on words from a TV program I would watch occasionally. (12x8x9 photo 1) I had no clear plan other than that I wanted a small grotesque. I just listened to the stone as it told me what it wanted to be. If I found a curve to be pleasing to sight or touch, I expanded upon it and moved on. The filing, rasping, and sanding process helped to bring out more of the form, and when I did the final polish using bee’s wax, the colors of the stone were much deeper and intense than the water test had shown. This piece was entirely handwork, and I still run my hands over it, feeling its essence and adding mine to its polish. It is important to me that people are able to touch my sculptures as I believe that they add to the work when they do.

Kitters by Renda GreeneMy next piece, Kittersnamed by the present owner—(18x6x6) is a basalt crystal. Kitters declared himself when I was walking through a landscaping stone yard looking for a piece of basalt to test out my new diamond cutting/grinding blade and polishing pads. I used a 4.5" grinder to do all of the work, but the final buff was done by hand.

A Gift from the Sea-Shell (28x9x11) came about when I became enamored with the colors and patterns in a piece of Italian leopard marble I discovered on Tom Urban’s stone trailer. I sweated on this piece—quite literally. I used a myriad of tools, hand and powered, to bring out the shape the stone told me was within. As usual, the sanding and polishing process brought out far more color and nuances in the stone than I had observed in the back of the trailer, and at the finish of the project, so many people commented about how “hard that stone is”. Y’all couldn’t have warned me earlier? Still, I wouldn’t have done anything differently—it was a good stone to work with as I was healing from my heart surgery: A test to my resiliency.

 Imperfect HarmonyMy most-recently completed piece is Imperfect Harmony (16x9x11). I had a piece of alabaster sitting amongst my stone pile. The shape of a treble clef in a mobius form kept invading my thoughts, so when it was time to go to the 2018 Suttle Lake symposium, I brought it along and got started. It was pretty slow going, mostly because I was fighting health issues. The incomplete form came home with me to finish. I had a sense of urgency to complete it before November, because I was looking at heart surgery. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t listening to the stone and when one tap broke it into three pieces, I put my hammer and chisel down, and walked away, leaving it on my carving table. There it remained, while I moved on to getting through the surgery and the recovery afterwards. I passed it several times a day, working on other projects. Recently however, it called to me, and the stone told me to get on with it. I decided to use kintsugi to complete it. I found some gold “dust” and mixed it into epoxy and fit the pieces back together. Once they set up, I was able to file, rasp, and sand the stone into its finished form. After I polished it, the gold seams are barely visible, but they are there, and I’m ok with that.

I look forward to the future. John Thompson and Adrian Hoye have opened a stone carving space. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to join them. I feed off the energy of other carvers, locally, and at NWSSA symposiums. It’s all part of the process— so much stone to carve, so many lessons to learn.

Renda Greene
Roommates at Suttle Lake Camp Sheri Tangen and Renda Greene and Sue QuastJoy 9x6x7

Artist Spotlight - John Thompson

AND NOW THERE BE STONE…..  1. Scafti and me

For the last 25 years I have been sculpting and carving almost daily, but I came to this via a love of art and rocks in my childhood and then intaglio etching. I did the formal education thing, getting a Bachelor of Arts. I tried many things: drawing, painting, ceramics and photography. I have a 2000-pound etching press that was my artistic outlet, and for several decades I was a printmaker. Then an opportunity opened up, and now the press sits with dust on it and I am a dedicated and happy sculptor.

My introduction to sculpting came through wood carving. I began by drawing the horses that were to become the wooden ponies for the Missoula Carousel Project in 1991. I was the carousel “artist” with the opportunity to help design the more than forty carousel critters. I couldn’t resist the lure of carving and joined in the efforts to create the horses as well as designing them. I was hooked. Great carousels always have a ring machine to allow the riders to get the brass ring, and I decided ours needed to be a dragon. Since the carousel’s inception, I have added a 6’ x 6’ square Indiana limestone relief sculpture to the outside of the carousel building.

In 2008, I attended a stone sculpture symposium in Marble, Colorado and put a chisel to a piece of marble. WOWZA!! Since then, I have participated in a number of other symposiums—Silver Falls, Suttle Lake, California Sculpture—where I have taught wood carving and learned more about stone carving. Through these events, the NWSSA has been a great connection to amazing folks with a vast treasure trove of knowledge and skills. It is a wonderful gift that these people are all willing to share their knowledge and love of stone work.

To sculpt year-round in Missoula, Montana requires an indoor space, and so the Stone Studio came to life. My good friend and fellow sculptor Adrian and I found a space that was perfect for the need. With some great tools acquired (thank you Rick), we are busy making stone dust. I have discovered that my wood carving skills are applicable to stone. I go back and forth between marble, limestone, alabaster, and soapstone and am not sure which is most enjoyable. I have a love of hand tools, but find the air hammer and Dremel are my preferred methods at this time. I’m currently using the Dremel for detail carving.

My work with the carousel influences my stone carving. I love whimsy and humor. I like to make fun critters, real or imagined, and my wood carving has morphed into dragons and funny birds and funky creatures. I carve rocking critters for family, and upon commission, am now going to try to make a marble rocking critter from Carrara marble (thank you Carl). I don’t lack for ideas. I move from project to project. Some are simply to learn a skill and will not ever be a finished piece. There is always something either to learn or that needs to be created, and I “art” daily.

The work I did for and on the Missoula Carousel is my legacy to my children and grandchildren. As the first hand-carved wooden carousel created in the United States in 60 years, it is the largest public art project in the state of Montana. It was the inspiration for over fifteen other new carousel projects across the country. It also has been a tremendous inspiration to hundreds of people that they too can create and be artistic.

I enjoy teaching and sharing the skills I have. I have had the privilege to teach at many workshops and schools and have passed on the skills and wisdom from others who have taught me. I want everyone to see the value and joy of art in the world. It is my belief that if we are making Art, we will be happier and better people.

“Scafti and Me”  Actual size (I am about 5’7”) Photo at heading of this article
Scafti was designed and carved for the Missoula Carousel. It is the last critter I carved that will ride the carousel in Missoula. It was created after I had carved the dragon for our ring machine. The ring machine dragon is about 9 feet long and sits in a hand carved tree so that the riders reach for the brass ring as they are riding. As I was carving the ring-dragon, kids would want to know when they could ride it. Well who wouldn’t want to ride a dragon? Thus, Scafti happened. Scafti was carved from laminated basswood, all with hand chisels and gouges. It was painted by some of the carousel’s other great volunteers. I am proud to say it soon became one of the favorite critters on the carousel.

2. Gutter Goyle“Gutter Goyle”   L 29 " X H 8.5” X D 10”Gutter Goyle print
This was carved from a piece of Kansas limestone fence post. I cut a channel in the bottom for the gutter with an angle grinder and chisels. I then roughed out the critter with an air hammer. It was “finished” with hand chisels, files and scrapers. It sits proudly in the flower bed waiting for rain.

“Stone Hinge”   L 9” X H 6” X D 5”
This was carved from a piece of Wenatchee soapstone as a demo-piece for one of my workshops I was teaching in Washington. It of course happened after a trip to England—not sure what the inspiration was.  The hinge is painted with acrylic, and the stone was painted with a clear wax and a tinted floor wax.

“Column Fragment”  L 10” X H 8.25” X D 7.5”
Carousel limestone panelsThis is carved from Wenatchee soapstone. I try to convince folks that it is something I found on one of my trips to Europe and managed to bring it home hidden in my carry-on. I really enjoy looking at all the fragments and minute carvings that all of our previous stone artists have left us to find. The critter design on this piece is from a sketch of some carvings I saw on a cathedral wall in France. It was carved with hand chisels and files.
Column fragment
“Carousel Limestone Panels”  L 6’ X H 6’ X D 2.5”
I was able to convince the other folks on the carousel advisory board that we should have a “small” limestone panel on the outside of our new addition to the carousel building. I thought something about the carousel might be good. I told them we could probably find someone willing to do the carving. Yep! I roughed out the six individual panels (Indiana limestone) in the garage studio using my air hammer and chisels. We then installed the panels on the building and I “finished” carving them in place. This was to let folks watch and advise (tell me what I was doing wrong). It was carved using air hammer and hand chisels, files, scrapers. It was a very enjoyable project. I could pick my and my grandkids’ favorite critters from the carousel to carve. It is also very humbling when I walk by the building and see where I could improve and tweak the carving. Well who knows—I still have my tools and may do some after-hours work. 
6b. Carousel limestone panels relief

 “Sleepy Dragon-Boring Book”   L 22” X H 14” D 14” Sleepy dragon boring book
This is a piece of Colorado marble. I was able to attend the symposium at Marble, Colorado last summer. I actually had a plan of what I was going to carve. Yep—registered late and the stone I needed was not available. I chose a different, smaller stone, and after an afternoon of playing with my air hammer, this critter started appearing. This stone was in the truck with us as we drove to Suttle Lake a couple weeks later. So I worked on it there too. It followed me to our new carving studio in Missoula. I have been carving and finishing it up in our new digs.  I am working with air hammer and using the Dremel for detail carving.

The New Studio
Studio
This is a photo of Adrian and my new work space. It is the front half of a friend’s quonset. We are pretty excited and are now carving stone about three days a week. It is a work in progress but already proving to be a great space. We are not sure where this is going, but it sure is going to be fun.
In April, I will be getting a 3600-pound piece of Carrara marble delivered (thanks Carl). That should help keep me off the streets and out of trouble.

Photo of me working on the panels at the carousel. Life size. I am 5’7” tall (taller when I am on the ladder, shorter when I am sitting down)

Limestone Relief Critter”   L 12” X H 12.25” X D 1.25” limestone relief critter
This was a practice piece out of Indiana limestone started before I was to carve the relief carving for the carousel. It was carved using my small air hammer and hand tools. I am finishing it up with the Dremel and some scrapers.

Prometheus Dragon by John Thompson“Prometheus Dragon”     L 12.5” X H 9.5” X D 7.5”
This was carved from Wenatchee soapstone using hand tools and files. This was carved as a sample for a workshop I was teaching. I wanted to try to get more detail in the soapstone carvings folks were doing.

Group photo: Renda Greene, John Thompson & Adrian Hoye

Artist Spotlight: Eirene Blomberg

Transfiguration 2012 Carrara Marble and Black Onyx 18.5in tall 2nd            I am a maker and creative being to the core. I have painted, woven, felted, sculpted, sketched, and more, but still hadn't thought of myself as an artist. I knew that I needed to create in order to stay balanced and centered in my life. Art was more of a by-product of what I was doing — whether that was cooking, baking, gardening, or basket-weaving, art would infiltrate in as a driving philosophy, both consciously and subconsciously. Growing up in California, I took art classes in high school and entered college as an art major. Intimidated by the art world, I quickly switched majors and ended up getting a degree in Cultural Ecology with an emphasis in agriculture and became a gardener and herbalist by trade.

           Eirene sketching on stone I spent the next few years working on Organic and Biodynamic farms in Indiana, New Jersey, and Tennessee. Eventually I landed on 150 acres in the backwoods of Tennessee where a lifelong dream of homesteading with a small community of friends was brought to fruition. Five years later, yearning for the waters and mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I ended up settling in Washington State on Lopez Island. I still live there today with my husband and daughter in the home we built. I did a lot of exploring and creating during this period but I didn’t do much classic ‘art.’

            It was not until I was dealing with a medical condition in 2012 that I really opened up to  art again. In the process surrounding my condition I thought a lot about the finite reality of life, and the dreams I still wanted to manifest. Sculpting stone was high on that list, so I contacted Tamara Buchanan, a local stone sculptor and long time NWSSA member. We scheduled a class a few weeks out. As soon as I put chisel to stone I was hooked, and have been carving stone ever since. Tamara has been my teacher, mentor and dear friend, sharing her studio, tools, and wisdom. Working with Tamara Buchanan, taking classes, participating in Symposiums and being a member of the NWSSA have all played very key roles in my development as a stone sculptor. 

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Artist Spotlight: Kirk McLean

Seedling Kirk McLeanMy first serious encounter with stone was a mixed-materials piece in 1982, featuring a 300-pound granite glacial erratic that I had dragged from the woods. Working on this piece got me totally hooked on stone and particularly on granite. Since my training was in metal casting and fabrication and I knew nothing about carving stone, I naturally decided to become a stone sculptor.

My art in the three-and-a-half decades since divides into three phases: eighteen years of abstract granite and basalt sculptures in human scale, a decade of chasing the metaphor of a tree growing from rock, and my recent series using visual metaphors autobiographically. My process has always started from a vision that pops into my mind suddenly, although often after I’ve been thinking about a subject for some time. I work the design further in my head and on the stone, rarely using drawings or maquettes. When I did the Rock Becoming Tree series, the essence of my sculpture became conveying the metaphor using a limited number of symbols. In the Love & Loss series that I just finished, the most important feature was communicating emotion."New World" Soapstone 2014 Kirk McLean

The recent change in my work came from my wife Judy’s illness and death from Alzheimer’s Disease. Family caregivers for someone with dementia die at a rate sixty-three percent higher than the general population, because the experience is so exhausting and traumatic. After her death, I felt totally crushed and floundering in a world with no meaning. Caregivers are encouraged to write about their experience in order to process their grief. I decided, instead, I would use my years of training to make sculptures about it.

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