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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Nicky Oberholtzer - July/Aug 1998

The following is an interview with Nicky Oberholtzer. Nicky has been a NWSSA member since 1990 and has been an instructor at the Whidbey Retreat and Camp Brotherhood Symposium. She is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University. I visited her at her home in Seattle. She did not have a photo of herself available for this interview, but the essence of Nicky is clearly shown by her work and her responses to my questions.


BL: What led to your becoming a sculptor?

NO: A teacher named D'Elaine Johnson. She was my high school art teacher and really inspired me to do whatever I wanted-just to respond to art forms, to enjoy forms. As a consequence, I wanted to be an artist. When I graduated from high school, my dad asked, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to be an artist." He said, "No, you can't do that. You can't make a living at it." I am here to tell you he is right (laughter). Because of that I denied I was an artist for years and didn't tell anyone I did artistic things. I was always doing art in some form. I went to Sweden to learn weaving for a year. I didn't hide my artistic interest very well apparently, because one day in church someone suggested doing something creative Everyone turned and looked' at me and I thought, "You're doing a really good job of being a closet artist." That was the beginning.

At one point, my husband and I made a career change. We asked ourselves what we wanted to do and decided to stop working for other people and start working for ourselves. He decided to become a contractor; I became an artist. At that time I was going back to school for a psychology degree. I wanted to do art therapy. The nearest good degree program was in either Idaho or Oregon, which meant uprooting my family, and I didn't want to do that. So that went by the wayside.


BL: How did you know that sculpting was what you wanted to concentrate on?

NO: I needed certain art credits and thought sculpture might be interesting. I took one class in sculpting and the stone just grabbed my soul and that was it. I changed my major to art and graduated with a BA in Fine Arts and a BA in Russian.


BL: Were there other art classes at Seattle Pacific University that were helpful?

NO: A teacher there named Larry Metcalf is absolutely wonderful in teaching design. And I also took oil painting and I still do that and pastels. I did stained glass for ten years before I went back to school.


BL: Besides sculpting, you have done oil painting, pastels and stained glass. Anything else?

NO: Clay and basket weaving. I can't go without doing something creative at least once a week or I go nuts.


BL: What is your favorite stone to work with?

NO: I enjoy yule marble, but I hate the sanding process. I enjoy chlorite. I do a lot of alabaster, so I guess I would have to say alabaster, but I do like yule marble because of the purity of the color-the whiteness.


BL: What stone did you work with at SPU?

NO: Alabaster and soapstone.


BL: So you were using hand tools only at that time?

NO: The first class, yes. By the time I left SPU, I had been introduced to the angle grinder at a symposium.


BL: [A cat walks by] I know you like cats. Do you do any sculpture related to cats?

NO: I like to catch cats doing what they do. I don't like trite poses. I really encourage beginners to stay away from trite poses such as the cat with the legs out front just sitting there. If you are going to do that, make it interesting. Find some other way of presenting it.


This cat is annoyed and he has decided he is going to ignore you. Cats turn and pretend to preen themselves, but they'll let you know they're annoyed by putting their ears back. This is what I tried to capture. I'm pleased with the result.


BL: Is that a fracture in the stone?

NO: No. those are black inclusions in the stone. It hasn't been cracked. It's a gorgeous stone, but one I wouldn't use again.

BL: To me it looks like a very old piece. Like they would have done in some Chinese dynasty.

NO: Oh really. Thank you.


BL: Do you prefer working with abstract or realistic forms?

NO: I work with all of them. I talk to people who say you should stay with one or the other. I basically do what I am inspired to do. Sometimes the inspiration is from the stone. I see something in the stone and it cries to get out. Other times I find a form I like and that is a starting point. I'm a direct carver-I'm not a maquette carver. Occasionally I do drawings. Sometimes I stick to the drawing, but more often deviate considerably by the time I'm done with the stone. I let inspiration guide me.


NO: The word abstract means that you have to have known the original form in order to abstract it. You have to be able to do a good torso in order to be able to simplify it. Otherwise you are not usually going to do an effective piece. Some people are exceptions, but the majority of sculptors do abstract because they don't think they can do a good torso or animal and they are kidding themselves. I do abstractions a lot. Usually human form or animal form. I do a lot of stylized forms. I like to do human torsos that emerge from the stone and merge back into the stone. But usually my abstracts have a basis like this piece [pointing to a piece]. It started out being a leaf and when your husband [Ward Lynch] looked at it, he said, "I see a frog there." I talked to four or five other people and I got at least six different forms that were in that piece that I didn't know were there. Subconsciously I probably knew they were there.


BL: Are there sculptors, living or dead, who have influenced your work?

NO: Yes, Georgia O'Keefe, Henry Moore, Brancusi, and Everett DuPen to a certain degree.


BL: Your least favorite part of sculpting is sanding?

NO: Actually not. That's why there's a TV in my studio. When you get to the sanding part, it's a no-brainer, so I just turn the TV on and zone out on some kind of show. Or I talk to somebody when I'm sanding or carving. That's why I like to do Artists in Action. If I know where I am going on a piece, I usually end up getting it roughed out by the end of the day. I'm talking to people and I don't notice I'm working. The inspiration process is actually subconscious-I'm not aware I'm doing it. Sometimes I get home and look at the piece and say, "Whoa, that really changed!"


BL: What is your favorite part of sculpting?

NO: It's that point where what I see in my head is realized. When I see the stone actually taking on the form that I envisioned or something even better. That, and sanding everything but marble. I haven't found any tools that do a good job sanding so I always come back to doing it by hand. I do use diamond sanding pads. I have all the fancy sanding tools, but they sit in my closet and don't get used.


I'm a color-oriented person. The other part of the process that I really enjoy is when you're working a piece that is dusty and you don't see the color. Then as you start sanding, things start appearing that you didn't know or didn't remember were in the stone. I like that journey of rediscovery and seeing what the stone does in conjunction with the form.


BL: Do you select your stone and look for the form in it or have an idea and then select the stone?

NO: More often than not the stone tells me what it wants to do. I look for stones that talk to me-that inspire me to see a certain form within. The stone guides me in where I'm going. However, there are times when-like the piece out on the deck that is three-quarters finis~I drew a picture and then realized it was within a stone I had.

BL: Do you bave any pieces currently in shows?
NO: Oh, yes. I bave pieces in the Issaquah Gallery, a gallery in Colorado, and one in Bellevue: I have a piece in Pioneer Park in the Puyallup Outdoor Sculpture show-a moon-shaped piece oflimestone that has a face with it's mouth open and it's on a triangular piece of granite. It's a birdbath.


BL: You have been to symposiums in Colorado. Tell me about them.

NO: I like Colorado, as everyone probably knows by now. You carve in an aspen grove at 9000 feet. It meant tbat I had to be on my own and that's a first in my 24-year marriage. I learned to work yule marble. I still don't feel totally confident working it. Marble/marble is a wonderful workshop for beginners all the way up to advanced. I would recommend going with some knowledge of the tools because they use a lot of power tools that are huge and can be terribly intimidating. The quarry is right there. If you ever get the chance to go into a quarry, it's really inspiring.


BL: What does your family think of you doing sculpture.

NO: The kids are annoyed when I go away for workshops because they feel it cuts into their summer. I have a 20-, a 17- and a 14-year old. They are very suppottive about what I do. I even occasionally hear, "Oh, I really like that, Mom." My husband has been an absolute charm. He is the most supportive person in the world. When I get discouraged, he's there to say, "You're doing what you're supposed to be doing. We decided that, now keep on doing it."


I've talked to so many women who were taking art classes at SPU whose husbands were ridiculing them or dissuading them from doing art. I felt so sorry for them and realized how really fortunate I am.  I really do feel I have a talent that God has given me and I hope I am blessing Him by using that talent my main life goal.


BL: How much of your work is done with power equipment versus hand tools?

NO: The roughing out portion is done with power tools and then I go to hand tools unless I'm doing an artist in action where you can't do power tools. I get really frustrated in not getting close to the form. I attend a nude modeling class, started by Everett DuPen at University of Washington, but now on Mercer Island. When I go to that, I do basically hand tools. It is a good discipline. You get locked into getting to the piece too fast and need to have that discipline to realize that the stone is resistant and it is not always going to do what you want it to.


BL: How do you know when is a piece is finished?

NO: Usually when the vision I have in, my head is satisfied. Occasionally I'll think a piece is finished  and it's not. For example, I have a show of animals in an Everett gallery and I had just finished a large turtle I was working on at the last symposium. I put it in the show and I looked at it and it's not right. It's

finished technically, but I don't like it. There is something wrong with it and I've got to figure out what. So I will probably bring it back and stare at it for two or three months before I touch it again.


BL: Does intuition play a part in the process of your sculpting?

NO: Oh. yes, very much. Without intuition I would be a lousy sculptor. I think my carving is intuition mostly. And again [ think the stone talks to me.


BL: Tell me about your goals.

NO: I want to do monumental pieces, just like everybody else. Right now I'm restricted by what I can lift and my lack of tools, but once I've invested in a hoist and some other large moving tools I'd like to work life size or larger. Actually I'd like to do a couple of ex1remely large pieces. I'm doing 3 twisting sea serpent/dragon in clay right now that someday I'd like to donate to Utah to be installed on the salt flats. Driving across the salt flats is so boring, it needs some visual interest. I'd like to do it in basalt and the head would probably be about as tall as I am. That's one of my goals.


I'm working on a piece from Marble! marble. I've been basically stymied and unable to work on the piece because the top part weighs about a ton and the bottom is about 12,000 pounds. I don't have the capacity for lifting it and pinning the base. I'm hoping it can be done at the symposium with the help of some of the equipment that is up there. It's shaped like a harp but, rather than having strings going though it, I'm opening up curlicues on one side which represent harmony and will hopefully open it up on the other side to appear like musical notes or something relating to music. The idea behind the piece is the harmony and music of life. I think it will be an excellent piece when it's done. I have really enjoyed working on it. I am excited about seeing the end. It has been driving me nuts just sitting in my driveway.


Another piece I'm working on is related to the piece installed in Puyallup. It's called "Loony Moon." Again, a crescent moon and a birdbath that trickles down to a little pond underneath. It stands about four feet tall. I like to install humor in my pieces. That's a real important component. I think pieces can be humorous and yet be a serious art piece. I think sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves. We need to laugh at the world.


BL: Would you say your "Frog With an Attitude" is an exanlple of showing humor?

NO: Yes, it's a one of a series that I am doing. The whole series will be called "Frog With an Attitude." The one on the lily pad was the first and was done about seven years ago. What I'm doing is taking human attributes and attitudes and putting them on frogs with the idea that when I get the whole exhibit done, people can go in and laugh at themselves. I have a couch potato frog sitting on a sofa with a beer can in one hand and a remote in the other. I have a frog with a great big grin called "What Are You Smiling At?" I'm going to do a road hog frog. A motorcycle frog. Sew a vest and have a bandanna on his head and cigarette and really have an attitude. I am hoping that people can celebrate life by laughing at themselves.


BL: Your dolphins are an example of one of  your realistic pieces.

NO: That piece took fourth place at the Puyallup Fair about four years ago. It's only about 7'x7'x 8". It's a piece of marble from Canada. It was a very fractured piece. People say you shouldn't glue stone together. It has been glued together about eight times and you can't tell. It shows how a stone can be fractured and still turn into a wonderful piece without jeopardizing the design. It took me over a year to do because there was so much damage to the stone. I had so much invested in it that I really couldn't let it go.


BL: It looks shiny. Is there some kind of finish on it?

NO: Typically I use waxes, although I'm trying to get away from that because waxes eventually yellow andif the pieces aren't dusted regularly-the dust tends to work its way in and dull the finish and require the piece to be refinished.


BL: Tell me about "Peace."

NO: This is from a series. I have two series goingthe frogs and the leaf series. This piece started as a leaf form. What I would like to do one day is have a form show. I love nature. I love the variety in nature-in leaves, in flowers. That is probably what got me going. The idea is to take the leaf form and twist it and turn it. Move it in different ways but keep the idea of the leaf. I usually put some kind of an opening. I did one called "The Wave." It's a leaf form that is curled over on itself and looks like a wave, too. Eventually I would like to have thirty pieces, each done in a different stone-both indoor and outdoor pieces-in a leaf form. Its organic and much of my work tends to lean toward organic forms. Centered in each form is a naturally rounded river rock. The leaf form is something that I have created and the river rock is something that God's created.


BL: Do you ever have to go into a library and research for any of your pieces or search for pictures?

NO: Yes, I do a lot of research actually. One of my best sources, and I urge beginners to do this, is go out to a Goodwill store and pick up National Geographics on whatever topic you do. Take them home and cut them up and create a file system for yourself. I'm doing a Puma Man right now. I'm not sure where it came from. There is a legend of shape changers-half man, half animal. This Native American brave is turning into a puma and it is in the middle of the change. The head is a puma, the shoulders and the upper arms will be man and the hands will be paws. It's not something that I have done before. It is a branching out for me. In order to do the puma face right, I went out and researched cats.ln order to do the chest right, I went out and got a Playgirl because it is very hard to find good male models that are built like I wanted this figure to be.


BL: Would you like to give me a statement of your philosophy?

NO: Celebrate life. I struggled for many years trying to figure out what I'm trying to say; what my heavy message is. What penetrating thought do I want to share with others? The one thing that we don't do is really look at life intently. In order to do a bird, you have to spend time looking at it. I go to the zoo and the aquarium and spend hours staring at subject matterhow they stand, how they turn and twist, how they rest, how they swim. I try to capture that life in my sculpture rather that just doing a static form. In order to do that, you have to learn to love the form and to understand it. There is a celebration of life that seems to come out of that study.


Go to a nude modeling class. Study the human form. It is fascinating. You'll never see the same form twice. It's an endless variety of shapes and colors and sizes.


BL: How has NWSSA influenced you?

NO: It has been great. I have learned a lot. What is so valuable about it is the networking. Also the access to tools, information about tools and stone. One of my biggest frustrations in 1990, when I was getting started, was finding stone, so I started acquiring it myself. Because of this, I have learned a lot about stone. Going to the symposium is like being in an encyclopedia on stone and tools. You visit other peopIe's studios and you learn so much seeing other people's processes at the symposium and getring tips on things. I like the friendliness. When I joined the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association-I know nobody is going to believe this-I was extremely shy. The Association helped me open up and be who I want to be. I would encourage people who go to the symposium to be gentle with beginners. They are very fragile.


BL: What things do you teach?

NO: I teach hand tools, pneumatics, design, and paper making. I have also been asked to jury at the state fair this year. This is the second time they have asked me. The first time I couldn't because I was going to be gone. It is really an honor to be asked.


BL: Do you suggest people start with power tools?

NO: One thing about sculpting is that it is a series of stages. People start out usually (there are exceptions to every rule) using hand tools, go to electric tools, and graduate to pneumatics. It doesn't have to be in that order but often the cost dictates the way you have to go.


I look at sculpting as a series of goals and steps. This year I have realized two goals. I have a piece in Puyallup that is a step towards a monumental piece. My other goal was to be asked to judge a show. That was a goal that I didn't expect to achieve for a number of years. So now I have to ask myself, "What is my next goal?"


BL: Thanks, Nicky.


Editor's note: because of the length of this interview, parts of it were cut for use at a later date.

Artist Spotlight: Verna Schwippert

This is an interview with stone sculptor/artist Verena Schwippert at her Arlington, Washington home and studio on 5/16/98. Her place abounds with varieties of stone and stone sculpture. She is a friendly person, and seems at-ease with herself, her art, and the world. Her cozy home is full of art and a covered deck with comfy chairs (for smoking and thinking) looks over her outdoor carving area. She seems to live with a deep sense of humor. Raised in Germany near the Baltic Sea, many of her works reflect a respect for the stone works of early history (Stone Age grave sites in that area) We start by looking around her yard.

VS: That one (pointing to a 1+ ton boulder on a pallet) For three years I've been looking at that one.

SS: What are your plans for this one?

VS: I think I'll use this for one of my "vessels" (large granite' boulders shaped into vessel or urn shapes, often set in groups) Although this form offers itself for thousands of ideas: a big "chair," "bowl," but I think a "vessel" would be just great. Even if I never work that stone, it's georgous, with such a coarse grain, very uniform too.

(We look at her granite water basin, with flowing pattern down one side, set on a granite base.)

VS: I'm going to set a water tap by it for use as an outside hand wash basin, This is white granite (from Mark Heisel). It's the hardest granite I've ever worked. It took me about a day and a half to make the bowl shape. I worked the inside shape with the ripper bit. And I broke a ripper on it.

SS: It looks like you're work­ing a lot in granite.

VS: I love granite. (We wander by a large vertical slab, "The Rune Stone," approx. 2'x4'. One side is ringed by an inscription in ancient Norse runes.) Even before I knew what it meant, I liked the way the script interacted with the natural stone surface. There are parts that I am still develop­ing and maybe I'll develop these lines (chalk lines on the piece). I like how the natural stone is curved. I might not touch that. And this surface, to do some­thing to it bothers me, but I want to do something. The holes (through the piece) and these lines are touching on the water theme. This inscription is an old Nordic rune which I researched at the library. Then I wrote this inscription for the Stillaguamish River. In the tradition of the rune stones, it says, "I, Verena, worked this stone, wrote these runes for all the waters sacred manifest, Stillaguamish '96". It's a dedication.

(Again we go into her home-an open space full of her paintings and sculpture and her collection of work by other artists. Her painting studio is in a large back room, although she says she hasn't painted much re­cently.)

SS: Have you shifted away from painting? (She had been painting for thirty-five years).

VS: Totally. I had painted realistically, but at the mo­ment, I decided to work more in the abstract style; that's when I started working on stone. Oddly enough, the special thing about sculpture is that it's always "real." This (a realistic painting) isn't real. It's an abstraction with two dimensions only. A three dimensional object is real­ is "realism", per se.

SS: Is it a brain-shift moving from the painter to the sculptor

VS: Not for me because I always had a want or need to express three dimensions, even in the paintings. As a child I played with clay and had an attraction toward three dimensions. I just didn't know how to do stone work. Finally I was taught.

SS: How long have you been living the artist's life?

VS: I remember doing a good drawing at three years old and no one in the family believed I did it. In school I drew all the time during lessons. I studied art at the University of Hamburg (B.F.A. Art Ed.). When I came to the U.S., I did a couple of different ventures that weren't related to art. For two years I ran a frozen yogurt business, the first in Seattle, called the "Shy Giant," for Mt. Rainier, which looked like a yogurt cone to me. Then I had different jobs, but it wasn't satisfying.

I have to do art to feel ful­filled. And art is never just for your own fulfillment because other people look at it. You always convey something­, an expression, a feeling of form. I have a degree in art teaching. I do hope in my sculpture there's a little wake­up call: a certain form that's good or a new way of looking at things. It's my purpose in life. I was given the talent and the desire. Of course, you have to learn a lot.

SS: When you work with a piece of material that already has a predominate shape, tex­ture, size, and maybe is "perfect," how do you think that relates to art? If there is something that already has a presence to it, as an artist, how do you interact with that form?

VS: A good definition would be that humans make art. The shapes you find in nature makes. This can be a helpful definition. I have been in situations where I had too much respect for the stone, the surface, the natural qualities, which are already so beautiful. Whatever we do to it could diminish or destroy its beauty. It's difficult to elevate the natural form. That's what Uchida (sculptor Kazntaka Uchida) is so good at. He takes those natural forms and is able to enhance them. His pieces look so utterly disciplined but also very natural.

I like to invent things. I had a tongue-shaped stone and I quilted it-made a mattress-look out of it. It made the stone look soft. I like to invent these new marks and forms on the stone, like the "toot-horns" around the drill holes (as on the Rune Stone). We were told at art school to find our own language and our personal mark in our art.

I've been carving stone for five years. I started out by going to Nicky Oberholtzer's class. She introduced me to this group. In all my years as an artist, I have never found a group of artists who are so supportive of each other. I've gotten so much help from people. At the symposia you learn so much; you're pushed on the way. I wanted to work in stone. I never dreamed it could be in granite.

SS: So you learned to go beyond seeming barriers?

VS: It was not so much giving me the courage to do the work, but giving me the tools and know-how. The artistic momentum is not from the group (NWSSA). I worked painting for 35 years, trying to sell and make my­self paint. I've learned after two decades of lollygagging around to go to it; do it even though you don't want to be­cause after five minutes into the process, you'll love it. You have to push yourself to get into it.

My work schedule is not reg­ular by the clock, but I've set it up so that, every day I'm at home, I should be able to work in stone. For me, the everyday life is working on the stone, not cleaning the house, not washing the dishes. I like the chaos, I like the dirt. I like to let it go at limes, otherwise I don't feel like I'm living.

I work at a job 48 hours a week straight. doing elder care. With that I pay my bills and have freedom to create my art.

I have made money from my art, but I don't see my art as a business. I want to have the freedom to play. You discover things which you only find by playing. You play with the shapes and the tools. You try this; you try that.

SS: What artists influence or inspire your work?

VS: I've probably been influenced by every artwork I've ever seen, also by the never ending variety of natural forms.

Three artists whose work I ad­mire are Tillman Riemenschnei­der, ca. 1250; Ernst Barlach who worked 1920-60; and Henry Moore, whom I admire im­mensely. All have worked with the human figure using a varying degree of abstraction. (We sit on the porch and look at an art book about one of Verena's influ­ences-stone sculptor Lika Mutal ) She communicates with the stone.

SS: How do you relate to Lika Mutal's notion of "communicating with the stone"?

VS: There are some situations where I feel I get touched by the essence, but it's very fleeting and rare. I like it. It's almost a spiri­tual experience. All of a sudden you feel and are aware of the power within the stone, when you cut, when you saw into it and it screams. That's what the "stone vessels" are about. They under­line that power that is in the stone. It has a life. It's not a lifeless mass to me. The rocks are the bones of the earth and we play with those bones.

SS: What scale or size do you like to work in?

VS: Size 12. (laughter). For relaxation and recreation between my larger works, I do "two day" sculptures. I make them in two days. They're no larger than 18", easily moveable, they are "play" pieces, trial pieces. And I am interested in working in large scale, REALLY LARGE scale!

SS: Do these "two day" pieces become ideas for other pieces?

VS: They have inspired other pieces. They have shown the way to other venues. And they make great gifts.

SS: What is your relationship to selling your work?

VS: Some pieces are easier to let go of than others. I like to sell them, though I don't beat the drum about selling them. A recent con­viction of mine: if some one gives me their hard-earned money for my art, it's a great compliment. I used to think that money was di­luting my idealism, or my pure intentions. Money is probably more neutral, really.

SS: In terms of your livelihood?

VS: I don’t want to "have to " count on it. I've arranged my life so I don't have to do that. Some­how that makes it easier. And you are able to create better things. I have developed shows, worked with deadlines and that can be a good thing, but I wouldn't want it all the time.

SS: (We look at photos of her "Stone Vessel Group: Tau": four large granite vessel forms on a black base. Tau in German means lithe dew," "dew drops".) Tell me about the "Stone Vessels". How long have you been working with that idea?

VS: A year and a half. It's an attention getter. I started with a small vase shape and then got bigger and bigger and bigger. Each rock that has a rounded shape becomes really quite differ­ent in character. It's very easy do. I could line my driveway with bags and they would all be different, it would look wonderful. Actually they contain something, the rock, they contain time and power. They are bags of mountain power.

SS: We end the interview talking about the large collaborative piece done at the '97 symposium with Ruth Mueseler and Tamara Buchanan. The idea came from Ruth, who suggested that we do a large piece together. We picked a stone at Marenakos Stone Yard which looked good and turned out to be a ton's worth. In the pile of huge stones it looked little. Rich Hes­tekind hauled it up to the symposium. It started from a small idea, then there it was. We were so busy with the technicalities of setting the stone that we didn't have a chance to think about shaping the piece 'til late in the week. It was difficult to find a quiet space to work on the design. Six or seven days into the sympo­sium the piece was mounted on the base. The design was prescribed by the rock. We now work with all outline of a design which we all agreed on, allowing it to change as we go along. The working title is "Going With the Flow" because that's what the process had been, although sometimes a turbulent flow. We started shaping the piece at the symposium, eventu­ally transporting it to the History of The World Part 4 gallery on Camano Island. Kirk McLean helped us set the stone with his winch and tripod. I had the idea of waves, like where the water meets the sand and makes ripples. The bowl on the top and the water run off, which Tamara carved, runs off over the ripples I made. These continue to the other side where Ruth made a "fold" or deep indentation going around. As we proceed to work on the piece, Ruth and I want to exchange working sides so our input will be more interwoven.

SS: So, a work in progress continues. Thauks, Ver­ena, this has been fun.

Artist Spotlight: Brian Berman

This is an interview with sculptor Brian Berman at his new home and studio on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Already prolific artist, he seems to be entering a new level involvement in his art with a large commission to be complete this year. And he is starting to work in monumental scale. He even has a new (pre-owned) one ton flatbed with boom crane. Large pieces of basalt and granite await his attention around his wooded yard, as well as an array of other smaller stones. We start by viewing his model of his recent commission for an outdoor scuipture/fountain to be sited at a Palm Springs area residence (see cover photo). It is a l/6th scale model in plasticine, of woman and child The woman will be pouring water from the urn she holds into another urn on the ground A child stands beside her, holding a bowl. The main female figure will stand approximately 6' high and both figures will be carved from Indiana limestone. The "base" area will be approximately 6'x6' and simulate a dry riverbed.

SS: Brian, why is the large figure developed with more detail, while the smaller child-form is generalized?BB: I had trouble with the concept of the child. I didn't know how old the child should be, what type clothing or anything. So I minimized the child-form and did four renditions in different positions. I showed the client the three options, but she liked the original form. [We look at child-form options.) Initially I was asking, "How are the figures interacting? What is the relationship between the two?" And in any kind of interaction with water, there's usually some function that's taking place: hathing, drinking, hauling water. I was trying to develop some kind of purpose. Then I got into the mind of the child and thought, there's also playfulness. So I posed some of these options in a posture of playing or receiving the water from the mother.

SS: Had you previously done work for this client?
BB: Yes, she purchased a granite water basin at a show on the island. It was a form (in the basin) based on the Native American raven-head archetype. That happened to be a form that was very significant to her.

SS: Do you feel that kind of communality with her about the large commission piece?
BB: This felt more like a contract She suggested the theme. Also, I wouldn't have chosen to do it as a fountain because of the complexities of adding that element to a sculpture that could stand on its own. The challenge of this job was she wanted me to give her some costs. She wanted me to give her a presentation prior to agreeing to anything beside the general theme. In my first proposals, I presented an 8' heroic size. She said she was thinking of 4' high. Being prepared for that meeting, I showed her what that height would look like at a distance and noted that this piece is going to be seen in perspective. She then agreed to a 6' high piece. I had made a price chart for myself, starting at 3' taIl up to 8' tall. For every one-foot increment, I calculated what price I would charge to carve a sculpture in that size with minimal detail. Then I figured how much I would want for the stone, showing a difference in price for different types of stone (limestone, marble or granite). I made granite the most expensive because it would be the most challenging to carve. Marble was next and finally limestone. Then you have to add all the extra costs including moving a large stone, crating, installation, sitework delivery, etc.

: [We look at Brian's presentation material - a collage of images including a photo of native people with their children and three sculptures in "Native American" style dress.)
BB: The client wanted the piece to have some "native" appearance. I first went for portraying "native mother and child." In the initial meeting, I had the piece bid out as if the two figures were connected as one stone. But she clearly wanted the figures to be separate. The discussion with the client started by her saying she was inspired by "The Water Bears" bronze sculpture in Kirkland, Washington. So that was a lead idea. Then she said she wanted two figures standing by a stream in her yard, which included making the stream. So to go into the meeting and come up with a contract, I went in with several photo montages done with "Photocopy" software, which combined and altered several images to approximate the sculptural proposal in its enviromnent This amazed her. She could show these to her landscape architect This was all done prior to any contract or payment I didn't have a design-phase contract

I came across a retrospective book of the work of Allen Houser. I saw these images and realized this was the artist who has fully captured the inspiration of what this piece could be. He was like a mentor to this commission happening. I have no cultural connection to native people. I needed something to connect me with their art. When I saw his work, it inspired me. That then led to me carving, at the Vancouver Island Symposium, this most recent piece (approximately 20" x 15" x 12" entitled "Proud To Be Me" - a native woman seated with a water urn, wearing beads, and carved from chlorite. This person just "showed up". I didn't do facial studies; I direct-<:arved it. After doing the research around the commission, there was an impression made in me. I just went out and I carved She has that look of being proud to be who she is. I will also use the direct carving approach to this commission instead of pointing up from an exact model.

[The conversation turns to some recent changes in Brian's life.)

BB: My life as an artist bas been very hand-to-mouth. The importance of my story is that when I'm doing my heart's work, it isn't about the money. It's about being happy that I'm able to live and work doing what I love to do. It isn't about how much I'm selling the job for; it's that I'm going to be snpported for the length of time it takes to make this sculpture (a year-long project). Last year was truly a "phoenix" year for me. There have been many "crash-and-burns" along the way. Up until the end of '96, I was basically without a home for six months. I was houseboating. I always had a place to live and sleep. For several years prior to that, I'd been living in other people's homes in creative ways. I was a caretaker or remodeler or I sublet. It was really difficult to move my career forward without a base. It took finding this place and the benevolent landlord I have to obtain a base to operate from. And the day I moved in, he said, "Let's find you a place to work" I've had a year of grace. The studio was built with only one purchased piece of wood. Right after I got started, I was given a barn to take apart which had all the wood I needed.

SS: There seems to be a lot of serendipity going on here in terms of taking your next step in your career as an artist.
BB : Yes, there is something important here. Living as an artist, without any means other than what I create with my hands, it's difficult to meet financial demands. But a friend was asking me about my dream of the life I wanted. I said I want Bainbridge to be my home and communitythe place for me in my career as an artist It was like going to the fortune teller who says good fortune is going to come and then says, "Let me write you a check." My friend said he knew of a place and set up an appointment which led to me living here. And he also donated all the 2x4' s for the shop.

I'm reminded of Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell and asking about the notion "follow your bliss." I had some pretty dark moments. One day I was channel surfing on tv and came upon Campbell saying something like: "If you go through your life being a good provider and you had artistic inclinations which you didn't express, you'd look back at your life and have regrets. But, if you have artistic interests and you've expressed them, you've made a gift to the world. Live without the money if you have to. Give the gift." That message affirmed my artistic conviction.

SS: How did you transition out of your previous life?
BB: This was my phoenix myth. I had created a marketing business making promotional sportswear and awards. I loved that work I love providing things for people. I love producing things. These were custommade items mostly for nonprofit organizations.

But things fell apart. This involved a three-year litigation with a partner and a debt that drained all the life energy out of me. I didn't want to do anything in business ever again. That was the "dark night." I felt like I had "done it". I had wife and kids, my own home, a successful business. I had done all those things. That life is over. I felt extreme pain and shame about that loss; besides losing the business, my marriage had broken up, I'd left the home, and was estranged from my children. Out of those "ashes," I have been the ouly thing that felt good. I was grieving. I didn't building my life as an artist since '91.

SS: What was your art background and work history? Obviously you had a creative business.
BB: I have no formal training. I'm self taught in most of my handiwork I learn by watching and doing. I took a job at a large pottery eqnipment manufacturing company run by hippies. I fit right in. This was a phenomenal enviromnent They hired me as a welder; I didn't know how to weld. I learned many things by doing. I cast concrete, sandblasted, bent pipe for frames, ran metal lathes, ran a punch press, wired electronic components, and worked in the repair end Eventually I became the purchasing agent, which was one of the most-fun jobs I'd had, with a two-milion-dollar budget to buy parts and material. We were constantly developing new prodncts. It was fascinating to go from an idea to acquiring materials to creating the product - much like sculpting. After seven years, I was eventually offered the General Manager position. At that point I resigned because 1 needed to create my own business. I created a promotional marketing company. We made pictographs, buttons, decals, T-shirts, posters and went into the national gift industry. This eventually became an $800,000 per year business.

SS: When did you start creating art?
BB: The discovery of sculpting and working with stone came out of my unconscious. When my lawsuit ended and I had lost my career, I was deeply depressed and I needed something to do with my son Jay other than watch television. I went into an art supply store where they had a promotion--if you bought the set of riffler files for $35, they gave you 20 lb. of soapstone. Jay and I started carving, day after day at the kitchen table, eight   hours a day, telling stories, making up techniques. Jay returned to school and I kept going. I found it was the most sane thing I could do with my life in that state of mind. It was the only thing that felt good. I was grieving. I didn't  realize how much grief I was holding in my body until I carved a piece called "grieving man." That made me aware that I could express myself artistically. So I sculpted as a healing process for the nexi year and eventually went to my first stone carving symposium in '92. I was totally thrilled to meet others who were into the theraputic nature of sculpting. I wasn't looking at it as making art. I was doing something that was keeping me alive. That was what was reaL I wanted to infuse myself in the stone and see what happened. I carved "The Peace Guardian" in alabaster-a dove in flight protected by a ram with horns. Sculpting became a process of protecting me.

SS: You've been teaching beginning carvers at the various symposia for several years. How do you see the teaching process and yourself as a teacher? [Brian has also been NWSSA symposium coordinator for Camp Brotherhood and Silver Falls, Oregon, for four years and two years respectively. He has been on the carving faculty for the Whidbey Island Retreat for two years and he will teach "direct carving for beginners" at Camp Brotherhood in the summer of '98.]
BB: I've always enjoyed sharing what I know and am enthused about I also teach at my studio (spring/fall) in weekend sessions. I create a supportive environment that allows people to explore their creativity. My purpose is to share the joy of carving stone.

SS: What is the ideal state in which to do your work?
BB: For me the ideal state is when I become "transparent": the activity is happening and I'm the instrument that makes it happen. All my faculties are engaged in the process, but it's a timeless process--nonrational When days go by like that, I wonder: how did I get this far along? I don't remember going through all the steps to get to the finished sculpture. [We look at several pieces around his home.) Very often when you're working in that direct carving mode, you start with one idea and something else will emerge. You realize where the "energy" is for you - how you are connected to the piece. You realize where you want to take the piece, what direction you want to move in.

[We look at an award-\\imting sculpture in Wenatchee soapstone entitled "The End May Just Be the
Beginning of Something Else" ('94)]. This was another part of the completion process. I was working with the theme of beginnings for a theme show and I started carving fish tails. It was very metaphorical, about endings also being begimtings. I often use what I call "journal in stone" because I write stories about the pieces that are displayed \\ith the piece. These are about how they relate to the phase of my life I was in when I carved the piece. I'm not sculpting just to make salable pieces.

[We look at his "A Shaman's lnitiation"-a head form combined "ith a bird/raven head in chlorite, finished dark black] I carved this piece after spending a week with a Siberian shaman trying to understand shamanism. The sculpture illustrates the transformation into the shamanic world. [We talk about his "functional art." He has created an array of stone vases, puzzles, and necklaces. He talks about how his experiments with interlocking puzzle pieces and vase forms led to smaller "tantric beads" with interlocking stone elements which he makes in a series for shows. He also shows me his sculptural "perfume bottle" designed to hold and dispense fragrant oils.]

SS: What percentage of your work is the more functional art?
BB: Maybe 20 percent That will be different this year with the commission.

[We go out to his studio and talk about his 7' high, 1800 lb., granite form, entitled "Mudra: Peace Monument: and slated to show at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show. His initial plan was for a piece with minimal shaping, taking advantage of the natural stone shape. He then considered working it horizontally and adding leg elements. The most recent idea is to develop it more fully as a composition: an abstract fignre in dancer posture, incorporating the mudra hand gesture.]

SS: How do you use the direct carving approach with a piece this big?
BB: I work around the piece as though it were a smaller piece. As I work, there is an internal inspiration about what to do. If I think about the monumental significance of the piece, that tends to suppress the creativity of the moment. With direct carving, there is always a "dance" between plamting and inspiration in the moment in which the piece evolves. Ideas "show up" along the way that enhance the design. I'm working for something that resonates with me. I ask, "Does it please my eye? Does it say something to me which correlates to something meaningful?"

Working large in the direct mode is a way of saying, "Here I am," in a way that can't be hidden. And it's part of my evolution of emerging from the cocoon of self healing. It's not important that I "understand" what I'm creating right away.

SS: Thank, Brian.

Artist Spotlight - Candyce Garrett


a water fountain by Candyce Garrett


Candyce_at_the_wheel_of_her_favorite_toolThis granite sculpture was installed by Candace at the entrance of the Santa Fe Farmers Market building in the recently refurbished Rail Yard Complex in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was asked by the organizers of the Farmers Market to make a granite fountain for a newly completed building. Candyce immediately went to work on designs.


After receiving enthusiastic approval for her model she began the work at her winter studio in South Texas. That’s where she keeps her TH-83 forklift “The best tool ever,” as well as an over-head crane, and other various and sundry pieces of equipment needed for moving the massive stones she is noted for using in her sculpture.


Replenishing_The_EarthThe design she had selected for Replenishing the Earth required stacking stone up to 11 feet, 3 inches. And since Candyce works alone it took her four and a half months to complete. The fastening together of all the pieces required fifty 7/8 inch stainless pins. After the assembly, Candyce took it all apart, loaded it onto her 20 foot long flatbed truck. Then it was off to the Farmer’s Market in Santa Fe where it became permanent part of the landscape on a warm, sunny morning in June of 2008.

Artist Spotlight - Michael Gardner


By Michael Gardner

MikeHEADSHOTEditors’ note: While it may be true that Michael is a beginner at stone carving, he is no fledgling in the art world. Michael routinely adorns human skin with amazing creatures of his own design at the Tattoo Garden on 2nd street in Everett, Washington.



The sculpture "Midnight kill" has waited a long time to be done. I've been carrying around the stone for fifteen years, since college actually. I believe I was told that it was soapstone when I first acquired it, but if it is soapstone, it doesn't act like it. This is actually the first sculpture that I've done since my college years. I finally had the time to tackle it in the summer of 2008 and with a small kit of soft stone tools and a lot of sandpaper I went to work.


Midnight_KillI had always envisioned the sculpture to be more abstract, like just the dorsal fin of some sea creature but when I actually put the stone on the bench, I just couldn't find it again. My normal start to any sculpture is just to find a main curve or direction in the stone and start removing material to reinforce it. That's one reason that I do a lot of my initial removal by hand, because it gives me time to continually look at the shape that's developing.


Eventually, I got enough of a rough shape that I needed to step back and really figure out what it was. I think that in this instance, my lack of any outside influence (or real experience for that matter) worked to my advantage. Since I wanted a flush, dynamic fit to the base I decided to do a plaster cast of the bottom of the sculpture and then carve the resulting block of plaster into the shape that I wanted. I then painted and sealed the base. It's certainly not a perfect piece but it was a wonderful learning experience. I hope that you all enjoy it.

Michael T. Gardner

Artist Spotlight - Heltsley


By Jim Heltsley

head_shot_JimIn recent years I have pretty much worked on smaller pieces mostly made from Gary McWilliams Alaskan Stone. I have found that these pieces sell well in today’s market. Since Gary’s stones are usually amazing in color & pattern the finished sculptures are greatly enhanced by their use.

 One such piece pictured is “Dune Watcher.” The stone is a vibrant red marble with a layer of blackish/green and grey margins. After looking at the raw stone’s broken edge I began to see the backbone & tail of a lizard running from top to bottom. This worked out pretty well and thankfully, starting with an amazing stone resulted in a very nice carving.

Dune_Watcher_marble_9_highAs of the first of this year I’ve moved from my Edmonds house/studio to West Seattle and I am currently trying to set up to carve again. I want to thank all those NWSSA members for their help and support this last month.