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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Sudha Achar

I visit Sudha in her home near Wilsonville, Oregon. This is a spacious, light-filled contemporary-style home that looks like it was designed to display and enjoy art (Sudha designed it). It has a very open layout, with large windows that create an expansive sense of space. Sudha's paintings and sculptures abound and are displayed with their art collection. Mount Hood, in all of its splendor, can be seen in the distance across a rolling autumn landscape.

I am reminded of why I attempt to visit people in their own space/environment Simply experiencing a person's unique environment speaks volumes on who they are. As we view Sudha's large assortment of paintings and sculpture, it becomes clear that she is very diverse in both her art and her life and very at peace with it alL In her graphic work, she seems at home in several different styles; she works in very large and small scale (we look at her award-winning, 6'xlO' painting, "The Ganges'').

Her sculptural creations also cover a wide range. Stone carvings in alabaster, marble, chlorite, granite, jade, and basalt. She also works in ceramic, cast bronze, and most recently, glass. She seems to be an avid experimenter and learner. I came to talk to a sculptor and got a many-faceted creator who loves to cook and garden. She seems to allow herself to move with the creative impulse very effectively. I can't help but think she is something of a three-dimensional painting herself (she is often wrapped in silk "saris''). She has a gentle grace about her.


SS: What balance do you work between your painting and your sculpture?


SA: I don't have a plan. I just get into something, do it for awhile, then do something else. I have some very good work areas (an inside graphics area where she often works on the floor for large works, an area in the pool building where she paints and sculpts, a garage for clay and stone work and a barn for stationary grinding). But I don't like closed spaces when I'm sculpting, so I sculpt outside in the summer and I paint in the winter. That's how it worked out. With the breeze and the bird-song and the mountains, it's so inspirational. I just really love it.



I like to paint also. I belong to the International Experimental Society of Painters. You don't see anything traditional about my paintings. It's about freedom to create and have your own technique. There is an international show with members from around the world. They get together to paint and have a newsletter. They have regional symposiums. I go to Florida and paint for two weeks. All this is possible for me because of Patrick (Sudha's husband - both are psychiatrists in private practice). He is so encouraging. He's really my inspiration. If he wasn't behind me, I don't think I'd be doing all this. It's so demanding.


SS: And it sounds like you've found a personal balance with your art and your life. And having a supportive spouse is a god-send.

SA: He is so generous about wanting to make it happen for me. He covers my patients. He is so pleasant about me being gone, and then about coming to participate in my art activities and then the receiving hundreds of phone calls ... (An air of hawks soar by on the Oregon wind) I'm not under any pressure with shows and galleries so I do what generally pleases me. Fortunately for me, the galleries I'm in accommodate that to meet my time schedule.


SS: How do you organize your life? You seem to almost have three careers: psychiatrist, painter, sculptor. Anyone of those could fully engage a person. (Sudha even created a silk import business for two years.)

SA: People ask, "How do you do it?" It seems to come together. Sometimes I have to work at it, but most of the time it seems to fall into place.


SS: How long have you been doing all this?

SA: Painting ten years and sculpture eight years. I like to learn different techniques; glass fascinates me. It's like three-dimensional painting. Sometimes I think, oh, maybe I should put all my time into one medium, but I think I like the variety.


SS: What results from working in such different areas?

SA: My glass instructor aid my glass work was painterly. Others say my paintings are sculptural, which means you create a three-dimensional effect in your paintings. I guess one helps the other very much. Drawing certainly helps sculpture.


SS: Do you think drawmg can help when you're doing "direct" (spontaneous) carving?

SA: I like to direct carve. Sometimes I conceptualize the piece by drawing it from different views although it may not end up that way. I have not been successful at making a maquene; it's not my style.


SS: When did you move to the U. S.?

SA: 1973. I did my graduate work in London. I actually lived a few miles from Henry Moore. I'm really influenced by that group: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp. My favorite artist is Antonio Guadi. He was know for his architecture. His architecture is sculptural. (She also mentions Donetello, Alexandro Pamodoro, David Smith, and Georgia O'Keefe.


SS: Do you find inspiration from Guadi's work in your sculpture?

SA: I think it's a summation of all these people I have admired.


SS: How did your upbringing in India affect your art?

SA: When I was seven, I remember looking up at an old temple sculpture and thinking about sculptors chiseling and making dust as they created these figures.


SS: How does your cultural experience affect what you do now?

SA: Being brought up in the sophisticated and cosmopolItan Bangalore area, I was encouraged to have the ability to do anything that can be done. Some of my paintings show the Tantric influence. (We walk around and view her art. We look at a piece of stone sculpture in yule marble, a 16" long "Lingmn" phallus shape - "part of the creative force." She tells about her adventure getting the piece through the airport x-ray machine and explaining that "it was just a stone." We look at a small standing figure in Colorado Yule marble, and "Black Iris" an abstracted lily form in chlonte.)


SS: What are your favorite stones to work with?

SA: Marble is my favorite, with all its colors. Even though I like the white marble, it's tiring after awhile. I like stone with more of the inclusions. And I like the harder stones: granite, basalt.


SS: Is there something about a stone that has more character, shape or color to it that might enthuse you to do something with it?

SA: I let the stone inspire me. (She tells about coming to her first symposium 1991/92 showing up in her silk shirt and red hat (trademarks) without any tools. George Pratt helped her get started and loaned her his tools. She chose to carve a face marble.) He has started so many people that way. That same year I went to the Marble, Colorado, symposium because I wanted to learn this. They gave me this 7' grinder and said "go for it" I didn't know any tools then. Initially I was intimidated but, with encouragement, I learned. (Most of the time, I liked using the 4" grinder.) I don't like to carve away too much stone. (We look at a female torso in realistic style with a dramatic opening to the abdominal area.)


SS: Is the opening a conscious thing or...

SA: It's just a "Iet-us-see-what-happens" thing. It's a free-associating thing.


SS: When you go back to it, does it have a rational meaning for you?

SA: It's a highly erotic piece. It was hard for me to do that (cut in the void because it was such a good figure form) but sometimes you want to not be so attached to that (perfect form).


SS: (We look at "Shiva", a male torso 3' tall in a thin slab of chlorite.) Your pieces have radically different styles. Why is that?

SA: It's a different day. It's a different me. If you watch the colors (in her painting), they're similar. I can't get away from that (brilliant primary colors) (We look at her fused glass, and small cast glass. She is excited about her recent experiments.)


SS: Do you have a preference in the sculptural media you use?

SA: I like stone a lot But then, I like the spontaneous too. And now the translucency and luminosity of glass is getting to me. (We discuss an alabaster figure "Parvathi" - Shiva's consort.) This piece evolved from the curved cut of the grinder mark on the stone into a torso form. At one viewpoint, it looks like there are two figures. That's what I aim for - a sculpture that has rhythmic lines from any angle. It doesn't matter if it has an identifiable shape or not as long as that works. That's what I'm interested in.


SS: So you don't have a clear preference between realistic and abstract style?

SA: I'm intrigued with the human form becanse of that pleasing line from all viewpoints. More so in the female form. (We look at her new fused glass panels and talk about their color.) That's how I see work in one media supporting the other. My interest in painting helps me with design. Glass, oh, it's fascinating. It reminds me of coming to the symposium for the first time and seeing all the different stones. I was like a linle kid following the piper.


SS: How do you find your art work relates to your work in psychiatry?

SA: They're very interrelated. They connect free association and logical thinking. A good physician is an intuitive physician. A great physician-scientist doesn't make a healing physician. A physician who blends the art of conveying his science to the patient makes a great physician. So I think it's absolutely interrelated. Also, I have the knowledge of so many souls, intimately, more than most people (having worked with many people). And that stays with me; it shows up in places I'm not even watching out for.


SS: Do you use drawing in your therapy?

SA: With children I use it a lot They don't know how to tell you their sorrows. But if you let them tell you a story about their drawing, you've got all that infonnation. It's non-threatening. You can talk in third person.


(We tour her carving area in the garage. We view several sculptures in process then move to admire her collection of stone: large pieces of jade, granite, many types and colors of marble, and basalt laid out for viewing around her outside carving area.)


SS: How do you do your lifting?

SA: All by hand with the help of others (often it's Patrick). Soon I'll buy an engine hoist. I'll learn how to strap and lift. I don't think there is anything like doing it yourself to learn how to do it. (We look at a 4' high triangular column of black granite and she describes her plans. "I'll leave it simple, work the edges, add a circle here, and polish it."


SS: Do you find the physical part of stone carving difficult?

SA: In medicine I got accustomed to being in a position of gi~ng. To ask for help is hard (in moving things and such), but I learned to get help. I'm now physically stronger than I've ever been in my life and I pace myself in the work, alternating tasks to ease the stress.

SS: How often do you work?

SA: Whenever I have time. It's actually in spurts, between traveling and other activities.


SS: It seems your whole story is about traveling, experimenting, learning and creating. Were you encouraged by your family to do art?

SA: More in the performing arts. My mother was a concert vocalist in Indian classical music. I can't carry a tune. I remember my father taking me to a local collection when I was a linle girl. There was a painting of a woman holding an oil lamp in which the lamp is burning, illumined. I went over to see what's behind the painting, lighting the lamp, and hit my head on the wall. It thought it was so beautiful that someone could do that. My interest was medicine at the time and my parents supported that.


SS: What are your major themes?

SA: The human figure. In my paintings a lot of times, the soul comes through. As the figure, it's the form and the line, the grace; I really feel it. In my abstract work, it is shape-for-shape-sake when I am sculpting the piece. But when I look retrospectively, the shapes seem to represent some part of the human body.


SS: What would you say the origins of your art are?

SA: I think it's the intuitiveness. It comes from the soul. And intellect defines it. But you couldo't do it from smarts alone. When you look at things in retrospect, you analyze and get insight into it. When I look back and think "why am I doing this?" I realize my philosophy of us being here is "have fun and leave the place a little more beautiful." I've achieved that in medicine. I've relieved pain and suffering and comforted patients. Hopefully in my art, I'll leave something behind. In my home life, I think I make Patrick happy. I do struggle with some of my art when it doesn't achieve what I want as soon as I want. In some pieces, pain does surface. As long as I'm not fully confident of the technique, then I'm conscious of what I'm doing. Once I know the technique, I let it happen. And then things show up. And most of them end up being an exuberant expression of myself.


SS: Thanks, Sudha.


Note: Sudha has been a board member for the 96-97 term acting as liaison to Oregon members and is just finishing helping review our bi-laws. She arranged and organized an upcoming stonecarvers show at the Oregon capital building. She also helped organize the last Silver Falls stone carving symposium at which she was an instructor. She is represented by Nancy Jordan, Inc. (Seattle), Art Inc. (Portland, Oregon), and Charlotte's Gallery (Sun River, Oregon). She has had shows at the Medical Association (portland. Oregon) and Intel Corp. (Portland. Oregon), and the State Capital Building (Salem, Oregon). She also shows with Sitka (a non-profit group promoting art and ecology).

Artist Spotlight - George Pratt Sept/Oct 1997

As I arrive at his home George is showing his sculpture to some customers at his dining room table. It is a nicely appointed room; the pieces are displayed in an attractive showcase and on various surfaces around the room. They are lighted with spotlights. Most are smaller pieces carved from marble and jade. His customers select two of the bird forms in Rainforest Marble. The birds are balanced so that they pivot on their plate-glass bases. George wraps them up and writes a personal note to accompany them. On the way out the door one of the people puts a 'hold' on one of the sculptures on the shelf.


GP: You see, those people who buy that little coffee-table sculpture for a wedding gift- they also work somewhere-perhaps at a firm downtown that would have influence on doing public artwork. The guy who owns one of your smaller works may be the one who will recommend you to be purchased into the corporate art collection.


We then head off to George's studio a few blocks away near Vancouver's Chinatown. It is a one-story industrial building with a paved surrounding yard right next to the train tracks. Trains occasionally thunder by...


GP: It's difficult for sculptors to find suitable downtown space to do their dirty work. A screaming diamond grinder will bring an irate neighbor faster than anything I know. I have a wonderful shop immediately adjacent to the railway tracks. If you think I make a little noise or dust, you should see what the railroad does! So they can hardly blow the whistle on me.


We proceed to tour his studio. We look at his 'Shadow Garden', a collection of large river boulders gathered together in a grouping. Each boulder is carved with different patterns of line and texture, hewn deeply to emphasize the shadow effect of sunlight shifts and with depressions designed to catch rain. We move mto the studio and view a work in progress-a large horse's head in startling blue sodalite which will be featured in his November show.


GP: It needs to be a little more 'equine', more graceful of line. Up to now it has the character of a carousel pony. Simplicity is the name of my game. Strength and power through simplicity.


The discussion shifts to showing sculpture.


GP: You'll find few people attempting to make a living carving stone who've had a successful relationship with a gallery. Few gallery owners know how to present sculpture. Most have a tendency to put the sculpture in the corner as an adjunct to their paintings. Few will actually feature sculpture nor light it properly.


Michael Binkley and I had our own gallery for two years. We made it a policy to show only sculpture abetted by lots of flowers in stone vases. There was not a painting in the place, because much as we like paintings, they steal the focus from sculpture and we wanted to make sales. And sell we did - a tremendous amount of sculpture from that delightful little showroom, both of us building our collector base tremendously. It was well lit with spotlights-a must if you want to sell sculpture. As you can tell, I'm opinionated about these things. But that is what has helped me survive. I've seen people set up home sculpture shows but they don't go to the trouble of installing proper lights, i.e., focused spotlights on every sculpture. It's half the battle. (Another of George's interesting opinions is that assigning a title to a sculpture can interfere with a sale if the client can't relate to the title. He tags his works with only generic descriptions.)

SS: When you price a piece of sculpture, what are the considerations? Why do you price the sodalite horse's head at $10,000?

GP: Clearly I didn't work it out 'by the hour'. The price in this case reflects an arbitrary value I have placed on its uniqueness and elegance, a factor that goes beyond the hard cost of producing it. It's priced for mystique, not practicality. However,l must know in my heart that the piece will be perceived to be worth the money. It may not sell. But who wants to be seen at a show where everything is cheap? What art writers would care to write about it? There are many people among us to whom $10,000 for a fine artwork is not significant. Such people do not want to buy what everybody can buy. They seek out that which is rare as well as beautiful. At our last Faces & Figures show, I sold a $15,000 piece and in the one previous, Michael sold a $19,000 piece and I sold a $6,000 piece both to one customer. Those people will be back to our next show with their friends-and they will be expecting an encore of something equally worthy. But as well, one's show must have many works priced between $250 and $750. There is an army of ordinary working people out there who love sculpture and they can and will put that amount on their credit card.


We examine the horse's head.


GP: I made this for our biannual Faces & Figures show about five years ago. It started out as a massive block of soda lite from a quarry near my home town in northern Ontario. It is a splendid stone, profound blue, nicer than the Lapis Lazulis you've seen. I showed it as a finished work, but although it was competent and adequate, it never really pleased me. It was not exciting. It was a playground pony rather than a spirited mare. So I put it away out of sight for four years and have now started recutting it. And I can already see that in this year's show it will convey the excitement it lacked before. Horses are not my forte, I should point out. I've had to struggle with this one. But it was almost a horse when I found it in the quarry.


SS: So what was your thinking in reworking it?

GP: I thought, if I do recut it, will it be a better sculpture? Or will it just be a waste of time? I firstly had to figure out what was wrong with it. After a four-year cooling off period it was easy to look at it clinically rather than passionately and see that the main problem was too much weight in the throat and an indistinct jaw-line. As well, the ears needed to be more drawn out and graceful. Clearly there was a more elegant horse lurking in there, it just needed some tweaking. So I got started recutting. I want a lot of money for it, so let's make it worth the money. I'll be also working on slightly 'doming' the flat bottom so that the horse will rotate when gently pushed. I discovered that in sanding the flat bottoms of my 'coffeetable' sculptures they have a tendency to round off. If the center of the resultant 'dome' be near the balance point of the carving, then it will rotate on its base, lending an agreeable kinetic value that a stationary piece does not have. It has become a trademark.


I love art. 1 love sculpture. But I've never considered myself to be a great artist. I go to the symposia and I'm envious of the abilities some of those sculptors possess, novices and experienced artists alike. I could take a lesson from most of them. My natural skill is in making sales. I genuinely like people and can relate well to almost anybody. I can sell things to people who didn't intend to buy in the first place. In the beginning, I didn't give much conscious thought as to whether I could be a success as a stone-carver. I just knew that even if I wasn't very good at it I'd still make lots of sales. I encourage all aspiring sculptors to work hardest on the sales part of their career. I hear some who say loftily that the purity of their work is all that counts and they will never compromise their principles merely to make sales. And that is very noble. But it usually ensures a career as a waitress or taxi-driver.


We tour George's studio. We visit the 'wet' room in which he does his waterfed carving and polishing. He has a drill press for core-drilling with water, a station with 10" x 1/4" carving blade running at 3400 RPM, and a station for sanding with both silicone carbide and diamond belts. (The carbide belts are not as aggressive but they are more flexible, he explains.) All machines are driven by permanently wired 220V electric motors. The room has a floor-drain to carry away the carving slurry into a cleanable catch basin. As well, he has a 20" diamond chopsaw which results in an 8" cutting depth, used for getting his raw material down to a carvable size with little waste. He considers this to be an essential for the serious carver. His compressor and air-powered carving gear as well as hand tools are in the main room, He

likes to work on pieces in progress in the outdoor yard where he also store his raw material. About the shop are example of 'utilitarian art' as he calls it: Granite benches and garden lanterns; stone oil-lamps and flowervases; and an attractive business-card caddy made with granite cores set in a concave base. He produced two hundred of these last year for presentation gifts for a bank. More hard work than

great art, he comments, but it paid the rent. "If you reserve the ability to make utilitarian items you can stay alive as a sculptor."

SS: What balance do you try to achieve between utilitarian items and fine art pieces?

GP: In a perfect world I would like to produce nothing but pure art sculptures the size of a bread-box. One can start and finish such works before one gets bored with them and they fetch respectable money when they sell. And they are large enough to be thought of as important. Good for the ego, very collectible for the corporate lobby. That I'd like to be able to do with no interruption. But there's always the nagging practicality of making sales, So the preponderance of my work is in pieces smaller than a loaf of bread-mostly animals and birds and small human (mostly female) figures. About 70% of what I have survived on has been those kinds of pieces. The other 30% has been 'larger-than-a-bread-box', in fact sometimes quite massive. It's nice to get a commission for a large public art-work. But such works tend to be better for the ego than they are for the pocketbook. They take a lot of energy and can result in a big-time vexation to the spirit.


SS: Note: George's resume includes "The Builders", a 21'-high composition of large black granite blocks and polished bronze figures located in a Calgary office complex. The commission included doing all phases of construction and installation for a price of $150,000, taking seven months. Among others, he promoted and co-created a multi-figure life-size installation depicting an Eskimo myth of the Sea Goddess Sedna. (George carved the Sedna figure which was seven feet high, carved from a 13,000 lb. piece of Arctic marble,) Three Eskimo carvers created accompanying figures of the animals over which Sedna rules. The pieces were carved at a wilderness marble site near Cape Dorset on Baffin Island (with many difficulties) and then transported to Toronto for installation in the corporate lobby of The Royal Trust Company. Commission price was $230,000.


GP: I am negotiating just now for a large public work which will be similar to an 'inukshuk', which is a structure of natural stones assembled into a human form. These forms are built by Eskimo people in the Arctic and are often used as markers for travel.


We look at the foam models for this potential piece. He has set aside two massive granite quarry-blocks at Quadra Stone's yard, each measuring 20 feet in length. These will be the 'legs' for his inukshuk.


GP: The stone is now in angular blocks, but I want them to look like worn river-stones, akin to the shape of huge french-sticks. My inukshuk will not have a secret, inner meaning. It will simply be a huge, carefully balanced sculpture of great mass and power. And its power will be, in its simplicity, there being only five pieces in the structure.


We look at George's sculptured benches, including one he describes as 'The Palliasse' bench. (Look it up in the dictionary.) At 4' long by 18" wide, it is made to look like a padded blanket or pillow which is flowing like a magic carpet. The flowing curves make it comfortable to sit on at any position. The base block is carved with rippling waves and shadow-lines.


SS: I know you don't profess to have any hidden 'meaning' in your pieces, but what were your thoughts when you were doing a work like 'Shadow Garden'?

GP: I'm not entirely into birds and bears. This work is total fantasy, no one piece being identifiable as a known creature or thing. Each is carved to maximize the effect of texture and shadow and form. Will it sell? I don't know. But in a departure from the eternal practicality of making a living that I have been harping about, 1 feel that I must do it and to hell with whether it sells or not. Not like me.


SS: How did you get into stone carving?

GP: I had worked at various industria I sales jobs. In 1970 I took a job selling high quality business furniture, which opened up the world of design and art for me. It was like being born again. I was surrounded by designers and architects. I learned the joy there can be in simplicity. I met my mentor, E.B. Cox, who was the first stone carver in Canada to work in the scale of the 'coffee-table' sculpture. I became obsessed with his work and his life-style and I pestered him mercilessly to show me how it was done. I carved at every spare moment, learning all I could from E.B. and experimenting with methods of my own. By 1972 I had produced a small collection of very humble little carvings and was encouraged to sell eight of them at a craft show that year. So I worked at it all the harder, eventually spending more time at carving than at my job. I moved to Vancouver in 1975, doing two shows a year at my home for the next 13 years, building up a stable of collectors and getting much better at the craft. Eventually the business built up and 1 took my last regular paycheck from a job in 1979.


SS: How do you see yourself as a teacher?

GP: I seem to know most of the things you have to know to make a sculpture. I don't pretend that I'm teaching people much about art. There are so many good artists in our association. But I carve stone every day and there are not many problems about producing sculpture that I have not encountered. So I have a let to teach people who seek knowledge. I like people who like stone. I'll be at the Cowichan Lake symposium in September and Silver Falls again in the spring.


George seems to embody the notion of "Just do it." He is generous, if opinionated, as well as energetic, very productive and encouraging of others, a fact to which many in this group can attest. He is one of the founding members of the association. He is a regular instructor at our symposia, in which he shares his knowledge of tools, process, and sales. He also occasionally shares articles about tools or carving processes in this newsletter (a collection of which he promises is getting ever closer to being a book for stone-carvers.) Many thanks, George, for all you've contributed!

Artist Spotlight - Nancy Green

The following is an intenriew with sculptor Nancy Green. Nancy has been a NWSSA member since 1992 and is currently membership chairman. She has been a teacher, artist, sculptor, and mother. Although "retired" from fulltime work, she has a fulltime schedule with her art work and assistance to NWSSA. I visited her at her home and studio in Seattle, Washington. The small home contains her art - both finished and in progress. She showed me her outdoor studio - a covered porch obtained with the help of Mary and Forest Hamilton, Jim Paget, Irene Hewins, and Nicki and Steve Oberholtzer and built by Steve. It contains a small work table. (Editor's note: Stephen Sandry will return to doing the interviews next issue)


Barbara Lynch: When did you began to do art work?

Nancy Green: I have been drawing and painting since the age of eight. I took my first life class at age twelve. I have drawn portraits since high school and done watercolors and landscapes.


BL: When and how did you begin sculpting?

NG: I took sculpture classes taught by Everett DuPen in 1946 and 1956. We worked with clay, wood and plaster casting. I did wood carving when I could.


BL: Was this the beginning of your interest in sculpture?

NG: No. When I was a child, I would do drawings of sculptures. I have always been interested in the human form


BL: Did you have exposure to art as a child?

NG: Yes, when I was eleven, my folks took me to New York to the art museum.


BL: What is your formal training besides the sculpture classes?

NG: I have a degree in art education. I graduated from the University of Washington in 1962. I also took art and anatomy there. I had wanted to be a medical illustrator, but it was not meant to be.


BL: Did you become an art teacher when you got your degree?

NG: No, I taught handicapped children. I did, however, use some of what I learned by having the kids do paper sculptures.


BL: What was your first job or sale doing sculpture?

NG: In New York City, I made two sets of teeth in wax for the Columbia University Dental School at five times normal size for them for teaching purposes.


BL: Have you worked on other projects that might be classed as teaching aids?

NG: For forty years I have worked off and on to carve a wooden skeleton to use to teach human anatomy to sculptors. This would be more fully articulated than medical school skeletons and would allow clay to be used on it to show muscles in various positions. Several years ago, I had access to some skeletons in the Anthropology Dept. at UW. I made several sketches to use for this project. The bones are being carved from boxwood. When I worked at Boeing doing drafting, I had a large french curve I used a lot. I realized this would be useful in doing a spine. That was how this project started.


BL: What sculpture are you currently working on?

NG: An African woman with a baby done in chlorite. My fish sculpture was recently on display at the Washington State Convention Center and has been entered in a juried show at Anacortes.


BL: What is your philosophy about sculpting?

NG: Understand the subject you are projecting in stone whether it is abstract or representational. Then you can visualize it in stone. Practice in any medium yon can.


BL: What is your approach to doing a sculpture?

NG: The first thing is roughing it out. This takes a long time. Then I refine it. It is important to pay attention to the parts that stick out. An example is the dorsal fin on the fish. I had to keep carving the fish down to have enough room for the dorsal fin.


BL: Do you do sketches before you begin the work?

NG: Yes, and sometimes I do a maquette such as a clay model.


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

NG: WhenI am satisfied with it.


BL: Have you had pieces that you start that don't work for you and how do you deal with these?

NG: I have two friends who give me feed back. They can be more objective than I am when I am working the piece. I also put the piece away for awhile and am able to be I more objective when I later work on it.


BL: Do you have advice for begimting sculptors?

NG: Patience is a given. Also, different stones have different characteristics. Learn the unique characteristics of the stone you are using.


BL: How do you approach teaching?

NG: I respect that each person has a uniqne way of seeing things. I have them look at the thing they are sculPting from five sides including from the top.


BL: As a woman. do you see your approach to art as different than a man's.

NG: I think that women can do children better. Everett DuPen did wonderful children. He was an exception.


BL: Tell me about your bronze piece "Mother and Son."

NG: When I took sculpting from Everett DuPen, I remember working on a clay model and doing what I thonght was a fairly good piece. Everett looked at it, said okay, and then had me throw the clay back in the clay pile. We didn't save any of our work, but by the end of the quarter, "Mother and Son" done in clay was the result. I was a mother myself then and could understand a little of what being a mother meant. I later had the piece cast in bronze.


BL: Has this piece been entered in any shows?

NG: Yes, in the show that Patti McPhee organizes for the blind. Here is what the blind judge had to say about the piece: "This goes well together. I like the hand, and it all really works together - shoulders, face, everything. It is a person. I can tell it is a person. Everything works well. The lines are well formed, even the shapes work well together. It is a person, I know."


BL: Which sculptors most inspire yon?

NG: Michelangelo, Henry Moore, & Gaston Lachaise.


BL: Are there themes in your work?

NG: People and animals. Their structure and form. That has always fascinated me.


BL: You have worked in various media such as wood, clay, stone, and with painting. Have you had a time when the knowledge from these have come together to enhance a piece.

NG: It has enabled me to see the sameness of people. I can call a person with black skin "brother" because the bone and muscle structure are all basically the same for everyone. I have also learned to see better. For instance, all Chinese people don't look alike to me. My son had a Polynesian and an African girl friend. I could appreciate their beauty and I used them in some of my artwork.


(Nancy took me an a tour of her harne, showing me various pieces of her work)


NG: This was my first threedimensional piece. It is a bird done in juniper. And this girl in myrtlewood was an early piece that was in a show at Queen Anne. I know now that the proportions were not quite right. Proportions are so important. I wish they would have given me some feedback at the show.


BL: That is an interesting piece (pointing to a 2-1/2 foot carving). Tell me about it.

NG: It's a house post. We were doing some remodeling and on my family home on Queen Anne and replacing a section of post. So I carved it into a female nude in a dance pose. When we sold the house, I was able to take a part of my home with me.


BL: You have been active in the Association since you became a member in 1992. I know you are membership chairman and have helped with the newsletter. And I was at a workshop working with clay using a live model. You were teaching proportions and bone structure. Someone mentioned that you were involved in a show for Everett DuPen.

NG: I was working at the Frye Art Museum and suggested they have a show of Everett's work. Everett had had a show there some years before and it was well received Everybody agreed it was time for him to have a retrospective show. A group from the Association helped to gather and bring in the work. I later heard from several sources that it was the best show they ever had.


BL: Thanks, Nancy.

Artist Spotlight - Reg Akright

The following is an interview with sculptor Reg Akright. Reg has been a NWSSA member since '91 and has been a contributor to the Sculpture Northwest newsletter. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Art Council of Snohomish County. He has worked at various heavy construction jobs including bridge ironworker, bronze foundry chaser, and miner. He works a full-time day job as a repair technician for a hot tub company. 1 visited him at his home and studio in Everett, Washington. The small home is full of art .(his and others including paintings by his father), a welded dining table and other metal art furniture by Reg. We then headed toward the backyard studio. Reg showed me his outdoor work areaa welded, awning-covered, "A" frame designed to support an "I" beam and track-mounted 3-ton chain hoist. Within this structure, a 5'x2' slab of granite awaits its first cuts. Next to this is his "cozy" indoor studio which is set up for pneumatic carving and steel fabrication and is warmed by a wood heater.


RA: I have a strong sense that I want to work with stone that's locally available. I really like the local granite, the cascade granite. It's cheap, it's a good stone to work, it's a part of our local environment and I like that. I like native Washington stones, though I'm not drawn to sandstone. With granite, it's so cheap I can play with it. If I screw up or break a piece, it can become "yard art". I'm not out much except my labor. In contrast, I have a beautiful piece of Portuguese marble in the studio that I'm anxious to work, but I don't have a refined idea yet, and I don't want to start 'til I'm certain of the way I want to go with it because it's such a rare piece of stone. I don't want to do the "wrong" thing with it.

SS: With the granite, are you more likely to just dive in?

RA: I have a pretty good idea where I'm going to begin in granite and I'm not afraid to just dive in. If I have a good idea about the piece, even if I haven't sketched it, I feel comfortable just diving in. I sketch on the stone or do rough sketches. But with the granite I rarely do a maquette. I have a pretty good mental picture of where I'm headed. I'll work out specific details on paper sometimes.


SS: You seem to primarily work with abstract or non-figurative forms. Why is that?

RA: I don't feel drawn to doing realistic work. I used to be an art-school elitist, but I don't feel that way any more. I've come to respect realistic work. Carol Way and Maarten Schaddelee use elements of realism in a way that I really like. I like it for what it is. I'd love to have some of Tracy Powell's work in my house. Rich Hestekind is a strong source of inspiration for me. When I first came to NWSSA meetings, he showed me a picture of a sandstone piece he'd done. The piece spoke very strongly to me. His formal vocabulary was such that it was yelling at me. It was seriously communicating. That was the inspiration to start carving again.


My source of inspiration, my pieces, are more a meditation on shape and line and form. I like gentle lines, subtle curves as opposed to sudden sharp curves. I like a smooth flow to something that makes a quiet statement of its own. I've tried to think of a formal justification for what my pieces are and why they are, but I don't have one. I just do what pleases me. I want something that's quiet and makes a statement and becomes part of wherever it is. Something that alters the space in a pleasant way. I want my pieces to affect space, not dominate or control it. I'm not out to make a social message or statement.


SS: What do you see as the importance of art? How does it function?

RA: (sigh) Try to imagine a world without art. Without great painting, sculpture, without a sculptural sense, the world would be au awful place, a dreary place. Art infuses every level of our lives. I view art as aualogous to pure research science, which has little point other thau to "find out". That's what art is, "finding out". From there it filters into society through design, into functional objects. Also, just to have art around, like large sculpture, is au expression that we're doing it because we can. They're expressions of the joy of being alive, being humau aud being able to produce a fine work of art.


SS: In your work it seems like you've settled into a path of sorts. You seem to have types of forms that you are developing.

RA: I've accepted the family of forms that has come to me. I've begun to identify "Reg" shapes. I don't fight that auy longer. I see the continuity in the work of other artists, similar forms. I like and respect Uchida a great deal. In his work, his formal vocabulary is one which speaks volumes to me. His work is similar to what I aspire to. He uses spare lines, not a lot of texture. I waut to integrate more natural surface in with somewhat fiuished surfaces, aud so on.


SS: Why is that? Why are you drawn to certain forms? Why are certain forms more compelling?

RA: There's something about strong simple forms that has always struck me. While working heavy coustruction on highway projects in Wyoming, I loved looking at long stretches of unmarked concrete, bridges that were completed, but without road approaches yet, standing alone. They were like huge pieces of sculpture standing in the Wyoming sky. The process of seeing those coustructious come together was almost a mystical sculptural- type experience. I've always loved those clean simple shapes. Then being on WWU campus in Bellingham, Washington (where he attended and graduated in sculpure '78-'79) and being around their contemporary sculpture collection (which includes work by major contemporary sculptors such as di Suvero, Caro, Nognchi, Serra, Morris, Holt), influenced me a lot. I always loved looking at sculptors who used strong, simple forms: Henry Moore and Braucusi, the classic moderuists. I've seen lots of art from different areas aud the work that has always drawn me is work that uses few lines to say a lot.


SS: Out of the possibilities which occur to you, how do you decide what to do?

RA: I gness it's au editing process. I have to trust that what I decide to do is going to be right. I don't know how spiritual a person I am - I sometimes think not very. And other times I think I have some sort of real strong, unexplained, spiritual connection. One thing I'm learuing over time is just to trust. Not to think things out too much, when I'm trying to decide how to go with a piece. It's that sudden impulse to do something. Before I know it, the tool's in my hand and I'm just doing it. You have to trust your artistic instinct. I could over-rationalize a piece aud kill the piece that way. Sometimes I just have to start. I've got a rough idea of what to do. I'll sketch and sketch, bnt I can't quite laud the idea, exactly what it is. But, I've got to start! I just start and it works itself out. Not every piece is going to be the best so you have to accept a mistake here and there as far as the learning process. You also have to learn to trust. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. You're better to risk creating a piece that's not everything you think it could be, then over-aualyzing aud not creating anything.


With Cascade Monolith #1 (seen at the flower and garden show and subsequently sold to the 9th District Circuit Court of Appeals, Pasadena, Califoruia.) I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with that piece when I started. But the opeuing in that, which turned out to be a square window, I hadn't conceived of. Originally I thought of a round opeuing, but couldn't figure out how to do it. I started working on the piece aud it just came to me, "this is how I do it". It turned out to be one of my favorite pieces because there was an element of surprise in it. Stonecarving is a slow enough process that you have time to think about it as you go.


SS: How do the rational and the intuitive elements work together for you?

RA: The initiative comes as the sudden flashes of insight. The ah-ha, the bolt out of the blue that says "this is how you do it." The rational part comes with thinking the process through - in the mundane parts of the process like gelling a good flat base, or looking at a line and deciding what bothers me abont it, what I need to change. The intuitive is the sudden flash of insight that's the heart of the piece. The rational is about "how" to make that intuitive flash work a bit better.


SS: Do you feel a sense of control over both processes?

RA: I don't know how to kick the intuitive into gear. It just comes to me at various times.


SS: How do you balance your day job with studio time?

RA: I like to get 10-15 hours per week in the studio. That is sometimes difficult to achieve with the demands of my day job. When I'm involved in a project, I'll set it up in the studio where I can work on it for whatever time I have available.


SS: How much work do you produce in a year?

RA: My goal is to get at least ten pieces out per year. I want this to be more and more a part of my living. The studio did earn a full quarter of my income last year. And the studio paid for itself.


(We then toured his yard stopping to view "Oolitic Apollo" a large Utah limestone piece atop a structure made of welded steel plate, painted red)


SS: One of the things you've got going here is the use of fabricated metal elements or bases. What is your thinking about these? Do you see the "base" and the stone form as one composition?

RA: I did "Organic Nike" and "Oolitic Apollo", (both contain limestone carvings aud welded metal elements painted red) one after the other. They were very important pieces for me. I was truly happy with what they accomplished. That's been controversial for others, about how well that works. I am working towards a piece that cau be viewed as a single integral piece, with metal and stone working together to create the piece. That's how I view this piece although the trausition between the metal elements aud the stone isn't as seamless as I would like. But, that's the artistic process, you don't know until you try. Each step brings me a little closer (to finding the best solution). I view art as experimentaL It's trying something new, going in a new direction, trying new combinations.


(We move into the studio and view Cascade Monolith #3 a cascade granite piece close to completion, on its w~ to be displayed at Gallery Mack, Seattle)


RA: This is a piece which took its own course. It was one of those pieces in which the energy didn't feel "right on". So I set it aside and completed several other sculptures. Finally, I saw the solution to what had troubled me about the piece and was able to complete it. It will have a "nine point" texture over the whole piece. I like that texture on this granite. Cascade granite is such a strong stone unpolished, rough, showing the strength of the stone. (I don't think it comes off well polished.). For the most part I like stones that are monolithic in character without much variation in color. The color tends to complicate a simple form.


SS: How do you decide about scale?

RA: I can have a general idea then go looking for the stone and adjust the scale accordingly when I find the stone. Or I can go rummage through the end cut pile at Marenakos stone yard aud find a piece I want to work with. I like a scale that is close to body size. Not so large that it becomes monumental. But not so small that it becomes an object.


SS: I'll close this interview with a quote from Reg's artist's statement:


"I love the processes involved in creating my sculptures. The noise and dust and resistance of the material involved in the stone-sculpting process, and the heat, smoke, spatter, and flame of the welding process, all satisfy an almost primal urge. From these violent processes are born pieces which, I hope, have a strong, yet serene, almost meditative presence. In that way I am able to integrate my intellectual/artistic side with my hard-laboring industrial history. Art is the glue that bonds and makes sense of my life."


Thanks, Reg.

Artist Spotlight - Ivan Neaigus

This is an interview with sculptor Ivan Neaigus. He has been active on the N.W.S.S.A. exhibit committee and has recently been lstrumental in forming the Sculptors Cooperative Northwest. He lives on Whidbey Island, Wa. where he has his home and tudio. We toured the grounds, viewing several of his sculptures displayed in the yard around his home against a backdrop of !lick woods. His studio includes a woodcarving and woodworking shop, an outdoor covered stone carving area set up for ,neumatic carving, grinding and polishing, and an extensive covered storage area for chunks of tree trunks and stone. We started with his indoor studio and woodcarving area.


IN: This is a carving in iron wood I've got going. I found this at a mine near Palm Desert, California. The wood is extremely hard, so I'm carving it with pneumatic wood chisels, then smoothing it out with this wood-cutting blade for the 4" grinder. It has the motion, but its going to be an abstract of some kind.


SS: Do you work on lour wood pieces more in the winter?

IN: Yes, I can work indoors and stay closer to the fire; in addition, even though it's winter, I also have several stone pieces going.


SS: How do you conceptualize your pieces? Do you make models?

IN.: Normally, I get pieces that already have a shape; nature has given you a head start. I try to flow with that shape and put in my part. When I receive a piece of material, I am interested in what it is, however it got there. Like this piece, for example (looking at a large "y" shaped tree trunk) I see two images of some kind. I'll strip the bark, look at it for a while, then get ready to make the plunge.


With wood it could be a chainsaw plunge-cut; with stone it could be with a cutting wheel, and from there, away you go.

SS: So, you started sculpting in wood?

IN.: Yes, I started with a small chisel set, carving small pieces on the dining room table. That was twelve years ago. I'd been working in corporate America. I reached a point that I wanted to do something else and I wanted to move out of L.A. after being there twenty years. At that time I met my wife Sarah (also an artist in watercolor, photography, and stone mosaic). We decided to explore. I had an artist friend here so we came up and realized "this is it". So, I left my job at that time--I'd had my fill of it. This was with a textile business. I managed the west coast office, selling to manufacturers. Before that I had a career as a designer-merchandiser of men's wear. I did lots of traveling. We imported from Europe and manufactured in Yugoslavia. I would travel to Italy to buy designs and bring them to New York and get them converted to various fabrics.


SS: So, that was your "high stress" phase?

IN: Actually I fmd doing what I'm doing now to be more high stress: trying to fmd your way in something which seems so nonHow do you make art and sell it and make a living like everybody else? There seem to be very few people who actually do that. There's always a secondary income. I'm at the point now where I have a body of work. I am working consistently enough, so hopefully, in time, that will allow me to be a professional. It's a selfcommitment.


SS: What is your unique approach to creating sculpture?

IN: As David Smith said, you must have material around you. Without it nothing happens. And tools... I've set up my situation here so that there is always material to observe. Also in the house and around the yard there are fmished pieces to reflect on. This makes the environment condusive to maintain my commitment to the work. Its got everything I need to continue the process. The unique thing about stone and wood is that as you start working into it, you realize the material has a history. In stone you begin to see things that are ancient. The hardest thing for an artist is finding what resonates with you and how to

express it.

SS: So, what resonates for you?

IN: I'm at a point now, I don't want to convey social messages to the world. I want to make things that have a pleasing shape, a pleasing fmish, a pleasing presence. I realize it isn't possible to change the world with what I do. But, if someone likes my art, and it helps them to enrich their environment, then I've done what I've needed to do. I've gotten it down to a simple way of looking at it. I try to stay with the essence and the beauty of the object and the material. I've stopped doing art as therapy. There's enough negativity in the world, I don't want to add to it. I'd rather add something people will feel good about. For me, abstract form is like a breath of freedom. I'm only dealing with with me and the art, not a lot of other stuff. It's me and the piece and the material.


SS: Where are you now, what direction are you moving in with your art?

IN: I'm dealing with more minimal shapes. I'm doing about 70% of my work in stone and 30% of my pieces in wood. Also, I'm integrating wood with stone. I'm weaving the wood into and out of the stone. I'll be doing more of that kind of thing.


I'll be doing bigger wood pieces for which I'll be buying some lifting equipment. One question I've been asking: "Is bigger better?" (Big being 500 lbs and up) I don't think it is, necessarily. Any size piece can be valuable. (We then inspect a granite piece with purple-heart wood elements which penetrate the stone.) J can see wood has the possibility of highlighting stone. So I'll be doing more pieces along these lines. using the more colorful woods. (We inspect "Sarnadhi", a granite loop form and talk about a basalt piece in progress.)


SS: How often do you work on your pieces?

IN: I come out and do something every day, some long days, some short days.


SS: Which artists do you fmd inspiring?

IN: Henry Moore was the first big inspiration. Then it went on to Nouguchi and Brancusi. Also, Claus Oldenburg, Mark Di Suvero, Christo, Keinholtz, George Seagal, Barbra Hepworth. I am also inspired by artists in the various sculpture publications, and by members of our Association.


SS: With your art do you have a vision you're attempting to achieve?

IN: Initially I look at a piece of stone and J can see it fmished. The vision comes to me as a camera-type thing. I might do a rough sketch to try out a few different approaches. Then I proceed to technically achieve that vision. At the same time, the idea of a set over~all vision seems too much like a wall. It's mostly my starting point. So even though each piece makes its own individual impression, I try 10 keep the vision fluid enough so J can change it. The end goal is the finished piece of sculpture--whether it reflects my initial picture of it or it evolves into something surprising and even more beautiful.

The reason for living is reflected in the idea that at the end of your life you could say "I've done with my life what I wanted to . do". That's the richness that motivates me. It's saying "the heat is on", this moment is precious and important and what I do with it is precious and important. There are times when you are off the track. The trick is to realize that as quickly as possible and to know how to get back "on track". This might be by working or taking a walk or whatever works for you. It's recognizing that this sweetness, this delightfulness, this wonderfulness of life is with you and you're not into a negative outlook. It's hard--as humans we're frail and can become negative. Things like the association and contact with friends help in keeping you afloat. The important thing is being in tune with yourself. Developing a consistent body of work will naturally follow. If you're not in tune with yourself, you will come up against the wall more than you need to.


SS: With abstract work how do you decide the forms you want to work with?

IN: I think it's important to give credence to yourself and the response you have to materials. For instance, while listening to criticism, use it to your advantage. Criticism can sometimes give you a key. I've had some wonderful feed-back from people who are not involved in art. Of course, sometimes it can be painful, but you have to "go with the pain" and take a look at it.

That's why I like to have four or five pieces going at once. If I reach a stalemate with a piece I stop and go on to the next one. Then when I come back to a piece I see it with fresh eyes. The other best critic I have is my wife.


SS: Let's talk about the Sculptors Cooperative Northwest, which you have been instrumental in bringing into being and organizing.

IN: It started with needing to show and sell work. The Association had an exhibiting committee until the tax status changed (requiring a separate organization to be able to sell art), and an opportunity to show at Molbak's garden center in Woodinville opened up. For some reason I was a key person to help bring about this transition. (The Cooperative is now directed by a Board of which Ivan is President.) At the moment all the members of the Cooperative are also members of the Association. So, there's a very close knit group there. It gives the Association another energy input. With the creation of the portfolio of Cooperative members (which will be shown by a sales representative), trying to create shows, and creating workshops in collaboration with the Association, the Cooperative will develop into its own identity. Also there is the opportunity to buy tools and supplies at a discount. One difference will be that the sculptors cooperative is open to anyone doing any kind of sculpture. It will open up to more people of different interests. One year from now we'll know how different that's going to be. Only then will we know how to respond. I want to remind people that it is a Co-op. Although I may be somewhat steering the ship at the moment, we need input from everyone. That's what will make it happen. I appreciate you becoming a member and paying the fee, but your input is as important as joining.

SS: Thanks for all your hard work, Ivan.

Artist Spotlight - Michael Jacobsen

This is an interview with sculptor Michael Jacobsen at his home and studio in Bellingham. WA, where he lives with his wife Carol and daughter Britt. Michael is a current NWSSA board member and chairs the exhibition committee. He has been working full time on his sculpture for the last year and a half after having left a career as a museum exhibih"on designer. He has previously been a print shop layout artist, skippered a sailboat, been a ranch hand, ron his own sign business, and managed a university art gallery. He hold a BFA degree in sculpture. He is a kind, thoughtful person with a deep sense of spirit and connection to the Earth. He is also a prolific sculptor. We start by viewing his portfolio.


MJ: (Looking at his "Norse Sea Rising" of black Belgian marble approximately 42"h x 19"w x 8"d). This piece started out as a representational dorsal fin of a killer whale. As it progressed, it evoked the shape of a Viking ship prow so it merged in between the two. In the same fashion that the prow of a ship cuts through the waves, a killer whale cuts through the waves. This created the idea of the symbolized wave or curl. To me it has more symbolism than that. I'm also exploring the Celtic and Viking imagery. With the Celts, there are lots of curvilinear elements.

SS: Did you start with a conscious desire to explore that theme?

MJ: The desire started with wanting to do a killer whale fin. This gets into an explanation/exploration of what I call .. Earth-hased roots." I saw an exhibition of Native American work in which the artist, Marvin Oliver, did a beautiful, stylized sculpture of a killer whale. It had all the native symbolism on it, with strong curvilinear design elements. I was struck by the power of that singular image of the vertical killer whale fin. I suspect, to the seafanng people, It must have been a near mystical image.


I used to feel cut off from being able to do that kind of imagery. If you do a killer whale dorsal fin, it's difficult for that not to look Pacific Northwest Native American. We have to go a little bit further back in history than Native American to find our roots. but my Earth-based indigenous roots are in Northern Europe. All of the Earth-based imagery I could ever want is alive and well there.


SS: Is this your major drive, your major theme in your art?

MJ: The connection between my pursuit of spirituality and my pursuit of art is paraJIel. They're inseparable. It's hard to taJk about art without flipping into a spiritual conversation.


SS: Is your art a natural outflow of your state of being and belief? Or is it a more conscious process in which you choose to express something?

MJ: You're asking BIG questions (laughter). So why do I do art? I relate that to the day-to-day basis of "what do I most want to do today?". What I most want to do today is to make art. And out of that comes a pursuit of a meaning for life. In a word, the important thing for me is relationship; the striking of a relationship between the material and me. Many of ns taJk about various stones and their qualities. In the Association, there are many who seem to have a love affair with stone.


Most of us who do direct carving work at various levels to pursue that direct relationship. In the same way you read a book, you read a stone. Sometimes it has dominant themes. That leads you in a direction. If you follow that direction and you make a move or a cut on the stone, that , changes the landscape, the relationship. Then you make another move and so on, there's a continual dialogue. (Michael quotes a William Michael Jacobsen IStafford poem.) ... each rock says 'your move,' then waits until you do ... You make a cut then it's your move again. So you're continually having this relationship with the stone until you feel the sculpture is completed.


SS: Is most of your work direct carving?

MJ: Yes. I have never made a model with the intent to go find a stone and make the piece fit the model. If I've ever made a model, it's only to help me clarifY confusion about what I'm seeing in the stone during the process.

SS: How do you develop a relationship with a stone that doesn't have a predominate shape?

MJ: If you bring me a cube of stone, I don't know what to do with it. My preference is to be attracted to a stone initially. I don't have to worry about it then. In the world there are so many attractive stones.


If you bring me a cube of stone, I don't know what to do with it. My preference is to be attracted to a stone initially. I don't have to worry about it then. In the world there are so many attractive stones.

SS: Does that process work in the realm of cominissioned work?

MJ: I think it can, depending on how much freedom you're given in the process of the commission. The client has to realize that there might be changes to the original idea along the way. A time comes to mind when the commission became a piece unrelated to the model. That was acceptable to the client. That process allowed for a better piece to emerge. It gives the flexibility that's needed when working directly with the material to alter and move in the direction that the stone might lead you.


SS: (We visit his current show, "Elemental Earth," at the Blue Horse Gallery in Bellingham, W A.)

MJ: This show contains a series of pieces entitled "Stones of the SkY" after a book of poems by Pablo Neruda. Written at the end of his life, he was writing love poems to the Earth. The things he realized he was leaving behind and simultaneously going towards were stones. The depth of his relationship with the mineral world was amazing.

SS: With character stones like these, do you try to consider a more involved composition?

MJ: I generally try to create very strong shapes. In this case, the stones didn't allow me to do that. So this is an attempt to collaborate with the material. If you're truly collaborating with the stone, it's a dance between the two, the stone and yourself. Sometimes there's a battle of wills between what the stone wants to do and what you want to do. These stones were very powerful teachers for me in the sense of making sure my collaboration was minimal. These stones did not want to be cut radically. "The Philosopher and Students" has another dimension to it. I was taught quite a lesson with these stones. I found them on a beach at low tide and hurt my back very badly while loading them into my canoe. Among other things, they taught me how to ask for help.


The "Sentinel" sculpture is named after a place (in the Cascades) whcrc I go on my annual, solo, wilderness "spirit quest." There is a pinnacle of rock in a canyon that is a 'er, imponant place for me. This sculpture is an honoring of thai place. (We look at "The Philosopher and Studcnts." a five-stone grouping set in a bed of small stoncs) I found these stones four years ago and I've been looking at them for that long and placing them in many interrelationships. I ended up doing the most minimal amount. This large stone seemed to be a dominant stone and had the look of a monk with a cowl. I couldn't find myseIf making a major cut on any of these stones. So I made facets or "faces" in the natural stones.


SS: Is your experience of doing fully formed sculpture and minimally formed natural stone dramatically different?

MJ: They have their roots in the same process. "Jupiter Rising" (a fully sculpted form) was made through a series of decisions and moves that led from one step to the next along the path to the finished piece. The "Philosopher and Students" was saying "I'm just fine, thanks; you don't need to do anything here."


Thcre is already a huge audience out there who is as interested in stone as we are. When something is obviously about "stoneness,"-the qualities of stone-then that can become a focus. The artist opens a door or access point to the art. Sometimes it is a representational form. Sometimes the beauty of the stone itself is the open door that will draw in the viewer. Sometimes the open door is a sensual shape. Sometimes it might be a polished surface that attracts their eye and they reach out to touch the stone. There are many ways that artists have to create "open doors" for the viewer.


My intention is to communicate with the viewer. I want to find those access points that open doors which allow a viewer to come into a relationship with the work I do. I consciously attempt to allow those access points. Then I have to release it, let it go. Quite often I'm surprised how a piece I do, that has a certain intention, matches up with a person who is receptive to the same intentioll. There is magic that happens in that process. (He tells of a sculpture, "Tree of Life," which synchronously was chosen to honor a man who was responsible for acquisition of forestland for county parks. It is installed at Big Rock Gardens, Bellingham, WA.


Another experience of synchronicity was with "Phoenix Rising." I originally saw a bird shape in the stone (portoro marble), but was frustrated by all the color in the stone. I awoke one morning realizing that the bird could be the Phoenix and that the color could be the flames, with the bird coming up out of the fire. At the same time, due to job stress, my doctor said I should get away from the work place. While on medical leave, I went to the stone and started developing this idea. In the process of working on the shape of the Phoenix, I was also, in a parallel way, working on my own internal Phoenix that was rising. It was so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. This is the fine tuning of the creative life; being able to create your life in the process of exploring your creative ideas. That process led me to doing art full time and I never went back to my previous job. That magicaJ relationship with stones happens infrequently, but it happens enough to make me want to continue.

SS: (We view his jade "Paleolithic Ceremonial Adze. ") I want to explore the idea of the ancient hand tools more. Jade was used frequently because of its resiliency and strength. There's a granite piece at Gallery Mack in SeattJe entitled "Neolithic Altar," paying respects to a hand adze in a large scale. The desire is to recapture some of that initial connectedness that the Paleolithic or Neolithic humans had with stone.


(We look at "First Sacrament" in which a basalt form in the shape of an adze hangs from a wood tripod over a ceremonial stone altar.)


SS: What is your preferred working process?

MJ: If I had my druthers, I'd have thirty pieces going at any given time. If I get disappointed or discouraged with thc piece I'm working on, I just take a break, walk around, and work on pieces I'd previously started. Or I might start an entirely new piece. I eventually get back to the pieces I'd worked on before and finish them up.


A gem of wisdom that JoAnne Duby gave us at the '98 symposium was to consider the base as an integral part of a piece early on in tile process. With each piece (in his current show) the base becomes a connector with the Earth because the stone came from the Earth. I've taken them from the Earth and set them in a pristine gaJlery setting. I want the base to relay a sense of its connection with the Earth. My preference would be to have sculptures that are outdoors and are literally connected with the Earth.


SS: What scale do you prefer to work in?

MJ: If you have something you can pick up and put into your hand, that piece comes into your space: there's an intimacy there. The same thing with larger scale works. They can fill your peripheral vision: thcy become present with you in your own space. In a different way, they have an intimacy about them as well. The mid-sized pieces that sit on a pedestal and are too heavy to pick up, create a kind of a distance. To me they lack that intimacy. So I like the small and the large-scale pieces best.

SS: What is your involvement in NWSSA?

MJ: I've been on the Board of Directors less than a year and we've been working mostly on our organizational structure. We're in transition, becoming a more professional organization, refining goals and objcclives. Our challenge is to continue to incrcasc the support and opportunity for the advanced and professional artist, while maintaining our supportive environment for beginners.


SS: Many thanks, Michael.