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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Verena Schwippert

Who are you?

VS: Born and raised in Germany, I came to the northwest 32 years ago, living in Seattle for 19 years before moving to live and work in Arlington in 1995.


What is your life history as it relates to being an artist?

VS: I cannot remember not being (what later was defined as…) an artist. From the beginning I had the need to make things with my hands, to draw, paint, shape things out of clay.

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Artist Spotlight - Terry Slaton

Ed: Adapted from Federal Way News, May 19, 2001  by Tammy Baley.

TB: How did it all start?

TS: As a boy I won my mother’s attention with paints and canvas. My parents didn’t shower me with hugs and kisses or praise. But I could earn compliments if I excelled with abilities they admired: artistic for my mom, and athletic for my dad. I remember cherishing the times dad played catch with me and coached our little league teams, and cheered me on as I tackled the bigger kids on the football team. And I recall my mom, whose knitting needles seemed extensions of her fingers, saying “good job” when I showed her my latest drawing or craft project. I was into trouble unless I was kept busy: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, paper routes, tap dance, guitar, model planes, summer tennis league (runner up).

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Artist Spotlight - Rich Baker

As we dropped down from the desert hills of central Washington, the view of Ellensburg left us speechless. The contrast of dry sagebrush and lush arable farmland nestled at the foot of the Stuart Mountain range was striking. We caught up with Rich Baker at the Ellensburg Saturday Farmer’s Market where he was displaying his hand-carved stone jewelry under the banner of Rich’s Riches. He was gracious enough to let us take up his entire afternoon. We found him to be extremely knowledgeable about the subject of stone. He entertained us and spoke articulately about his life as a sculptor.

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Artist Spotlight - Dennis Jorman

Editor: We were sad to learn Dennis Joram passed away Friday, April 15th, and just as this issue went to press. He was a talented and generous artist and will be missed by all who knew him. We sincerely regret he did not get to see this wonderful article. Dennis requested that any memorial donations be made to the scholarship fund for Camp Brotherhood. Specify your gift in Dennis’s name and send to NWSSA, PO Box 27364, Seattle, WA 98165-1864.


I just had to let fellow stone carvers know how much I enjoyed interviewing Dennis and meeting his wife, Bette and his son, Daniel.


When I arrived, Bette showed me some of Dennis’ sculpture in their home. It includes metal work, bronze, silver, gemstone, and stone. Dennis showed me several little bronze frogs sitting two together, courting, on jade lily pads. One frog sat by himself on a jade lily pad while Cupid stood on another lily pad aiming his bow and arrow at the lonesome frog. These were the delight of a number of people.


I got to look through Dennis’ portfolio during our interview. He pays attention to detail and design in each of his carvings. He’s a true craftsman.

I have never seen a more beautiful baby nursing at the mother’s breast in all of the art history I’ve read and contemporary sculpture that I have studied. I saw this piece at his home. It is a paper casting from a clay original and plaster mold.

Dennis’ home and gardens are as lovely as his sculpture. He built his home and studio. In addition, he built a six-sided enclosed gazebo in which he cuts his stone. He also installed a terraced garden with two small spring-fed ponds.


After the interview, his son Daniel showed me his apartment which was Dennis’ studio. He and his dad finished it together, complete with granite tabletops and countertops. Dennis’ sculpture is there as well, including a series of small maquettes of lovely figures. He did these figures while attending a live model class. There is a life size torso that he made from a live model he cast in drystone.


Dennis shared that in the nine years during which he studied at the University of Washington, he drove a Metro bus for a living.


If you have been to the Seattle Center lately, and were tired and rested on a granite bench there, it was probably one of his creations. There are three such benches in the Peace Park of the Seattle Center.

To see more of Dennis’s art work, see reachme@joramgalleries.


NG: We have missed you for the last few years. Where have you been?

DJ: I was thinking of ending the interview with this part, but I will start this way, and it will give a different understanding of what I am about to say. I haven’t been involved with the activities of the NWSSA in the last year and a half because I have multiple myeloma with peripheral neuropathy. (Multiple myeloma is a rare cancer of the bone marrow cells that make immunoglobulin. It is related to leukemia, but not the same thing. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nerves, which are those outside of the brain and spinal cord.) In my case the first symptoms of the cancer began with damage to the nerves of my hands and arms, and pain in my shoulders. I don’t have much use of my hands, and now, as a result of the cancer combined with the chemotherapy, the rest of my body has become very weak. I also can’t be around groups because I have no immunity right now to everyday germs.


The last sculpture I did was a year ago. It is my hope that my cancer will go into remission and then I will be able to rejoin the group at some time in the future.


NG: What has the NWSSA meant to you?

DJ: I started my first symposium in 1990 and have attended most of the Camp Brotherhood symposia since. The instruction, comradeship, acceptance and affirmation of the group have basically given me my art over that time. Now that I can’t produce art, sitting up until 2 o’clock in the morning talking with artists and sharing ideas and stories has become even more memorable. I have had the opportunity over the years to share one-on-one at each symposium and those moments will always be with me.


NG: What has been your artistic training?

DJ: I attended the University of Washington for nine years, taking five credits per quarter, to complete a BFA in Sculpture. There, I saw a poster about the NWSSA and Camp Brotherhood on the foundry wall in 1990. I joined the organization and have gone to Camp Brotherhood almost every summer since 1990. I have been with the NWSSA for 15 years.


I wasn’t taught stone carving at the University of Washington. The NWSSA filled that material void. I learned to love stone, and that is my primary material now.


NG: Which sculptures that you have produced are your favorites and why?

DJ: One was “Yoga Moon.” It was started at a Whidbey Island symposium and completed by the following symposium. I found a piece of alabaster at Whidbey Island that lent itself beautifully to the theme of a full moon. I was carrying the maquette of a female figure doing a yoga stretch and didn’t know what to do with her. She became “Yoga Moon.” The stone decided for me.


“Moon Gate” was fabricated at Camp Brotherhood and assembled in the client’s garden.  The pieces are granite and it is built in a standing circle. It was influenced by my love of Japanese art, and for me, it is symbolic of the full moon... The inside is smooth and round because the eye is drawn to the middle of the gate. The outside is a pitched edge, much rougher. There is more freedom of texture on the outside edge. It stands about 6’ tall.

NG: What type of art do you do?

DJ: My art originates from outside myself, outside inspiration, rather than inside myself.  Within my body of art I cross over between figurative, abstract and functional. It is not that each piece is all of those, but I would do a granite countertop as a well as a piece of fine art because that was what people wanted in stone. I am not caught up in the polarization between fine art and craft. To me it doesn’t make any difference what material I’m working in to complete an idea—it could be bronze, it could be anything, but I chose stone as my main material.


NG: What is your philosophy of carving?

DJ: I believe that the craft part of art should be of the highest quality we can produce because it brings out the richness of whatever materials we are using, and the flaws do not become a distraction to the viewer.


NG: What are your future goals for your art?

DJ: Even though I can no longer carve, I had my son place a favorite piece of Alaskan marble on my carving table. I am able to draw inspiration from it with the goal of someday working in stone again. And if that never happens, nature has carved on the stone for centuries. In its present state the stone is a piece of art in itself.

Paul Buckner: Part 2 -Nov.Dec 2008

Pioneer Mother And Child

Alaskan Cedar, 42” high, 1990


Timberline Lodge was built entirely by hand at the height of the depression by the WPA, a federal agency created by President Roosevelt to put people back to work. The Friends of Timberline was organized in l978 to participate in the restoration of this treasured landmark. A new wing was built and needed the same kind of hand worked, local art which filled the original building.

Many people helped with the project: some working, some donating money. One donor, who remains anonymous, funded a commission for Paul to carve two figures, one Native American mother with child and one Pioneer mother with child. Shown here is the Pioneer.

When Paul discovered that carving the details of a child wrapped in her mother’s shawl would be nearly impossible using a single block, he figured a way to carve them separately, gluing them together using blind joints. Both mother and child sculptures are currently at the head of the stairs in the new C.S. Price wing at the Lodge.


Walnut, 26” x 17” x 12”, 1975


Long cut when it was given to him by a family friend, the large and heavy black walnut forked tree trunk sat in Paul’s studio for a few more years. Though he looked at it many times in passing, it had never announced to him what it wanted to be. This is where the mystery of art enters. One day, for no particular reason that he remembers, Paul turned it upside down. With this simple and seemingly random action, the artist’s muse, that loveliness we all court, animated into a wild dance what had for so long been just a chunk of wood. Paul immediately set to work with his sharpened tools and sure hands. The result is Arabesque, finally righted and set loose to dance as only she can.


Ceramic, 22” x 12” x 8”, 1984


Valkyries, the Norse warrior maidens have long been a subject for artists. Legend has it that these women chose which men died in battle, carrying them then to Valhalla. Paul has had a life-long fascination with these heroic figures and spent three days in l984 sculpting this one. He used the slab and coil method, what ceramicists call piece-meal built.

This technique produced a hollow, half inch thick shell of clay which was then fired without glaze. ‘Valkyrie’s’ columns and swoops of hair serve also as collar, helmet and cloak. He made no model, nor any drawings, but simply started in, finding the form as he went.


Walnut, 28” high, 1988


In 1987 Paul offered for sale his wood sculpture of a woman emerging from the sea. He called it ‘Spindrift’, but it was stolen from Timberline Lodge, where it was showing. ‘Breach’ is his replacement sculpture. In retrospect, Paul considers the theft as a heavily disguised blessing, seeing the replacement as a more refined and better executed design.

A whale’s breaching lunge is the basis for this piece, with Paul hoping that ‘Breach’ shows the tension of the upward surge while remaining all woman. For Paul, the tension nexus is in the flexed hands and the hyper-extended arms.


The Sea Ribbon support, following the form of a kelp frond, is often seen in Paul’s marine theme carvings. Having refined his technique over the years, he can now cut them from the wood using the direct carving method. To do so brings him joy and satisfaction.

Eagle Spirit

Copper, Yellow and White Gold Leaf, 36” x 60” x 27”, 2007, % for art WSAC


Created at life size and perched high on a support beam in the library, ‘Eagle Spirit’ truly soars overhead at Washington High School in Tacoma. Flashing beaten copper as well as touches of gold and silver leaf, it’s a real attention grabber.


Completed only last year, this strikingly realistic Bald Eagle is one of Paul’s most time consuming works. After his painstaking construction of a 24 inch scale model, Paul made a steel armature on which to hang the metal. Using the intaglio method of cutting the negative form, he then carved a separate, full sized wooden block for each part of the eagle’s body. Next, he would lay a sheet of copper across the cut hole in the block and beat it down until the metal was flush up against every part of the wood. If his hammer work was too aggressive, splitting the copper, he started over.

Ed. Note: Perhaps we have all felt moments when the work of carving a thousand little curves or bumps; the repetition of bending, forming, matching; or the unending drudgery of cleanup and sanding have made us question why in the world we ever designed such a piece. Let ‘Eagle Spirit’ serve as a symbol of the way art works. There’s the art – and there’s the work.


Steatite, 14” x 15” x 8”, 1976, % for art WSAC

She came from one of John Pugh’s first Steatite field stones. Paul bought it back in the ‘60s out of one of the many Willys Jeep loads hauled up from the Rogue River country when John began selling soap stone to the students at the U of O.


After working out the design in a built-up terra-cotta maquette, Paul carved her with hand tools. This is not thought to be difficult with Steatite, but field stones can be a little fussier than quarried stone. Nonetheless, ‘Siren’ was completed in l967 and sold to Olympic College in Bremerton on the peninsula across from Seattle, taking up residence in their library.

Paul isn’t sure of how many mermaids he has carved, but it’s a lot - further proof of his lifelong love of ocean life forms, both real and imaginary. Paul puts it this way, “The imaginative qualities of the sea have always been a big part of me.”

Working Hands Totem

Cement and Ceramic Tiles, 9’ 6” high, 2005 & 6, % for art WSAC

The Duwamish Apprenticeship Education Center on the Georgetown Campus of South Seattle Community College wanted a sculpture commemorating their graduates who were going into the working trades. After all the interviews were over, Paul was selected as the artist for the job; then began the long task of agreeing on a design. Out of these talks emerged the free-standing pillar.

Paul modeled the six workers in individual plaster sections, three for each side. Rubber molds of these sections were produced by Paul’s sculptor son, Matthew. The Apprenticeship Education Center’s faculty than assumed the responsibility of casting the pillar on-site in limestone colored cement.

As well as designing and engineering the pillar, Paul framed the piece with 72 of his handmade tiles. Each tile is a unique adaptation of the totemic hand seen in the art of Indian tribes throughout the Northwest.


Concrete, 80” high, 1988, % for art OAC


In 1987 Paul Buckner began driving back and forth to Pendleton, Oregon. Before he finished, he had logged over 10,000 miles. The Oregon Art Commission had selected Paul to give a 4 week workshop on sculpture fundamentals at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton. At the end of the 4 weeks of study, he was to construct a cement figure symbolizing hope, justice and freedom.

Four men were chosen from the prison population to help with the work. They wanted to include an eagle to show the power of the state as well as their own strength and will.

Prisoners’ strength and will are not allowed much space in jail, but are never forgotten by the inmates.

Paul decided a vulnerable man, shirtless and alone, would be the main theme. His right hand rests on the eagle while his left hand cradles an innocent dove. While the man can never escape the implacable strength of the state, his wistful gaze is forever directed down at the dove with its folded wings.


Utah Limestone, 16” x 6” x 5”, 1998


As limestone blocks go, it was small, just 16 inches long, sawn off as waste from a larger, purchased block. It contained some interesting sedimentary lines but they were too close against one side for any kind of symmetry. Most folks at the l998 Silver Falls Symposium thought it didn’t look like much of a rock.

That year’s drawing and design instructor saw it differently. He turned it upside down. That’s right; he put the flat, sawn end up and the broken end down. He then began carving a female torso. Paul Buckner not only lives outside the box - he’s never even seen a box.

Using his carving as a tool for instruction, Paul demonstrated how the muscles attach to the iliac crest, that small, just under the skin, knob on each front corner of the pelvis. But this was more than a textbook rendering. TORSO has a sweetness to its curves, a simple elegance of form.

Zostera Marina

Ceramic head with Walnut hair, 16” x 16” x 11”, 1979


The name means sea grass; we’ve all seen waving about in the shallow water at the beach.


In a way, ‘Zostera’ started in l962 when Paul and a student at the U of O bought a truck load of wood blanks from a retiring gun stock carver on River Road in

Eugene. Paul got enough cured hard wood to last him for many years. He still has some of it.


Seventeen years later, Paul went to his stash and selected a walnut gun stock, or two, for her hair. The ceramic head was piece-meal built and fired. The first strand was then carved, hand fitted to a hole in the clay and secured with glue that remains malleable. The second strand was carved to touch the first somewhere along its length where it was pined with a dowel and hard glued. This was repeated until all 10 pieces were attached, finishing the sculpture.

Ancient Seas

Chlorite, 17” x 11” x 9”, 1990


Using another one of John Pugh’s field stones, this time Chlorite, Paul carved a man and a woman in shallow relief. As the piece’s name states, these seas are ancient, prehistoric, even. The woman is shown here among sea creatures that are etched into the polished blackness around them. In Paul’s mind the dancing humans haven’t evolved that far from their swimming companions. He adds the thought that we may yet find ourselves returning to the sea, to flow in some future current of our evolutionary journey.

The turning, twisting creatures of ‘Ancient Sea’s’ follow the natural planes of the stone and so, required little stone removal. Perhaps, as viewers, our curious and imaginative minds will want to follow these natural surfaces; to swim and dance in the oceans that Paul Buckner has created.

Artist Spotlight - Allen Hopper

Stone is evidently the solid foundation on which Allen Hopper has built his metaphorical home. His very nature seems unyielding in his love for his wife, Crystal; his dog, Sadie and his passion for finding beauty inside some of the hardest rock on the planet. As one enters his home in Gresham, Oregon, evidence of his passion stands frozen in striking shapes that were mostly formed by nature with some encouragement from his talented hands. He gave us a tour of his amazingly clean and organized studio, hardly a rock chip or speck of dust anywhere, and with short notice. We found his front and back yard lined with dozens of his favorite pieces he has collected over time.


Allen invited us to view and photograph a few of his most recent pieces and those he has waiting to be worked. The task of moving them into position for capturing their best side took two of us. Allen does not work small. We chatted for a good portion of one morning simply about rocks. The average person couldn’t fill two sentences about rocks. Allen can turn this otherwise dull topic into something fascinating. He spoke about how the various rocks came to be: the formation of the earth, the physics behind the different hardnesses and how the various elements form to make different kinds of rock. He doesn’t just know how to make something look nice, he brings a romance to the art by explaining the origin of the stone and the story behind how he came to possess each one that he has.


DH:  What is your favorite stone that you work with?

AH: I haven’t decided which is my favorite stone. I have been working mostly with basalt, as that is what the local stone yards have in the sizes I need to work with. It’s amazing the varied shapes, textures, and inclusions that can come from that one kind of stone. W’re lucky to live in an area where we have an abundance of basalt. If I lived in Tennessee, I’d be working with limestone. I do have some limestone that I picked up, some stair tread remnants. I’m excited about getting into them.

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