Meet Betty Sager
SNW: Tell us a little about yourself.
BS: I was born and grew up in central British Columbia, raised two lovely children and worked as a bookkeeper for many a year. My husband Wayne and I moved to Abbotsford when the kids where teens and we’ve enjoyed the Fraser Valley ever since. I’ve recently been blessed with my first grandchild, and am enjoying all that he brings to my life every day. I’ve kayaked for many years exploring this great west coast.
SNW: What key life experiences affected your direction in art?
BS: I took up carving wood 10 years ago when my husband requested that I help him with a Christmas gift project, which needed a bit of carving. It was fun and he loved that I was spending time with him in the garage/shop. He then bought me some bass wood, which is a soft wood, and a few more chisels. Little did he know we would eventually need both his woodworking shop and a studio for working with stone.
I loved carving right from the start and it soon became an addictive passion. I joined the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Association, a wonderful group of folks that were very helpful.
Red Deer Community College had one week carving courses available every summer, where very talented artists taught and introduced students to many styles of carving. When I saw Chris White’s book, Parables: Wood Sculptures, I knew I needed to try and work that style, which is very stylized and flowing. It was then that I realized I needed to learn realism in order to carve stylized animals; I needed to know what it should look like in order to “Let it go.”
I continued to take courses, studying and learning under artists like Harvey Welsh, Barry Dennison and Chris White. However, it’s been Chris White who has influenced my style the most and I feel honoured to have worked with him.
SNW: Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.
BS: I’m now working on a series called “Birds in flight,” which I’ve been making more and more delicate with lots of negative space, and parallel lines, trying to find a balance between simplicity and grace in flight. The carved contrails give flight and speed to the birds. This series has been a great joy to produce and and may continue for a while.
SNW: Is it representational and/or non- representational?
BS: I’ve been told that my “Birds in Flight” series is called contemporary realism and could be classified as a “cross over art style.” These are abstract sculptures which flow from the recognizable forms of birds. I hope this recognizable part helps folks transition from enjoying realism to enjoying the abstract with its flow, movement and negative space.
SNW: How do you get your ideas?
BS: I get to know the stone while preparing it for carving, observing it’s various attributes,; I then mould some clay shaping it as though it were my sketch pad, working and reworking it until I like the shape and it works with the characteristics of the stone. I start carving with the beak and then let it go (take flight) from there.
SNW: What are you trying to express?
BS: Great question! I try to capture movement, dance, and grace, I like round flowing parallel lines, negative spaces, simple form and balance. How delicate can it be? Can I entice the viewer to walk around it or turn it?
SNW: Do you work part or full time as an artist?
BS: I have the luxury of working as much as I would like or as little as I want, but even when I work at it full time, I don’t consider it work because it’s my passion and so enjoyable.
SNW: What stones do you prefer?
BS: I am currently enjoying Pyrophyllite as it has great colors and seems to be holding up fairly well to my delicate style.
SNW: What is your working process – do you do one piece at a time or do you have several in process at once?
BS: I generally don’t allow myself to go on to the next piece until the last piece is complete, as I’m afraid my studio would be full of abandoned partially sanded pieces. I find that the sanding process awakens my creativity for the next piece, or perhaps I just enjoy design, rough-out and the refining stages much more.
SNW: What tools do you use?
BS: Ah! Tools – when I started carving in wood, I started with chisels, but before I became proficient with them, my husband bought me a Foredom tool and away I went into the land of power tools. What great fun, and it’s been a journey of discovery ever since. In the first few years, every time I struggled through trying to carve, sand or somehow work a troubled spot… my husband would look over my shoulder and say “ Hmmm perhaps I have something that may help you,”, then proceed to his woodworking shop and bring me the perfect tool for the job. To my delight this process continued for the better part of the next year until he finally showed me his entire collection of tools. Now, years later, I can (on occasion) show him a fabulous tool or two.
I now use air die grinders and electric angle grinders for most of my work, although I just recently bought an air hammer and a few chisels. I was told that if I didn’t carve stone with an air hammer and chisels that I’m missing half the fun, so I‘ll give it a go.
SNW: Where do you exhibit your work?
BS: I currently exhibit my work at 3 galleries here in BC: Rendezvous Art Gallery, in Vancouver, Art Gallery in Vancouver, Abbotsford Art Gallery in Abbotsford and QB Arts in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
SNW: Do you teach?
BS: I have taught stone carving at the Shuswap School of Woodcarving and Arts, in the Shuswap Lake recreational area of south,central BC. They offer a one week course each year. I hope to help the wood carvers that are used to using a pattern to design with clay then direct carve.
SNW: What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favourite scale?
BS: I like to create pieces that are from 15-36” in height. Would that be coffee table art? They’re all indoor art, so far.
SNW: How is your work area set up?
BS: My studio is a converted room in my home directly behind the garage. We changed the electrical, plumbed for water c/w sump, made it water proof and plumbed the compressor and huge dust collector in through the wall. I have lots of light and look out at ground level to our garden.
SNW: What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?
BS: I enjoyed the reaction from my parents when I carved busts of each of them; they felt honoured. The busts were my first human form carvings, and continue to be treasured and enjoyed. Since then, I found out that it’s always a good idea to first carve a few human forms where you’re making up the expressions and faces, before tackling realistic sculptures of loved ones.
SNW: What are you looking forward to?
BS: Isn’t carving all about the next piece? I enjoy the creativity and the anticipation of seeing the completion of each process take shape before my eyes. Perhaps one day I’ll sculpt classic human form style of sculpture. I look forward to giving ageless pieces of stone a chance to shine and be the centre of attention, admired, stroked and enjoyed.
SNW: Any final words?
B.S. Thank you to NWSSA for introducing me to a whole bunch of kindred spirits. I look forward to many more interesting discussions about design, techniques, philosophy and much more.
by Michelle Burlitch
Nestucca River Spirit
by Michelle Burlitch
Stone has played a large role in my life for the past 22 years, albeit not by way of sculpture. As a teenager, I learned to rock climb on the solid granite domes of Tuolumne Meadows on a family trip. Since then, I’ve been climbing all over the US and the world on all types of rocks.
Mountains, rivers and stone are integrally connected. When I picked up a hammer and chisel a year ago, I felt like I’d come home. Now when I wander the wild passages, I return to daily life at peace and enriched - and with a backpack full of rocks. The Nestucca River Spirit is the first piece I’ve completed in a series of river stone carvings.
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