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Artist Spotlight

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.

Artist Spotlight - Nicky Oberholtzer - July/Aug 1998

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


BL: What led to your becoming a sculptor?

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


BL: What is your favorite stone to work with?

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


BL: What stone did you work with at SPU?

NO: Alabaster and soapstone.


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

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


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

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


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


BL: Is that a fracture in the stone?

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

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

NO: Oh really. Thank you.


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

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


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


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

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


BL: Your least favorite part of sculpting is sanding?

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


BL: What is your favorite part of sculpting?

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


BL: Tell me about your goals.

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


BL: Tell me about "Peace."

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


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

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


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

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


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


BL: How has NWSSA influenced you?

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


BL: What things do you teach?

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


BL: Do you suggest people start with power tools?

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


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


BL: Thanks, Nicky.


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

Artist Spotlight: Verna Schwippert

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

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

SS: What are your plans for this one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS: So you learned to go beyond seeming barriers?

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

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

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

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

SS: What artists influence or inspire your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS: What is your relationship to selling your work?

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

SS: In terms of your livelihood?

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

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

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

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

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

Artist Spotlight: Brian Berman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS: Thank, Brian.