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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Mark Andrew March/April l999

This is an interview with sculptor Mark Andrew of Eugene Oregon. In this interview, we started using a new process in which the individual responds to a set of written questions. This was followed by a phone conversation. This allows us to cover members who can' t be interviewed in person. The following are Mark's responses:

 

MA: Thank you to the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association for the opportunity to introduce myself to its talented membership. I have been delighted with the newsletter and thrilled with the wealth of information shared at the symposiums. I saved years of trial and error by attending the gathering at Camp Brotherhood, WA.

 

Although I am a new member, I have accepted the challenge of directing the Silver Falls Symposium August 25-29,1999. This is a big leap for me. However leaping into the unknown has been a constant in my life. Helping in the production of 40 stone carvings over five days is enormously exciting! I am pleased to step forward in service for other sculptors.

 

My personal devotion to the carving profession attained the quarter century mark this year. Seasoned by anguish and joy in seeking a livelihood with mallet and chisel, I can safely speak of myself as "experienced". I am fully devoted to my trade and have crafted my adult life to the unabashed pursuit of carving.

 

(Mark responds to questions about his history:)

MA: At seventeen, my family moved to Europe. My eyes were opened wide. Extensive travels throughout the region and school in Switzerland changed my conceptions toward lifestyle and molded my passion for artistic expression. (Mark mentions several instances of being awed by the beauty of the an he saw.)

 

Later, while studying architecture at the University of Oregon, I realized that it was the an incorporated into the building that most captured my attention. So I transferred my major to sculpture over exclamations of disappointment from my parents. They knew a successful career in art would be a very long shot

 

(After returning to Europe in search of further instruction, which he was unable to pursue due to unexpected family obligations), I returned to Oregon and sought commissions to support my learning curve. This "earn while you learn" philosophy has served me well to this day. For progress to occur, the time spent and the skills required must be rewarded.

 

I carved constantly and continuously sought opportunities that would pay. My enthusiasm was contagious and others remembered me when possibilities arose. I carved signs for restaurants and shops, murals for homes, decorated garden gates and restored broken antique furniture; anything that would cover expenses and houe my skills.

 

To immerse myself in carving, I chose community living during the 1970's. Gathering in an intentional community of people committed to simple living on beautiful land was extremely enriching. I lived my art and under these conditions talent blossomed. I have often longed for the apprenticeship experience, which is so important to passing along knowledge and philosophy_ Lacking this opportunity, I invented a time and place to teach myself the hard way.

 

I encourage group sharing and living arrangements as a survival tool for the artist Banding together may be more productive and pleasurable for many creative people. (In the 1980's he and his family wound up in Carmel California drawn by its reputation for art and high-end homes.) My growth curve surged off the chart as the financial need pushed my ambition. I said, "yes" to every job possibility. I needed the income. The "earn while you learn" philosophy was projected to new heights. Every month was a roller coaster of artistic energy and financial drama. I kept pushing all my resources toward reaching a level of support where the pressure would ease. Occasionally, I picked up blocks of stone or wood to produce sculpture on speculation. These were shown and sold at local shows. Some of the pIeces were reproduced as bronzes.

 

Truthfully, even in the well-endowed commumtles around Carmel, art remains a tough sell, but my effort was rewarded.

 

Always just in time to "chase the wolf from the door" I carved like a well-oiled machine: entry doors, furniture, limestone fIreplaces, alabaster sculptures, custom bronze hardware, murals, bronze editions of wildlife, even works in steel. It became necessary to be in the studio every day. Despite every effort, no steady "cash cow" had emerged to cover the basics. I was feeling tired.

Oregon beckoned me home in 1995. Since my return, my good fortune has brought me several carved entry door and mural commissions, a line of cast stone garden art, and the opportunity to carve and exhibit, as public art, my largest carving in limestone: "Berry Baskets" (a large work developed from a quarter scale clay model.) In 1997 I married Robin Winfree, a woman I had admired all my adult life. We set out to tear down her old barn and build a large new studio (completed last fall).

 

SS: Mark described this "dream" studio to me: this 44'x44' building includes a 22'x24' heated indoor studio with skylights and lots of windows. One wall is equipped with a heavy duty grid for clamping down slab work while working them in the vertical position (murals and doors), allowing him to see the piece as it will be seen. Work benches line one wall. His tools include table saw, welder, compressor, kiln, and a collection of Swiss haud carving tools and carbide burrs. He has also installed directional lights in each corner of this room to view his pieces in different light. Outside a set of double doors is a 3-bay carport, with 14' high roof and a major beam for hoisting big stones (this area is designated for outdoor carving and very dusty jobs). The building also includes an office/gallery space (l2'xI4') and a guest room which might one day be used by a student/apprentice.

 

MA: The foundations are laid now for decades to come where I hope a great body of sculpture will be produced. My hope had been to secure enough comnussions to stay in business full-time: however for continuous employment_ I realize that more connections have to be made over the next few years. The more people who know me. the better the opportunity to inspire work in my field. I have taught carving at the Eugene Waldorf School. as well as at the University of Oregon Craft Center. hoping to inspire young people with new possibilities in creativity_

 

My thoughts on sculpture: My attachment to sculpture is influenced by the materials of the trade and the physical effort required in pursuit of the work. The raw material is of the earth, is basic, yet already having a story to tell through spirit and geology. The carving process is pure exhilaration. Each block has history within, and I am creating history by making it into a work of art which moves forward in lime with a special status. When I am sculpting, I am channeling a stream of the very great creative energy of all life. It is very nourishing to be a conduit of that !low!

 

As a positive, inspired spark of energy, I inspire like energy aud together all this good improves the quality of life for all. Our creative time in this life cycle is short, and my intention is to leave future generations my vision of beauty. I am part of a deep continuing family of sculptors who have left their mark for the wonder and enjoyment of future people. I feel my place and sense the lingering vibrations of past masters when I see and touch their work. It is an honor to coutinue this legacy of artistic expression. All of my work has been representational. Abstract shapes have intrigued me, but never enough to produce such art. In all likelihood, the extensive commissioned work required a more straight-forward realism. My portfolio shows mainly artwork with wildlife themes and plaut forms. (He says he is moving towar-d more work with the human figure.) I keenly appreciate the harmony oflandscapes. Studying nature brings its harmony into my work.

 

I allow myself to feel deeply while carving the stone to its final form. I resonate right to the tip of the tool. Eyes, fingertips, muscles, posture, willpower: all align in a harmonious balance. All is directed toward finding the form I know is locked within.

Truthfully, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Plans change, faults appear. Riding the waves of highs aud lows takes courage. It takes courage to convince yourself that you already know the finished form. Learn each day to believe in yourself more, to trust your instincts and follow your intuition, and your sculpture will radiate.

 

Success is measured in many ways. For me, a reasonable livelihood while producing sculpture, with time to enjoy the wonders of our Earth is reward enough.

 

Sincerely, Mark Andrew.

Artist Spotlight - Hank Nelson

The following is an interview with Hank Nelson. He has been a member of NWSSA since the 1980 's when Meg Pettibone held NWSSA meetings. in her little studio in the Fremont District of Seattle. Many of us know Hank as a facilitator of power equipment at the Camp Brotherhood Symposium.

 

WL: You're one of the old !imers, aren't you. Then you've been at all the symposiums since 1987?

HN: I have been at every symposium at Camp Brotherhood since 1991.


WL: What started you becoming interested in sculpting? (We are walking back through innumerable pieces of stone equipment, metal equipment, a five-ton press, and drill presses.)

HN: In 1979 I was living in Santa Fe and I built my own adobe and stone house. I have always been interested in viewing sculpture. It had never occurred to me that I might be interested in making it. After I completed the house, some of my friends said it looked very much like a sculpture. I was going to go on to construction but the construction market fell. So I signed up for a ceramic course at UNM in Albuquerque. They didn't have a slot open so they put me in a sculpture class. That was in 1981 and that whetted my interest.


WL: So you started with clay as your original medium.

HN: Clay and wood, some small pieces of soapstone, and it evolved from there.


WL: What kind of art training did you have other than that?

HN: I never had any formal art training. My field was anthropology. In 1984 I lived in Italy for four months and a Dutchman taught me stone carving.


WL: From the looks of your yard here, I see primarily granite. You said when you first started, you did a few pieces in soapstone. Can you give me some idea how it evolved into working with granite.

HN: Let's take a walking tour and I'll show you.

 

WL: (We are going inside his huge building.) Hank, this is the dream of everybody to have a building this size to work in.

HN: This has been my dream for fifteen years. I fmally built it three years ago. It will allow me to do my stone work outside and steel fabrication inside when I get totally set up. I'm going to have welding both inside and outside. I would like to forge and continue to cast.

 

WL: (We are walking through innumerable pieces of stone equipment, metal equipment, a five-ton press and drill presses.)

HN: My first piece in Italy was a Carrara ordinario marble. It started out as a 1200 lb. piece. After two or

three months of working and learning on it, it was probably about a 700 lb. piece.

 

WL: How did you see the image that came out of this stone?

HN: I made a clay model. It was totally different than this. I fmished roughing the stone out, boxed it up and brought it back home with a container of stone. Finally I realized I had to complete it. At that point, after several years absence from it, I had to redesign it. The original design didn't work.

 

WL: It's a very organic shape with many openings and interlocking forms. It stands close to 30" tall and it is about 24" across in one dimension and about 18" across in the other dimension.

HN: A lot of my work is unfinished. I have a hard time fmishing things because I want to go on to something new.

 

WL: Do you eventually come back to the piece?

HN: Eventually I come back, but three-quarters of what I started remains unfmished.

 

WL: Why?

HN: I fmd it really mundane. I have a hard time going back and doing the fmal steps in stone-the polishing. For me there is nothing creative in that. I want to get on to something else.

 

WL: You spend all of the time trying to be the perfectionist?

HN: Yes, in fmishing and going through all the sanding stages and polishing.

 

WL: What you need, Hank, is to have a young apprentice. You teach him and in payment he has to do your finish work for you. You supervise him. Many of the old sculptors did that.

HN: That's something I would give anything for. In working with the UW art foundry, a friend of mine, Norm Taylor, a professor at UW, took me aside and suggested I do casting. So I spent the next five years doing casting. Loved casting. I still love it. It's something I want to get back into and incorporate with my stone.

 

WL: (What Hank is showing me right now are some very tall, skinny, totemic-type forms. They have faces and an inference of a human form. It reminds me very much of the things I have seen illustrated from New Guinea and also from Africa.) Where do you get the ideas to start with, Hank?

HN: I relate and respond to African art. I love the Parisian African art musemn but, while I appreciate

a great many sculptors, I don't think that I have been able to adopt any of their imagery. On all of

my cast iron work, it has evolved while I'm working on the piece. I have a general idea of what I want to do in carving it. These are all carved in negative in chemically-bonded set sand. They take hundreds of hours to carve and then I have a negative image in the sand which in turn, when I cast it, f come up with a positive image.

 

WL: Going from this iron work and the big totemic columns, some of-your ideas are starting to show in your stone work, too. Speaking about stone, what type of tools did you start with?

HN: With soapstone, I used a file, a knife, and sandpaper.

 

WL: Then when you went to Italy, you were introduced to the marble tools and the various power tools?

HN: Yes, to all of the tools.

 

WL: Do you have a preference for which tools you use?

HN: Yes, I sure do have a preference. On that piece (pointing to the Utah oolitic limestone), I couldn't have done that with any ofthe machine tools. Plus it's a very easy stone to work by hand. That was done by hand chisels, files and sandpaper. On marble, I like to use a hand point to rough it out as well as a diamond saw, if that is appropriate. My favorite tool is the Cuturi %" air hammer. I generally use four or five gradinos which are the tooth chisels. In Italy it's called the gradino. So I almost always use gradinos and a flat chisel. On granite, it's a totally different process. My diamond blade is almost always the flfst step, then to granite hand tools. I think the machine I use the most on granite is my pneumatic hammer with bushing tools. And then after that I use various chisels.

 

WL: (Hank has all his tools laid out neatly in a row.) .

HN: I'll use this big hand set all the time. They are all Trow & Holden which I think are fabulous tools. And then I go on to the ripper. This does a marvelous job in narrow places. When my bushing tools don't do the job, I use this carving chisel.

 

WL: (One of the chisels has a heavy body on it. It's a Trow & Holden pneumatic tool and it comes down to a fairly steep taper at the carbide tip. But the other one looks more like a marble tool in that its body tapers down to a very thin profile and it has not very much of a bevel on the carbide.) I would think that one would be quite fragile.

HN: No, it isn't. I've done some amazing things with it.

WL: (The carbide insert constitutes the fIrst inch and a quarter in the tool, and then its socketed into the steel differently than I've ever seen.)

HN: These are tools that I have not used yet. This is a drill.

 

WL: A double-edged star drill.

HN: It's similar to that. (It's curved as a rondel.)

 

WL: That's a nine-inch flush-cut. It's the fIrst time I've seen one. It's neat. It has eight bolts holding it down.

HN: It's an incredible blade. This is my four-and-a-half inch diamond grinding wheel (diamond cup wheel) and that is my seven inch. This is a Craftsman. I decided to try one because it has a five-year warranty.

 

WL: It looks like you're working most of your stone dry.

HN: Yes. I want to start working wet in so far as my granite polishing. This is my one inch Trow & Holden and my ~ inch Cuturi which I began carving with and that is how I carve all of my marble.

 

WL: (We're looking at another of Hank's in-work sculptures. This one is in siennese yellow marble.) Is that a modified female figure or just a play on curves and lines?

HN: It's more of a play.

 

WL: I asked you where you get your ideas, and you said the idea and the form just kept coming to you as you were working.

HN : Yes, in the cast iron.

 

WL: What about stone?

HN: No, except for the fIrst piece. For almost every one of them I have a preconceived idea. Sometimes I have a crude sketch to help guide me, but ahuost always, whether I have a sketch or not, as I get further into the stone, I realize I have to make a change here and there that I hadn't contemplated in order to come up with what my preconceived idea was and it usually happens that it comes out slightly or quite a bit different than what I had originally envisioned. I have one piece back there that is my personal Buddha. I knew exactly what I wanted when I started it and I didn't deviate. Usually I deviate. I get into the stone and I think it's going to work out better if I make this cut or do something that I hadn't plarmed on.

 

WL: So you never make a maquette, a model?

HN: No, except for the first piece of stone I carved in Italy.

 

WL: Can you describe this shop building?

HN: Yes, it's a Blue Ribbon. It's a 48' x 72' building with two walk-in doors and a 12 foot high overhead drive-in door. The purpose of the building is for me to be able to fabricate fairly large steel and iron pieces.

 

WL: At the present time it's a totally open ceiling and it is about 24 feet high to the peak.

HN: It is 13 ft. to the top of the door and about 16 feet to the eaves. I had the problem of building shelves and making them substantial enough for all my heavy steel so I bought an old warehouse.

 

WL: That's what we make our big white beginners' tent with at Camp Brotherhood.

HN: This wonderful shelving will hold thousands of pounds and I didn't have to build shelves into the walls.

 

WL: You're always running at the symposium taking care of machinery. You never get a chance to carve.

HN: Well actually, starting last summer, I realized the symposium is an incredible resource. I don't care ifI do any carving. I wanted to be out there watching and learning and I think even more so next year. I'm not going to take a piece of stone. And jf I find something there to whack away at, just for token's sake, I might.

 

WL: You feel that by being involved in helping it run, that you share in everybody's work and that you learn a tremendous amount?

HN: By getting involved in all the workshops~they were just incredible last year-and hanging out at other people's workstations. So for me, I can do my carving here and my learning there.

 

WL: How do you select your stone?

HN: I haven't bought any marble since Italy. I didn't know what I was doing at that time. I was a total novice. Now I'm fmding that when I select my granite~l've very interested in totemic imagery~1 am trying to fmd a way to do taller work such as I did in my cast iron. Some of the most recent pieces that I have done, came from dimensional stone such as that one over there (pointing to a piece of granite that is about 10" by 8" x 40" long and another piece 12" x 8" x 48" long). Until now I have been able to make one sculpture out of one block. What I'm going to do is take these two pieces and stand them upright and attach them together and that will constitute one sculpture.

 

WL: In other words, put one on top of the other?

HN: No, in width, in depth. And then either with this piece or the next, I will add in height. That's going to be tricky.

 

WL: Yes, it is, but I'm sure with all the metal you have around here and all the methods you have, you will solve it very easily. (Pointing to piece illustrated on page 10. When I fIrst looked at it, it looked like a triangular piece, but it is a rectangular piece mounted on a triangular piece of white granite and it is slotted with a saw and then portions have been carved back. This is Hank's fIrst totemic piece). So you're going to continue this series?

HN: Yes, I am. I am fmding that each one brings a whole new dimension for me to what I can do with stone. I really love working with granite. I like granite because of its durability.

 

WL: Now we can look at some ofthe other work. (This is a small totemic-type piece that stands 14 or 15 inches high.) How much more work are you going to do on it?

HN: I think it is just an experiment. Probably a model for a larger piece. And my fourth thing is this.

 

WL: (Each one he shows me is a little bit taller.) Describe it for me, Hank.

HN: It is about three feet high and about eight inches by eight inches. As I said, each piece that I do gels me a lot closer to knowing what I can do with granite, how far I can push it, how close I can come to working in the same manner that I work with my cast iron totemic imagery. Of course I am not trying to duplicate it precisely. I guess that is what I call pushing.


WL: What do you mean by pushing, Hank?

HN: By vast experimentation, by knowing how deep into a piece I can go and still maintain its structural integrity.


WL: How much time do you spend carving?

HN: Last summer I made a decision it was going to become fulltime for me. I've never sold anything. I've never even shown anything yet.


WL: Can you give me a statement of your philosophy--{)f life, of work.

HN: The visual urge to my endeavors is guided by my lifelong curiosity of how the animal kingdom and physical and spiritual matter relate to one another and to the larger universe and displaying this interaction. I am intrigued by the origin of human races and the variations and differences within each race. I seem to have a need to explore things of anthropological relevance. In so doing, it is important to integrate this work into the lives of those who are to live with it in a positive manner so as not to trample their spiritual and physical space with meaningless imagery of little or no substance. My work is my statement.


Similarly it remains untitled so that the viewer can formulate, without verbal guidance, a judgment and a relationship. Yet all of my work represents a specific being to me and in a rare situation I might title it.


Working stone for me is no more precious than working with steel, iron, dirt or carving styrofoam. Each material has its own inherent rewards and can accomplish different things. However, I find stone carving more difficult and therein lies the challenge of stone. Each move is critical to the success or failure of the piece.


My search for a spiritual path is heightened with the challenges of stone carving. A further challenge is coping with the inherent problems of carving. Of working monumentally and dealing with the logistics of handling and moving as well as scale. Philosophically. I feel like I'm not making any of these images to end up with another piece of work that is just going to take up space. I think, for me, it's the working of the material that is important. When I go back to one of my earlier pieces, they are interesting but it's history now. Sculpting assists me in my pursuit of a spiritual path.

Artist Spotlight - Chris Provenzano

The interview took place at Art City Studios in Ventura, California on October 11, 2000 with Chris Provenzano.

 

Chris Provenzano is a resident artist at Art City Studios (the mayor of which is Paul Lindhardt - the stone vendor everyone knows from Camp Brotherhood), in Ventura, California. Ventura is a small town by Southern California standards and has a closely-knit artists’ community. Chris lives near the studio, right on the Pacific Ocean in Muscle Shoals. Originally from San Francisco, Chris was raised by very artistic parents: her father is a musician and her mother is an artist.


SS: Chris, tell me a little about you and your introduction to art, and art as a profession. 

CP: I’ve always been involved in art, particularly because of my family’s influences. My grandmother and my mother are painters. My father is a musician. I was always in a very artistic and creative environment. There were always art materials available for me. I fir st started studying art in school about 20 years ago, first at California State University at Northridge then at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I received a degree in Art Studio from UCSB. I came to Art City 10 years ago to buy stone and never left. I have studied with Joanne Duby for many years and Paul Lindhardt has also been a very big influence on me (especially with basing). Paul is still a major influence on me and the way I work; he encourages me to push myself. Both Paul and Joanne have been very generous with their time and knowledge, and I hope that it is reflected in my work. I’ve been carving for 10 years now. I maintain a studio at Art City and also work at a local company, Vic’s Novelty, as a designer in product development.


SS: What kind of products do you develop and does it involve artistic expression?

CP: Yes, my par t-time job is very creative since I am making clay original models to be reproduced in vinyl and latex for mass production. The products I make are sold at Disneyland, among other places.


SS: Does this job leave time for carving?

CP: Yes, I carve four days a week.


SS: What can you tell me about yourstyle of carving, and who were your major influences?

CP: I’ll start with some of the major influences, those whose style I like very much. There is Zuniga, Picasso — especially his paintings — and Brancusi. I also like Botero’s style. My carving tends to be stylized realism. That would be, for instance, taking a dog and accentuating some of its features to the almost fanciful — augmenting the features to a point of making it almost cartoonistic. I like to impart a sense of humor in my work. In the fish I have recently completed (the two alabaster fish in the photo on page 7), I overaccentuated the mouths. I like to pattern and accentuate characteristics that may not be there, but go well with the piece. It worked well when carving these fish and brought more life to them. I like the design aspects of the work. I think that the pattern, the line, play an important part.


SS: When carving, are you creating for the public, what you think they will like, or is there something inside you that drives your vision?

CP: I do the work primarily for myself. I fall in love with the stone - it always happens this way. It’s like playing with nature and history at the same time. I get to import my own feelings into history. I feel the stone is a living creature that was alive at one point, in whatever form, and then I get to inter act with it. There’s always a surprise, a mystery, with each stone. I never know where the rock will break and where it will go. I follow the stone. I reveal new patterns as I carve and I try to use the grain and inherent pattern of the stone in my work. I try very hard to compliment the pattern as it presents itself. It makes my work have more substance and makes it easier for the viewer to draw meaning from the piece.


SS: Why is art important to you?

CP: Because I really need to be expressive in an artistic way. It’s the best place for me to be because I’m working by myself, having a dialog with the rock. The design, the form, it provides answers for me.


SS: What tools do you use in your work? Do you have a preference?

CP: Now that I’m working in marble more I’m using the skill saw (a 7" diamond blade) a great deal. I also use my pneumatic hammers much of the time. I like the texturing tools. The contrast of texture next to gloss really augments a piece. But I mostly prefer to riff le, it gives me the greatest joy. I think that sorrows, emotional traumas in your life, are a good vehicle for producing energy. Using the hand tools gets me in immediate touch with the stone and the emotional process. This really is why I stopped painting and why I devote my time to stone. The physicality of the work pleases me, it’s an outlet that I need. I feel satisfied with the work I am doing and the effect it has on me.


SS: Where would I go to see your work, if I weren’t here at Art City actually watching you create it?

CP: I show my work in Ojai, at the Art In the Park event, and the Art Walk in Santa Barbara. I was selected to show my work in the La Quinta, California show two years ago. I am also represented in a gallery in Car penteria, California and Art City Studios Gallery.


SS: You also recently won an award for one of your pieces, didn’t you?

CP: Yes, it was a piece that I entered last year at the Santa Barbara Fine Art Show and I won first place there in a juried competition. It was called “Madam Chair” and was made of Coyama brown alabaster and orange alabaster. This same piece recently won fir st place in the Professional Sculpture class at the Ventura County Fair.


SS: Congratulations. That is quite an accomplishment for any sculptor. How do you sell your work? Have you found it difficult?

CP: I mostly sell through the shows I’m entered in, and to people who visit the Art City Studios and see me working or stroll through the gallery and see my work. I don’t actively market my work. It’s not something I’ve put a lot of time in on yet.


SS: When you are carving do you prefer to finish a piece before you start on another, or do you work on multiple pieces at once?

CP: Usually I am working on at least two different pieces at any given time, at least until I get hung up on one of them. It takes time to fall in love with a piece. When I do, then I work it to completion.


SS: Where does your inspiration come from, what determines what you are going to carve, and how?

CP: Well, it var ies. With “Madam Chair” the objective was as simple as trying to save as much of the orange alabaster as I could! It was a very spontaneous piece. I was on the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission and there was a lady who was the chair of the commission who inspired me. I think her attitude had an affect on me and it really inspired me and came through in the piece.


SS: What do you have planned for the future?

CP: “Princess Nefarious”, the piece I am beginning now, is black Belgian marble from Mexico. She’s going to have great breasts! I’m planning on carving her with some very realistic as well as abstract parts.


SS: When you start a piece like “Princess Nefarious”, do you prefer to direct carve from the vision that you have in your head or do you make a maquette?

CP: Sometimes, as with this piece, I have a drawing I am relying on. I actually did the drawing of “Princess Nefarious” after I started. Other times I use a maquette. I have to use a maquette for a complicated, abstract carving to work out the design.


SS: How has membership in NWSSA affected your work?

CP: I’ve been to Camp Brotherhood twice, first two years ago and then again this past summer. I loved the Hon Lee lecture and slide presentation. He’s very inspiring to me. I also enjoyed seeing the monumental work being done there. I have made a goal from what I saw at Camp Brotherhood to work on larger pieces, particularly a large piece of travertine I’m now contemplating. The camaraderie I felt at Camp Brotherhood nourished the artist in me, I really felt like these are my brothers and sisters. After all, we all love rock!


SS: Lastly, Chris, where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?

CP: At Art City! Exploring new stones that Paul brings in. Carving and exploring the freedom that I find so satisfying when I carve.

Artist Spotlight - Steve Sandry

Steve has been a NWSSA member and avid symposium attendee since ‘93. He has been the Newsletter interviewer for five years. He works as a residential remodeling contractor and lives in Fall City, WA, with his wife Jennifer Sumner. There he works in a 22’x28’ stone-sculpting studio he built himself that includes 14’ high vaulted ceilings, large skylights, indoor and outdoor carving areas under the same roof and heavy duty beams for hoisting stone. (He still needs to finish the wiring, plumbing, insulating and sheet rock, but it’s a good place to work.)


Here he responds to the interview questionnaire:


What is your life history related to being an artist? I’ve always had a spontaneous and creative response to life which finally manifested itself in a college freshman sculpture class. Eventually, I received a B.A. degree in Art and English Lit., with a focus on sculpture.


Before that, I suppose I believed an artist was someone who could draw well.


I seemed to have a natural desire to create in three dimensions and I got some encouragement. Further study during the wild 1960s with an accent on abstract expressionism, anti-war activities and all manner of artistic experimentation was both exciting and confusing (of course, then, stone carving was something done by ancient civilizations). Subsequently, I got married, had two beautiful children and tried to figure out how to make a living, in that order. I worked as a welder, carpenter and builder. Of course, I always managed to set up a sculpture studio/shop wherever I went, but without much output or momentum. At various times I would attempt to shut down the studio and toss out my art (mostly welded steel pieces) on the grounds that it was profoundly impractical. Thank God, this never worked and the artistic predisposition would not be denied.


Eventually, after working with the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (one of the few books I’ve seen which beautifully advocates the inner artist) and loosening a few of my favorite blocks/excuses, and then attending “a symposium” which Rich Hestekind kept raving about, I started sculpting stone. I will always remember coming onto the field at camp B for the first time in summer of ‘93. I had never seen so much intense creating in one place; the air seemed to pulse with it. I was thrilled and frightened. Did I really want to make stone sculpture? Ruth Mueseler encouraged me to cut loose and try. Since then there’s been no turning back. So this was the re-emergence of my artist-self for which I am most grateful. The personal support in the context of an active learning/doing community was my view of Heaven. The yearly events gave me the chance to focus on creating my art. (This was also the fulfillment of a long term interest in intentional community, which Jennifer and I had studied. The Symposiums are some of the best short-term communities I have experienced.)


Who or what has influenced your art form? So many things have, but at the moment I think it is Nature and Spirit. My favorite place to be is in the paradox between the physical and spiritual world(s). Stone sculpture seems an apt way to express this; a very three dimensional material attempting to communicate a “spiritual” meaning or reality. Of course, artists like Brancusi and Noguchi, who seemed to play in this arena and David Smith whose “heroic” conviction impressed me along the way. Now I am impressed by the work and approach of many artists and by chunks and hunks of stone which call to me.


Why is art important to you? It is the artistic process that is most important to me. The art product is secondary. For me the key words Explore, Discover, Create define the necessary phases of the process.


These seem to go on simultaneously and continually if you are “in the flow” and can help you get back on track if you are not.


One major lesson was to learn to complete my work so that I could explore the next possibility. Perhaps I didn’t like to confront completing a piece and facing success or failure.


Art is important as a way of perceiving the world and life experience, different than the analytical, purely rational, or scientific. It seems to cross boundaries to include many domains and thus is my ultimate playground (you need to remain playful to do all the necessary work). Of course, being an object maker in a world seemingly too full of objects is a paradox, but hey, I like a good paradox.


By definition my stone sculptures are non-representational (as distinct from abstract) forms. They are intended to be experienced on their own terms, in their own integrity and have no intentional imagery. I hope they elicit a unique and personal response from the viewer. You could also say they are sensual, curvaceous, use natural stone textures with polished surfaces, and often have a vertical, “balancing” orientation. Most are carved for 360 degree effect and the shapes invite you to explore the whole piece. They are “direct carved” (without much pre-planning) using as much intuition and unconscious process as I am capable of at the moment. I attempt to enter an “exploration” process that includes the universe, the stone, and little ol’ me. I seem to do this for as long as possible because it’s so enjoyable. Then I start to resolve and finalize the forms which have been “discovered”, using a more analytical process, obsessing about things like proportion, relationships, balance, transitions, truing curves, surfaces, mounting, etc. (Creation and Completion.)


I have recently reached a point where I see the value of sculpting in the time honored way: being able to bring my idea to the stone and carve a piece which has been pre-conceived.


While attending the Marble/Marble symposium in Colorado this summer I had the somewhat chilling experience of staring at a big block of white marble and wondering what to do. So I made maquettes and drawings and and got a piece going, only to discover that once I got the piece moving I was once again direct carving (yea). What was I afraid of?


How do you get your ideas? They pop out of my experience. A stone may suggest a shape. My mind engages and expands on this (the inner CAD program) and an exploration begins. Of course I am drawn to certain shapes which I seem to find meaningful (personal form language). Much like a poem or improvisational jazz piece I attempt to piece/shape elements together towards a meaningful end. And now the problem is how to process ALL the ideas that flood forth. It seems that part of the art is choosing the best of these possibilities.


What are you trying to express? Love. Also beauty (these may be the same thing). Also something about the spiritual journey, and the paradox of the spiritual/physical balance. I am trying to create a “form poem” that speaks to these themes. I would like my art to speak lovingly, encouragingly to the souls of others. I would like my sculpture to exude love and provide insight.


Describe a recent piece. “Throwback” (see cover photo) is a piece that evolved over the last year. I found the cascade basalt stone in a Mt. St. Helens road cut treasure trove of natural shape and hauled it home. It had an ax-like shape I liked so I experimented with it at the ‘99 symposium, getting it somewhat roughed out. During the year I continued playing with it, moving the basic shape around. This led to the middle phase (which I seem to always go through) where the piece is partly formed, is awkward (like the teenage years) and I lose faith that it could be a successful piece, and think maybe I should quit sculpting. I forced myself to keep going (next step, next step....) until finally it started to “hum” (to work) as a composition, faith was restored. This was followed by a period of obsessing about details, refining curves and finishes until it felt complete.


The title usually emerges in the process of creating the piece and is another way of interacting with the sculpture. It is not intended to define it.


This occurred while working full time at my remodeling business, sometimes with long gaps between studio sessions. I also had two other pieces ongoing during this same time.


What stone do you prefer to carve? What scale or size do you work in? Many. Basalt, fine sandstone, granite, marble, limestone each has such unique qualities.


If I had to choose one it would be basalt for its depth of color, uniformity of material and beautiful natural skin. I like human scale, that is, big enough for a human to relate to, walk around, touch, consider. That would fall in the 1’ to 7’ high range, 100 lb. to 3 tons. Also that would be the current limits of my studio.


What tools do you primarily use? All manner of electric and air powered grinders and polishers. I highly recommend the Milwaukee 5"sander/grinder, variable speed, 12 amps (cat no. 6156-20). The variable speed is very handy for different situations, while 12 amps provides good power.


Much of the rough out is done with diamond blades and cup wheels. Otherwise I use silicone carbide cup wheels and sanding discs a lot. I am also carving more with air powered chisels. Each stone has its own requirements: this summer I discovered that none of the several diamond matrix blades I have would cut Yule marble (a soft marble). It required a blade with electroplated diamonds for rapid cutting.


How much work do you complete in a year? Currently 3-4 medium size pieces. And, I am working on increasing my output, which is much aided by having a good studio. I am working on a commission in Yule marble for one of my remodel clients.


Where do you exhibit your work? Mostly in group shows, through NWSSA and through N.K. Jordan’s yearly show.


I will have a piece in the Bellingham 2000 show in November and am planning a solo show for November next year.


What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist? What have been your obstacles and challenges? There is great satisfaction in the opportunity to do the work and to do it with others. Of course each piece is satisfying. Being able to create something which didn’t exist before is a thrill. Selling them is satisfying, but mostly I feel thankful to be “on path” as an artist, where ever that might lead. Any obstacles seem to come from within me in the form of being unfocused and somewhat indecisive, also the tendency to like taking naps.


What are you looking forward to? That my next sculpture will be better than my last, that I will be more productive, that my work will be of value to others, But mostly I look forward to the rest of the journey, together. It’s been fun so far.


Many thanks, Steve Sandry (You can reach Steve via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 425-222 -5699.

Artist Spotlight - Sabah Al-Dhaher

Who are you? I grew up in Nasria, Iraq, the third in a family of 11 children. I had an uncle who used to do small drawings and oil paintings. When I was three or four I was fascinated. In school I drew a lot and had a grade school teacher who exposed us to fine art. A friend gave me a book of Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel and I copied the drawings many times, but though I loved art, I had not considered becoming an artist until I met a friend who was attending one of the four National Art Institutes. In Iraq, the schooling is free if you can gain acceptance. My friend encouraged me and started teaching me about watercolor, drawing, and working with light and shadow.


Why did you become an artist? I am an artist because I can’t imagine not being one.


What key life experiences affected your direction in art? By the time I was in 9th grade I had enough knowledge and practice to get accepted by the Art Institute of Basra, where I lived and studied for 6 years. At the Institute the focus was on classical art and building a strong foundation in the basics. At the time I felt reigned in and hated it, but I really appreciate the benefits of that type of education now.


The Gulf war and the failed Iraqi revolution that followed it brought a range of experiences and emotions that I have expressed in my work. I think that brings a deeper perspective to my art and at the same time art gives me a release for the feelings those memories bring.


Who or what has influenced your art form? The works of Rodin, Bernini, and Michelangelo have had a huge effect on my concept of art. They have set the direction I strive toward. I was also inspired by the photo in a NWSSA newsletter of a beautiful piece by Bruce. Hoheb from Portland. He passed away shortly after I saw it and I was never able to meet him or see other work of his, but I still look at the photo of his “Back Study” and feel both moved and inspired.


Why is art important to you? I don’t really know why art is important to me; I only know that I need it.


How does your art reflect your life philosophy? What is your life philosophy? I find that art renders everything profound and beautiful. If you can look at positive as well as negative experiences as something that defines life and character, if you can look for the lesson in everything, then life itself can be a wonderful work in progress.


What is your relationship to NWSSA? Since I first began to study art, I have found the company of other artists to be warm, helpful, inspirational, and rewarding. Meeting Boris Spivak, and through him joining the NWSSA, has had a profound effect on my art form. I learned so much and received so much encouragement and support from the people in the Association that stone sculpture has become my primary passion in art.


What kind of art do you create? My sculpture is mostly realistic and figurative.


How do you get your ideas? Due to my fascination with the human figure, I often observe physical bearing that communicates something I want to express in sculpture. When I have a predetermined idea of what I want to create, working with block stone can offer more freedom for the project, but I usually prefer to work with rough stone because it is suggestive; I look at the stone and try to see a form inside.


How do you develop your ideas? I most often do direct carving though I sometimes make several sketches. If I’m working on a commissioned piece I make sketches first and then develop a maquette.


What is the source of inspiration of your form, language or imagery? I enjoy mythology, especially Greek and Roman; the gods express so many human foibles and attributes and the stories are beautiful. Much of the sculpture I’ve done was inspired by those myths.


What are you trying to express? I try to express the human condition and its tremendous range of spirit.


Describe a recent piece or two. I’ve been happy with a couple of recent pieces. One is called “Persephone’s Descent?.” It is a 28” tall sandstone sculpture. Hades, the god of the underworld, carried Persephone off to be his consort, causing her mother Demeter, the goddess of grain, to allow the earth to grow barren out of grief. Because of her mother’s grief, Zeus permitted Persephone to spend six months of the year in the house of Hades and six in the light of day.


The other piece is one I started at the Whidbey Island Retreat. It’s called “Icarus,” made of alabaster, and is about half life-size. It portrays Icarus after the fall.


What do you like about them? I like the drama of both these stories, the speculation. What do they feel? How is that emotion expressed by their bodies? Is Persephone conflicted? Has Icarus given up?


What is the major theme or intent in your art? Humanity.


Are you working part-time or full-time on your art? Full-time.


What stones do you prefer to carve? Why? Marble is definitely my favorite stone, but I also enjoy working with granite and basalt. I prefer working with hard stone because of the durability, and of course, marble is the classic stone for sculpture.


What scale or size do you work in? Which scale do you prefer? I’ve worked with different scales from 10” pieces to life-size ones. Life-size is definitely what I prefer.


What is your working process (do you have several pieces going at once or just one)? At home I have a very small area that I use to carve small pieces up to 300 lbs. I also use Vic Picou’s studio when I work on large pieces and especially when I have to use pneumatic tools with the hard stone such as granite and basalt. I like to work with one piece at a time, although sometimes I have a couple of pieces going on at the same time.


What tools do you primarily use? It depends on the stone, but I do use hand, electric, and air tools. The angle grinder is my favorite tool because I can remove more stone quickly and there is not a lot of force going into the stone that sometimes could weaken it.


Where do you exhibit your work? There are two galleries, one in Kirkland and the other in Tacoma, that have a few pieces of my work. The city of Puyallup has a beautiful program called “Arts Downtown.” They invite sculptors to display their work in the city for one year; this is the third year I’ve participated. Kirkland has a similar program and I have one of my pieces there. I really like these types of programs because they give the artists great exposure for their art and an opportunity for public art commissions. I also have a website and I really appreciate the positive comments and the invitations to the international shows and competitions.

 

How much work do you complete in a year? I probably do about 10-15 pieces a year.


Do you teach your art form? I have taught at the Camp Brotherhood Symposium for the last three years. I’m also planning to give a couple of workshops next year if I can find a studio with enough room for 5-8 students.


What have been your satisfactions in life as an artist? What have been your obstacles and challenges? I get immense satisfaction every time I finish a piece. Teaching has also been a good experience for me. The first year I taught I was nervous about my English, but everyone seemed to understand me just fine. Finding a place to work has presented some difficulties as well; stone carving is much too noisy for my son, so most of my work cannot be done at home.

 

What are you looking forward to? My dream is to have a large studio, preferably at home. I’d also like to go to Italy someday to see the works of Michelangelo and Bernini.

Artist Spotlight - Elaine MacKay

This is an interview conducted by e-mail and phone with Elaine MacKay. She has been a member of NWSSA since 1996. Where she lives says a lot about her character and also the type of stone she uses for many of her pieces of sculpture. Twenty-five miles southwest of the Columbia River and in the small town of The Dalles, OR, Elaine and her partner, Pat, live on 40 acres of land on the lower slopes of Mt. Hood, with National Forest land on one side and wheat fields for miles on the other, and lots of beautiful basalt in all sizes and shapes for the taking. They have built their own home, using native stone for much of the structure’s interior. Self-reliance and hard work are very much a part of living in a remote area.


AN: Who are you and what is your history as an artist?

EM: The question, “Who am I as an artist?” might more correctly be titled, “The Road Not Taken” and begins back in 1968. I had transferred to a small liberal arts college at Mt. Angel, OR. This was my first exposure to art. Coming from a red-necked background in farming in a small Eastern Oregon community, WE DID NOT DO ART! At Mt. Angel I had to pick a major. I really wanted to go into art because I worked with my hands all my life, but the ageold question at the time was “what are you going to do with a degree in art” and having a very fragile ego, I picked English instead. But every free moment I could find I spent out in the Art Dept. I made handbuilt pots, fired in the Raku method, in a kiln we all built in the side of the hill. We spent long hours collecting clay from the river banks and mixing our own glazes, then firing late into the early morning hours, flames soaring over our heads. A very mystical experience and one I’d never forget through the intervening years when I involved myself in homesteading and various pursuits aimed at earning a buck. I did not actively engage in art again until 1996.


AN: How did you get back into art?

EM: Just a very lucky chance! Vic Picou came to visit a friend and neighbor of mine here on the Ridge. Although I didn’t meet him at that time, my friend Jim told me he was a stone sculptor. I nearly went bonkers! I have always loved stone, hauled em’ up from hell at times. I stacked ‘em and placed them and ruined many a good one because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I never did any pure art. To make a long story short, I phoned Vic, he mentioned Camp Brotherhood, and it sounded like a wonderful opportunity and Vic assured me that I would be welcomed. I was! I call it the summer of my rebirth. Here I was, surrounded by all these wonderful people, a little intimidating, yes; BFA’s, MFA’s and more A’s than you could shake a stick at, but folks would come over and ask me what I was doing and say “Cool.” Like pouring water on a plant dying in the desert. Wow, what a wow! What a group of people! This event coincided with an article I had just read entitled “The Long Sleep” from a book by David Quammen. It dealt with the extinction of a species, in this case the Dodo bird. Being alone, having no one else of her kind, being rare and through a complicated synergy of links is pushed into extinction by death. It was how I felt before Camp Brotherhood ’96. Then I discovered NWSSA and I knew to the depths of my soul I had found my life link. So I went back the following year and began my pursuit of knowledge of manipulating stone.


AN: Why is art important to you?

EM: Because I have spent many years being a frustrated wanna-be artist. Believe it or not, I didn’t know there was such a thing as stone art, except in history, until Camp Brotherhood. Furthermore, art is important because it is the most individualistic and unique expression we can offer of ourselves. Stone art in particular is, I think, the kernel of all art because our ancestors manipulated stones long before other art forms.


AN: What is your philosophy of art?

EM: The short answer is don’t ruin a good stone, because inherent in the stone’s form, color and hardness is the possibility that the hand of an ancient may have touched it. This philosophy is of course easy for me because I carve basalt. The philosophy is in the stone, i.e., what I imagined an old ancestor might have thought of it, why they might have picked it or not.


AN: What kind of art do you create and from where do you get your ideas?

EM: I do not have the intrinsic ability to look at a block of stone and say I see so and so in it. I go searching for forms, I spend a lot of time and bloody fingers doing so, but it is also an integral part of my process of carving a stone. I imagine when I go stone searching. I imagine my clan long ago fingering the same stones. It is a link to our ancestors older than all others, older than any other art form, they could have touched the same stone as I, they might not have but they could have. My forms and what I do with them reflect what I feel my ancient ancestor also shared, images of pleasure, healing, power, protection and an awe of the mysteries of life. He found joy in the stone at the river bank and it caused him to have pleasure whenever he looked at it so he lugged it back to the den.


What kind of art do I create? Primitive would about sum it up. Sometimes I don’t do anything to the stones I have at home. Never ruin a good stone. So if I go doctoring a stone I follow the philosophy above.


AN: What type of tools do you use?

EM: I use mostly air tools, as I did body and fender work for 10 years and am familiar with their use and you don’t have to worry about getting zapped, as I use water a lot in my grinding and cutting It keeps the dust down and lubes the blade. There is of course a place for hand tools also, as Reg Akright pointed out. I intend to incorporate them into my tool collection in the future. Money! I like pitched surfaces and again it’s the primitive act of striking that appeals to me.


AN: What scale do you like to work in?

EM: Well at this time, pieces that I can tote. Though I am sifting every thread in JoAnn Duby’s brain on basing. With multiple basing you can achieve soaring pieces that you can still lift and move without breaking your back.


AN: What new and wild ideas do you have planned for future work?

EM: With the multiple basing thing I am going to work on a series of shape-shifters this summer. Pinned and sleeved, each stone can be turned independently of each other and thus a different face, hence shape-shifters. Again this goes back to the old ones and the mythology of the Native Americans and Celts.


AN: How many do you work on at a time?

EM: I work on several at the same time. The first 15 minutes on most pieces is ecstasy and then you can get bored, push something that you shouldn’t and not allow the stone to be and can just and up destroying a good stone. So I rough out a bunch of what would be considered ideas then “I just sets em’ about and ponder em.’”


AN: Where have you shown your work?

EM: At this time , I enter most shows NWSSA puts forth in the newsletter. I haven’t done the gallery thing because I do not have a big enough body of work at present. Hopefully that will come; I have received immense satisfaction in the short time I have been carving stone. I won an award at the AIA show last year in Seattle, which left me speechless. I also had a piece accepted at Big Rock Gardens in Bellingham for permanent exhibition and am in tremendous company up there. Even though it was a long distance to bring work, I have two pieces in the Bremerton Show.


AN: Is there anything else you want to mention before we close the interview?

EM: Carving stone has given me personal happiness, satisfaction and an even keel in my life that had heretofore eluded me. Which brings me to the importance of NWSSA in my life. The community of like-minded people, ideas, education and opportunity. Reading David Quammen’s article on the Dodo bird coincided with my first Camp B. symposium and I knew I would never have to face such a destiny. This is what my art and the people I absorb through NWSSA gave me. I hope I am able to give a tenth back.