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Artist Spotlight

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.


Artist Sportlight - Stuart Jacobson

The following is an interview with sculptor Stuart Jacobson of McMinnville, Oregon. Here, he responds to a questionnaire regarding his experience as a stone sculptor.

I’ve spent most of my adult life searching for who I am. I tried to mold myself into what appeared to be a “normal” logical, left brain thinking person. Of course it didn’t work out real well and caused me to make numerous job changes. These included being a home remodeler, a landscape designer, a stockbroker, running a landscape maintenance business and a water features business. Five years ago I finally stopped struggling and gave myself over to becoming an artist. This odyssey from the world of “normalcy” began on a family vacation while we were driving along the Oregon coast. We came upon the most incredible monumental stone sculptures I had ever seen, right beside the highway at the Freed gallery. It was as though I had been struck by lightening, as I seemed to be totally transfixed, unable to remove my eyes from the sculptures. I lost all sense of time and space. Since I was driving at the time, and pulling a travel trailer as well, this was not a good thing. We began drifting off the road into a ditch. I didn’t fully recover and regain consciousness until I finally heard a chorus of screams from my wife Peggy and the kids. Just in the nick of time I pulled us back onto the highway, but my life has never been the same since. These amazing sculptures were by Kazutaka Uchida. I can’t explain it, but I connected with this work like no other I had ever seen before. I decided then and there that I must meet this man, even if it meant flying to Japan to do it. An amazing moment of synchronicity happened a few weeks later, when Peggy noticed an announcement for Camp Brotherhood, featuring Kazutaka Uchida. Two weeks at the symposium, and my life was permanently changed.

My artistic role models are Uchida, Noguchi, Hepworth, and Brancusi. John Denver was once quoted as saying to an interviewer, “To know my songs is to know me.” The same is pretty true for me as well. My sculptures mostly reflect who I am, who I am trying to become, or just those things that I admire in others or in nature. Uchida once offered me a profound piece of advice that I have taken to heart, incorporating it into the foundation of my work. “The most important thing is, what are you trying to say?” I have never made a sculpture without being able to satisfactorily answer that question. Hardly a day passes that I don’t reflect upon that advice.

Becoming an artist caused me to become much more of a spiritual person as well. Reading The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron changed my whole concept of who I am and where my inspiration comes from. I’ve heard many articulate people describe a similar sentiment, but I most vividly recall Brian Berman once describe himself as the “invisible sculptor”. His explanation was that he simply shows up and lets the creativity of the universe flow through him. That’s an excellent way of describing my sculpting style as well. I do run my ideas through several filters before I allow myself to proceed. Is there an important message or story to tell by creating this piece? Is the message uplifting and positive in nature? Can it be told simply, and conveyed in such a way, that others will understand what I’m trying to say, without the use of words?

I describe my work as mostly nonrepresentational and conceptual. It has a very contemporary feel. I strive for simplicity, always looking for the most concise way to articulate a theme. I look for a universal way of expressing a message through the use of symbols. I’m a pretty uncomplicated person and can get totally fouled up if I try to make something too complex. So as I’m working, I constantly ask myself the question, is this really necessary to convey my message? Every time I consider a new element or change to the sculpture I ask myself, will this reinforce or detract from my theme?

I started out as a direct carver. As I’ve gained experience and confidence, I am now quite comfortable as an indirect carver as well. I do a great deal of drawing. I’m not very good at it. But that doesn’t stop or discourage me. I’m only trying to capture an idea. I’m not trying to make a perfect drawing. I don’t really edit my ideas very much. I just try to get them down on paper. My approach is a little bit like the photographer who takes an entire role of film, hoping for one really wonderful shot. My ideas come to me in a variety of ways. I take private time by going for a walk, almost every day. This is when a major amount of ideas come to me, as well as the solutions to problems or design challenges that I may be experiencing. Most mornings I write pages in a journal. This helps to clear out a lot of the internal chatter going on inside my head, allowing more space and clarity to generate ideas. I also get some of my best ideas while riding in the car. Peggy and I have reached an understanding on this. I am free to design all that I want to, as long as she does all the driving! I’ve learned to enjoy being chauffeured. I also really enjoy the creative hits that I get out of seeing other people’s work. So going to galleries or museums is something I try to do regularly. The NSSSA Symposium is another wonderful time to get charged up with new ideas and techniques as well. Learning a new technique will spark a whole host of new ideas. “Cycle of Life” was the direct result of Laura Alpert’s design class. I usually have many more ideas than time to carve them. The benefit to this is that I am forced to discard all but my best ideas.

How do you develop ideas? A visual image may come to mind. I ask, what does this mean? What could I say by using this image? Other times I ask myself how I could express what I’m feeling. What does this feeling look like? An example of the way I design is the way I developed “Balance” [see cover photo]. I am inspired by George Tsutakawa’s sculptures. In this case I was specifically inspired by some of his stacked wooden pieces. I wanted to try playing with a similar assemblage of stone pieces. I started playing around with ideas for stacked stones. I decided to place those stacked stones within a larger form, to make it more interesting through the use of positive and negative spaces. Purely by chance, this larger form took the shape of an abstracted human heart. I asked, what does it mean? Why do it? I then constructed a story that successfully answered those questions, and helped me to make the rest of my design decisions. This piece describes my perception about the three key elements to me experiencing a well-balanced life, and a balanced heart. The three black stones represent the body, mind, and the spirit. The lowest upright stone represents the body; the mind sits on top of the body and is cup shaped as the receptacle of knowledge. The spirit grows out of the mind and ascends upward. When my body, mind and spirit are in balance, I am in balance. The exterior of the heart is rough and textured, representing the junk that life throws at me sometimes. The inside of the heart is smooth and polished, representing the inner serenity I feel when I am truly in balance.

Another piece, called “Forgiveness,” exemplifies how I strive to utilize universal symbols to convey a theme. It’s a broken heart that has been mended together through the act of forgiveness. These stones were the broken fragments that came from the middle of the “Balance” sculpture. I was cutting, drilling and really hacking away at this stone. About half way through this process I decided to try to save some of this material for a possible later project. As I had been working on these stone fragments, they were subjected to a great deal of brutality and violence by me. When I had finished, whenever I looked at them, they always looked like a broken heart. I used to share a studio with Devin Field. I admired his steel sculptures and wanted to do a mixed media piece using metal steel ever since. But I could never figure out what would be a satisfactory reason to do this. I couldn’t answer my fundamental question “why”. So in this case, as I thought about mending the heart using steel straps, the answer came to me with the concept of forgiveness.

What are you trying to express? These sculptures are like meditations for me. They reflect what I focus on trying to become or strive to be. I know that a lot of the joy I feel comes out in my work. That’s why something as negative as a brutalized and broken heart gets transmuted into something positive.

Are you working part time or full time? I’m a full time artist. I am truly grateful for the fact that I get to spend so much time working at my art. But it makes me feel a tremendous responsibility to make the most of my opportunity. I see so many other talented artists that don’t have the time that I do to spend on their art. This gratitude I feel and the resulting responsibility makes me obsessively driven. I push myself pretty hard. I have to make a conscious effort to step back in order to achieve balance in my life. I regret that I came to become an artist relatively late in life and feel that I must use every moment that I am given to the utmost. What stones do you prefer to carve? One of the reasons that I sculpt is that it is another way of leaving a legacy or experiencing a form of immortality. This is one of the reasons I really like the hard stones. Basalt, andesite, granite, diorite are favorites. I’d also love to try black limestone with white veins. I prefer stones that are dark gray, mostly black, or completely black and tend to stay away from highly patterned and brightly colored stones. The simplicity of the designs and concepts that I strive to articulate generally work better in stone that isn’t too bright or highly patterned. The other thing is, I started out doing garden fountains and sculptures, so I got used to working in the hard stones right from the start. I also thought that it made sense to either collect or pay 10 cents a pound for basalt while I was learning what I was doing, rather than pay big bucks for more exotic stone. Recently I purchased quite a bit of Mahogany Granite, a dark gray and black granite. And I have several tons of basalt waiting for me as well. It seems like it’s easier to sell outdoor sculpture, so I think it beneficial for me to be experienced in working stone appropriate for outdoor placement.

What scale do you prefer? Big. I’m a big movement kind of guy. While I appreciate small detail work, it’s not my forté. I tried small detailed carving with lapidary tools when I was a child, but couldn’t get comfortable with it. When I tried an angle grinder and an air hammer at my first symposium, something clicked for me. Peggy claims that I’ve never met a power tool that I didn’t like. Don’t tell her I admitted it, but it’s true. I’ve been making sculptures that one or two people can move. Table top, pedestal and floor standing pieces. The heaviest one to date has been “Chi”, a 4’ tall, 800-lb. basalt column carved into about a 600-lb. sculpture. I don’t have any heavy lifting equipment yet except for an engine hoist. This is about to change, since I just received a large commission that will require me to carve an 8’ tall 4-5 ton piece of columnar basalt. (It’s an 8 tall basalt column with a 1’ thick slab sliced out of through the upper portion of the two remaining pieces. The cut edges will all be given a 4” bevel and the inside surfaces polished. A 20” sphere of contrasting material will be suspended between the two “halves” and within the larger hole. Called “The Heart of The Valley,” it represents and honors Corvallis, the river and the valley, and will be set in the Corvallis Riverfront Commemorative Park.) I’m really excited about it because I’ve always wanted to do a large public art piece. But I haven’t geared up for it yet. So now I’ve really put my feet to the fire and need to make some serious improvements—like pouring a concrete slab for starters, and I’ll probably get a gantry crane. Right now my sculpture studio is my symposium tent! Stone and tools, etc. are stored in the garage. My next piece, called “Eclipse,” will be a 5” thick by 9’ tall dark gray black granite slab. It will weigh 1-2000 lbs.

What is your working process (do you have several pieces going at once or just one)? I’ve done it both ways. I prefer to have several going at once. The variety makes it more interesting. It also gives me time to resolve design issues and consider what I’m going to do next on a piece. But because I am under-equipped for the type and size sculpture I prefer to do, it takes a long time to get a piece done. Because of this, I frequently end up working on just one at a time. With the Corvallis Riverfront Commemorative Park commission, I’ve reached a turning point in my career. So now I’ll be making some significant upgrades to my equipment and facilities. That will also make it easier to work on multiple pieces. 

What tools do you primarily use? Angle grinders seem to be one of my best friends. 4 1/2” or 5” are the most frequently used. the middle. A 2’ hole will be bored ferring my 9 point bushing tool. But I seem to work faster with just cutting and grinding.

The majority of my time is spent cutting, grinding, and polishing.

Where do you exhibit you work? I usually have at least some work at the five galleries listed in my resume. I also participate in the occasional sculpture invitational, and once each year, in October, I have a home studio show. This year I’ll be showing work at the Clackamas Sculpture 2000 Invitational in April and May, and a two person show in August with a painter at the Waterstone Gallery in Portland.

How much work do you complete in a year? I’m a pretty slow sculptor. It has to do with the hardness of the stones that I prefer to carve. I was real slow when I started but have gotten faster. I’ve only done somewhere around 26 pieces in the 5 years that I’ve been carving. Since I’ve pretty well stopped doing fountains and other craft items, I now have much more time to devote to sculpting, I completed 11 pieces last year. I now find that these days I’m spending more and more time applying for art commissions. I did my first public commission (a bench called “Yuen”) for the City of Beaverton Community Center last fall. Unfortunately it takes me at least two days for every proposal that I send out. So I’ve learned to be pretty selective about which ones I try for. And the final selection for the Corvallis proposal took months to put together, since I proposed four different pieces and made a small scale sculpture of one of the pieces.

Do you teach your artform? Not in any structured way. The home studio show that I do has an educational component to it, so I do a great deal of show and tell at that time. In addition, this year I’ll do a little instructing at Silver Falls Symposium.

What are you looking forward to (flights of fancy)? I am hopeful that I’ll get to do more public art pieces of a monumental nature. It’s not so much that I want to do large pieces for the ego stroke. It has more to do with feeling like I have something

to say and wanting to opportunity to share it with a large audience. 

If things go really well…I’ve always had the long-term dream of doing work worthy of being included in museum collections. And for that to happen in my lifetime would be way cool!

I just want to say…. The fact that I didn’t study art in college has been a hindrance. It would have helped me a great deal, especially design theory and art history. But in some ways it has also benefited me. I feel much more liberated by not being weighed down with too much knowledge and not being held back from knowing that something couldn’t be done. This has allowed me to be very experimental, which keeps my interest level high. It is my desire to do really innovative work, breaking new ground, and to reinvent myself every so often. One upcoming change for me that I see on the horizon is to do some pieces, which are much less controlled, and much more gestural and spontaneous in nature. This will involve some much rougher work with sawing, hacking and breaking off chunks of stone. Much less finished and refined. We’ll call it my “slasher period”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud and satisfied with my work to date. I just think that in order for me to make the next big leap, I must to try to be less controlled, take more chances, and risk complete failure more often. A way of explaining it is, it’s like listening to a singer sing a beautiful song, but who is trying really hard to be in control and hit the right notes on key. Contrast that with someone who is really belting it out and pushing the limits. They’re going for it! They are giving it everything they’ve got and not holding anything back. The first is pretty. The second is fiery and passionate, and cannot be duplicated. To listen to them, the difference is remarkable. The latter is who I want to be.


Artist Spotlight - Kirk McLean

Kirk lives on 10 wooded acres in the Arlington, WA, area with wife, Judy Burnett, and two joyous golden retrievers who made sure I noticed them. They built the super insulated, energy efficient solar house and studio, so Kirk was able to design to his needs. He says, “Since we moved to the property, my day job has been taking care of the property and trying to raise as much of our food as possible in the large organic garden and orchard. This has kept me very busy, but gives me a flexible schedule so I can tackle sculpture projects when they arise.” The studio includes an inside workspace (20’x16’) with a large workbench for stone carving, welding, and other dusty tasks, and a heated “clean” room for drawing, modeling, working with cast paper and the like. He does his wet carving outside.

We start talking about his 8-foot high, gnarled basalt column (from Yakima, WA), which is standing on a concrete pad outside his studio. Above it looms his 14’ high mobile gantry rated for 5 tons. It is fitted with a two-ton chain hoist. This makes me think something Big is happening.

SS: Kirk, how are you approaching your work with this column?

KM: Most of the time I have a vision of a form I want to attempt, or a concept that I develop into a vision inside my head. Every so often I fall in love with a stone and end up doing a direct carve, where I respond to the stone and develop the form as I go. This is one of those stones. I’ve cut the bottom square so I can have it stand here where I can look at it and puzzle out what to do next. I really admire the upward curve, the flare at the top and of course the character of the stone: the dark core surrounded by the swirly rust and gray-brown patina. I know that there are all sorts of possibilities here, playing the richness of a polished surface against the character of the broken stone or a tool marked area that would mostly show white, but give a hint of the darkness of the stone.

This stone could lead anywhere. There’s certainly a suggestion of a torso from mid-thigh on up, if you look at how it moves through here. Or, I could play with the vase shape that the flare at the top suggests. Right now, I think I’ll cut into this profile to mimic the flow of the opposite side, so that there will be a sinuous upwards movement. Once that’s done, I’ll see what to do next. I still haven’t made that first cut. (Note: He’s changed his mind back and forth about four times since the interview.)

SS: Do you often have a preconceived idea of what you want to create?

KM: Sometimes I’ll get a clear vision and look for the stones to use (which I never have in my rock pile, right?). Sometimes the vision will arise from looking at stones or starting to work on them. In any case, the final piece is always changed by the interaction with the stone through the carving process. That’s one of the reasons I like to work with natural stone, rather than quarried stuff. The shapes of the weathered rock set limits, provide a certain awkwardness that keeps me from my impulses to put flowing curves everywhere.

SS: What do you mean by awkwardness?

KM: See this concave surface here? It’s almost the way you might carve it, but it’s clunkier, rougher. So now you have to make a decision whether to develop it into a more free-flowing curve or to use it as part of the form.

SS: What is the balance for you between the conscious/design/intellectual aspect and the unconscious/allowing/discovering aspects of creating?

KM: Assuming we’re trying to make an object that has a presence or power to it, the aspect of ourselves that can deliver that is not the intellectual capacity. It says, “this stone, this proportion, this texture.” The Gestalt of the piece is the Gestalt of your self, the non-verbal. For me, there are a lot of strong, unexpressed feelings that I can’t sort out about a piece. The emotional engagement with the piece changes, particularly for long term pieces, give it a lot of importance: loving it, hating it, finishing it and being melancholy about it being done, wishing it were better... although you can talk about it, there’s a non-verbal essence in what we’re doing. The conscious, intellectual part plays a strong role in analyzing the conceptual basis of the work, of reporting awareness of theme or content, of applying design tools. It’s sort of a game where the conscious and unconscious toss the work back and forth, each contributing to the final sculpture.

SS: Then there’s how the work is experienced by others...

KM: It’s educational seeing how another person thinks about the work. Which can make me realize aspects I hadn’t thought of, even though it was in there in the piece. My piece ‘Twisted Stele’ (stele: “an upright slab carved with symbols

or writing to celebrate the feats of a God, ruler, or warrior”)–“This one has had a hard existence, twisted, pitted, cracked, the central image has disappeared so that we can only guess about its purpose,” Kirk writes in his portfolio. It’s now at Port Angeles Fine Art Center in their “Art on the Town” (a year long show). The Center is a modernist house and grounds overlooking the town. My piece was placed on a grass area near the drive/walkway to the center. They have top-notch shows there. I was pleased to be associated with them. I had originally hoped to get a big chunk of the fine-grained brown Idaho granite (from Mark Heisel). This was his gray fine-grained granite, a 7-foot piece. The brown tone is dirt stains on the surface. It was lying on its side for a year in the studio yard. Occasionally I’d sit on it, lie on it, kick it...

SS: You literally lie on it???

KM: Oh ya, don’t you do that?

SS: Most of my pieces are smaller than that...Do you take naps on it?

KM: No, just lie down, look at the sky. Mostly sit on it. When you have a long stone like that the obvious thing is to stand it upright. So I went with the notion “let’s fight the obvious.” Let’s struggle against it, it could be a boat shaper...

SS: So, you’re mentally going through that process. Originally you have a strong impulse to do something with the stone, like stand it up. Then you say, “that’s too obvious, let’s try this, let’s try that...”

KM: When Mark brought the stone, he said that Linda Heisel saw an Egyptian figure in it. I thought, “that kills that (idea).” Now there’s no way I can see an Egyptian figure.

SS: Ahhh, you’re a contrarian. But, why struggle against your profound preference, often revealed in your first “hit” upon seeing a stone?

KM: Ya, that’s just the way I am. It’s a pain in the ass.. anyway, I looked at the stone and decided it wanted to be upright and at least I went through the process of deciding that. (In his portfolio he states, “The gorgeous natural shape reminded me of both an upright figure and of a menhir, or standing stone erected by the megalithic cultures of western Europe. I tried to work the stone to reveal its internal character without imposing too much of my own vision on it.”)

SS: Kirk, how did you not impose your vision?

KM: By developing the vision through a collaboration with the stone, rather than using it to execute a predetermined design. As I started cleaning it up, knocking some of the rough parts off, it broke off in beautiful conchoidal fractures. I wound up with these lovely concave breaks, which is one of the things I like about granite. I decided to work by hand as much as possible (meaning with a pitching tool). The original shape of the stone had a large protrusion on the upper area. I took about 200 lbs off the original shape. I carved it in by pitching and breaking behind my pitching to break off the tool marks. (Pitching is done by striking the stone near an edge with a large blunt chisel-like tool and heavy hammer, thus removing large chunks of stone.) That area, then, came around to a concave surface. I used pneumatic tools to carve a little “waterfall” in the center to get rid of the final tool marks and then polished that area. Sitting outside, now, for two years it is getting greener and greener, except on the polished surfaces. The polished area originally was subtle, now it’s standing out. That was a change, over time, I hadn’t anticipated. The setting at the art center is a glade, and the relationship of the piece and the space is very nice.

SS: We look at his gravestone /sculpture for Brandon Lee. What was your design process in this?

KM: His mother Linda had seen my slides and liked the symbolism of the split stone in “Cleft” (A split stone with polished interior surfaces, on a sculpted wood base. I visited the site, which is right next to his father’s headstone. She wanted it to be unique, but not to dominate the Bruce Lee marker. So I decided to do a sculpture that read as a standard headstone from a distance. I chose the black granite because it would be impossible to match the existing red granite and the charcoal black would harmonize with the red. Also Brandon had made a point of being his own person, so I wanted to make his marker unique (a rounded slab, black, twisting). I originally designed the two elements of the piece, being separated, then added the helical twist, because it added a dynamism and energy to the form, the two pieces wrapping around each other without touching, joined only at the base. But, in talking to the monument people I realized it would be risky to leave the parts separated.

We were talking about what other people see in your work. In someone’s reaction to our work, we learn more about our own work and thoughts. In this case, a family friend was pointing out that the rough tool marks in the cleft between the highly polished forms is a yin/yang relationship (which I had intended to symbolize the tearing apart of Brandon and his fiancé and his family). Also the shape of the stone is a modified yin/yang form when seen from the top.) If I’d thought about that, I’d have put a bit of polish in the rough tool marks. (Also, the yin/yang symbol is used on the neighboring marker.) The whole thing talks about transformation, life and death. I’m sure that quality is in there, but I wasn’t aware of it until he mentioned it.

SS: Did you go through an initial design discussion, then go off on your own?

KM: I looked at the site, did some drawings, made some clay maquettes to think the design through, then came up with a drawing which I submitted to the client, and she chose. Originally I thought of fabricating it from three pieces. Then I decided to use one piece and carve a cleft between the two elements

SS: How did you work the interior space?

KM: I drilled a sequence of holes and broke out the remaining stone. Then I cleaned up the fins in between (I now know I should have had it cut out by a wire saw) I hadn’t thought through the fact that I could not chisel very deeply because of the tight space. It took me forever. It was nuts. I made extenders for the bushing chisels, then bent a ripper tip at right angles, put an extender on it and scraped the interior surface. I should have simply carved into the side to appear like a cleft. In the end the client was very satisfied that I had taken her ideas and made it work artistically. I was depressed the whole time I did it. His death was such a loss. He was about the same age as my stepsons. Even though the idea was to celebrate his life. We start to talk about “The Forgiving Stone” (a granite river stone which was sliced, fitted, carved, polished and reassembled) as an example of his fitting /constructed pieces.) I think it came out with a lot of energy. This is more of where my thinking is right now, with laminating pieces, the idea of dealing with the space as the sculpture as much as the stone is. I’ll be going back and forth with that.

SS: What other elements are happening in this piece? You have disassembled something, changed it and re-configured the parts. Is that what you’re interested in?

KM: I want to expose the interior of the stone, the character of the interior; the interior in a metaphoric sense. I do want to see the rind, and then the void, the mystery at the center of the rock. Also, energy moving through space, dealing with multiple elements in assembly and carving. You’re exposing the character of the rock, but you’re getting away from the more typical monolith, by taking it apart and putting it back together. I’ve been doing things with ideas about transformation, change, and natural cycles. I’d say the elements of my formal vocabulary involve use of natural stone, the helical upward gesture and the use of multiple, constructed elements. Identifying those as the basis of how I put things together gives me a chance to try something else, or embrace them. Here’s an example of how the conscious analysis of my nonverbal physical efforts brings certain aspects of my work to my awareness, hopefully leading to further exploration by unconscious/haptic/whatever self. Boy, that sounds like BS, but you know what I mean.

SS: (We’re looking at his “Snag,” a laminated piece made of eight different stones.) Why wouldn’t you have carved that from a single stone?

KM: It’s part of the concept to have multiple elements working together. It is a more efficient way to create a form moving through space, compared to a single stone, there would be a lot material wasted.

SS: How often do you work on your sculpture? How many pieces do you create a year?

KM: My working time really varies. Last year I probably spent about 3-4 months, chunked into April-June and September, and completed two large pieces and two small, which was the most in one year since 1986. I’ve taken up to 4 years to complete a piece (the snake). Some years I have carved very little; on the other hand I ended up working 7 days/week for many months on the Brandon Lee project.

SS: What was your past work experience? And what led you to do sculpture?

KM: I originally trained as a biologist, but while I was a sophomore, I had a chance to study in France for 6 months and became absorbed with Western European art and architecture. When I returned to school in the US, I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with an art student friend and going up to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. My senior year I spent finals week out at my friend’s place using his woodcarving tools to create my first sculpture out of a redwood post instead of studying for my finals. I guess I must have been avoiding molecular biology or biochem, since I carved a DNA molecule emerging from the post. I came to Seattle for graduate school in zoology at the UW, mostly for the chance to work at the Friday Harbor Marine Biology laboratories on San Juan Island. After working as a post-doctoral researcher in Biochemistry, and teaching a couple of years as an assistant prof in Biochem and Zoo, I finally woke up to the fact that I was in the wrong business, so I quit. I did vocational counseling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and discovered my “secret” love of art and sculpture. I am probably the only person to become a sculptor through vocational counseling. Too bad they never discussed the financial aspects. (laughter) My background in biology explains a lot of my subject matter and form, especially that blasted helix. I ended up studying art at Bellevue Community College and the UW while working in instructional media and design for my day job. Going to Art school was like having a candy store. (SS: Absolutely!) It’s exciting doing art, it’s great. What else would you rather do? I was mostly doing cast and welded metal in school, but then saw a contemporary granite sculpture by Jesus Moroles in Santa Fe in 1982 and wanted to try stone I liked it, A LOT. Hopefully each sculpture leads me into a deeper understanding of what I’m trying to say, or a new direction, and that I’m growing with it. What I’m doing now seems conservative. I feel driven to develop an individualistic approach. What do I do now, given the historic time frame I’m in? I’d like to be a little more wild and crazy, playful; to be less intellectual with it, and see what happens.... “Fun with rocks.’

SS: Let’s talk about your involvement in NWSSA?

KM: I first volunteered to help work on grant proposals to bring in outside money, since I’d had some experience in grant writing in the past. I was asked to run for the Board of Directors, and then to be President for the last two years, so I’ve actually never had the time to do much with finding grants. I’ve been willing to put in the extra work as director and officer because I feel I’ve gained tremendously, both professionally and personally, from belonging to the NWSSA and this was a way to pay back my debt. I’ve certainly gotten to know a lot of my fellow artists through working on the Board. Right now I’m helping our Treasurer, Carmen Chacon, and our past treasurer, Pat Sekor, with getting a finance committee up and running. It’s part of the move to get management details dealt with in committee and have the board concern itself with policy decisions. We’ve been working the last two years on restructuring our management approaches to be a respectable 501(c)3 nonprofit, and wow, has that part been boring. Necessary, though. It’s much more exciting and energizing to talk rocks and art with fellow sculptors, but that’s why somebody’s got to keep the machinery running.

SS: May the wild and crazy live within! Many thanks, Kirk, for sharing here and for all your efforts for NWSSA.


Artist Spotlight - George Pratt

When they sent me a list of questions to prompt my submitting material for an article about myself, the first question was: Who are you? I’ve never thought bio’s to be of enduring interest to anyone but the person they describe—so I’ve contrived shortest sketch possible to show how I fit in our stone sculpture world:


I’m a country boy from the boondocks of northern Ontario, a place that looked really good in the rear-view mirror as I hied off to join the navy at 17. In 1970, now 31, married, kids, salesman, a serendipitous meeting with Toronto sculptor E.B. Cox resulted in an instant obsession for pursuing the life of a sculptor in stone. In a month, I had my own hammer and chisel and was making chips fly under E.B.’s tutelage. Five years and five sellout ‘home’ shows later, still enraptured, I panicked my wife by quitting a high paying day job in sales to move to Vancouver, the only place in Canada where you can sculpt outdoors year ‘round. I was certain I could make a living as a sculptor. It was not because I was your world’s great artist (I never did get to be so) but I had three compensatory attributes: I was never satisfied with the last sculpture I had created; I had an innate understanding of tools; most importantly, I could sell.


By 1983, a series of successful ‘home’ shows resulted in a stable of George Pratt collectors beginning to form; the phone was ringing somewhat regularly and while income was never assured, it was becoming adequate. When a strapping gal named Meg Pettibone trekked up to Vancouver to seek help in forming a guild of sculptors in stone, I bought in to the notion and along with a small group of other sculptural aspirants, we established the NWSSA. Twenty-five years onward, I have had uncounted successful shows, been commissioned to produce presentation sculptures for many world leaders, and have authored seven major public artworks.


I’ve carved (or tried to) every type of stone, emerging in my senior years as primarily a granite carver. I still like to work and produce but my ego has had all the stroking it needs. I still think of myself as being only a moderately good artist who gets it right now and again. I put what I can back into the profession that has been so very good to me by instructing others. (Instruction has its own payback; every year at our symposia, I am afforded the profound pleasure of meeting aspiring sculptors whose talent far outstrips mine. Dang, if only they could sell.)


And that about sums me up. Now, to the important stuff. In a thirty-nine-year career I’ve touched upon countless others in the stone arts. I’ve listened and watched and made every experience a lesson. Here are a few vignettes that for me have been formative.

Wisdom From My Old Mentor: E.B. Cox

This advice from my irascible, curmudgeonly and talented mentor still sticks with me.


Nowadays they go out of their way to make art that is—well—odd. It seems not to be so possessed of artistic merit as just—oddness. Don’t be fooled by it, boy. Don’t do odd.

A stone sculpture should reflect the attributes of stone: Think mass; think strength.  Stone is not the stuff of thin birds’ wings and angels’ fingers.  It is the stuff of bears and whales; it is the stuff of torsos—males with brawny shoulders, females with strong hips.


If you want to carve alluring females boy, stop messing about with playboy breasts; look to the neck and shoulders, boy; look to lusty hips. Those breasts you’ve hammered out are for truck-drivers.


Don’t be seduced into carving every colored stone you see; colored stones, shiny finishes, they’re cute but they lack the most important feature of sculpture: shadow and mood. Go for the plain stones, boy. What’s locked up in colored stones is glitz; what’s locked up in limestone and granite and white marble is elegance.

Encounters That Influenced My Career

Meeting Meg Pettibone in 1984. It was she who conceived of the notion of a guild of sculptors in stone that became the NWSSA and who inveigled me into helping get it started.


Meeting Rich Beyer at the first meeting. It was from him I learned that sculpture could be light-hearted and rustic and that the best sculptures tell a story. (Take a look at Rich’s vignette in Fremont, ‘Waiting for the Interurban’. It’s located at Fremont Ave. N and N 34th St.) When Rich’s principles as a Quaker would not allow him to sculpt a portrayal of Eskimos bearing weapons for the Alaska Veterans Memorial, he recommended me for the job; thus I acquired my first major sculpture in granite.

Working in the same space as other creative people, in particular stone sculptors (hence, the value of attending as many symposia as one can), I’ve shared workspace with E.B. Cox, Michael Binkley, Dave Fushtey and Sandra Bilawich (the latter three being early NWSSA members.) I do not copy them, but I have been abundantly inspired by them and influenced by them in a way that I would not be if they were but casual sculptor acquaintances. It is by day in-day out being close enough to watch the way they apply their skill, to observe their thought processes in working through thorny technical problems, to be delighted (or otherwise) by a line or form developing in their current project and subliminally emulating it in one’s own work. Invaluable.

Influences/landmark Events/philosophies That Have Been Formative To Me

Work Hard And Often

Contrary to what one may think, when we unceasingly create sculpture, we don’t get hackneyed Ideas and skills flow exponentially with the rate of production. In working ourselves to exhaustion, we just get better.

‘Coffee-table’ Sculptures

I develped the method for producing ‘coffee-table’ sculptures outside the Eskimo soapstone realm by working hard stones on a stationary grinder. Such sculptures were just not done by anybody when I discovered the silicon carbide grinding wheel and carbide cloth disc in 1971. It was by being able to produce, in relatively short time, neat little sculptures in stones other than soapstone, which apparently charmed people and could be sold for an affordable price, that I was able to make a living.


The tools for grinding have evolved from those primitive carbide wheels to specially formulated diamond discs (and much more) now, but the grind/cut/polish method remains the same. Above all else, this phenomenon of producing the ‘coffee-table sculpture’ will provide the ability to carry on as a sculptor, for it assures one’s solvency while struggling to attract commissions for greater works that will inevitably follow.

High, Gleaming Polish On Jade

When trying to unlock the secretsof polishing jade, the process defeated me, I resignedly walked the ten blocks to the studio of jade sculptor Lyle Sopel, who at the time, was struggling in his sculptural niche as was I in mine, and humbly asked him to show me how. I am grateful that this he very patiently did.

I haven’t done a lot of jade sculptures over the years but those I’ve done have all found great favor and whatever excellence may be in them is the result of that fortuitous hour of instruction from Lyle.

(See his website:

Attending Symposia

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, so valuable to a stone sculptor as to be immersed in an environment of others of like mind, all making the chips fly. I cannot place a value on the experience of being exposed to the works of others as they were being carved, works that I wish I had done: Tracy Powell’s ‘Little Man With a Horn’; Tamara Buchanan’s ‘Man In a Coat’; Dorbe Holden’s ‘Female Figure’; the basalts of Rich Hestekind; the finishing textures of Stuart Jacobsen; the contextual excellence of in the wonderful (and difficult) sculpture John Hoge (remember him?) did for the Polytechnical Institute. These and a couple of dozen more (sorry if I didn’t name you) have made deposits into my mental bank account that have paid uncounted interest over the years. Every sculpture I have carved has been partially financed by making a withdrawal from the account; yet the principal does not deplete because each year as I attend a symposium, the account is replenished.

Finding Deep Pockets

I discovered the importance of ingratiating myself to persons in the interior design and corporate community in building a source of sales. It is this group of people who can recommend our work to the people among us with the deepest pockets. Related people of influence, but no less important, have been the individuals whose responsibility is to acquire corporate gifts. Building a reputation among this group has generated uncountable sales of ‘corporate presentation sculptures’ over the years - and the recipients of such gifts have in turn very often made contact and begun acquiring presentation gifts for their own purposes. It has been a very rich source of sales.

My Photos

I have literally hundreds of images of works large and small, traditional and contemporary, importantly commissioned and tossed off casually. I purposely chose the pictures shown for two reasons: They reflect what E.B. Cox advised me about plain stones and shadow and mood; and I thought it might be interesting to show works that an old NWSSA member did years before many of those who will attend the 2009 Symposium were born. In the same spirit, I know these feature articles like to show a picture of the sculptor. I picked over the many I have, both complimentary and otherwise, and decided there were none better or more fitting than a pencil sketch done some years back by everybody’s favorite member, darling Nancy Green.

Artist Spotlight - Gus Schairer

SNW: Tell us about yourself and how you became an artist.

GS: I’ve loved art since I was a small boy wallowing in sloppy finger paints, temperas, and squeezy clay at Seattle’s John Muir grade School and later at Cornish Art School. Then, in one of my first issues of Popular Mechanics, I saw an article about Brancusi’s “Bird in Flight” with a small picture. It was about whether it was fine art or raw material that would be subject to import tax. The small picture of the piece fascinated me. It was my first awareness of abstract art and I loved it for its simplicity and its ability to represent both form and movement. From that moment I knew I wanted to be a sculptor.


Persuaded that I needed to pursue a career in the practical world, art was kept as an occasional hobby until I retired. During the working years I dabbled in drawing, stained glass, wire sculpture, and clay. I bought some small pieces of soapstone that I carved with wood carving tools. Then a friend told me about Pratt where I found a class in beginning stone sculpture with Kalia (then Suz) Gentiluomo and my passion for stone was ignited.


SNW: Who or what has influenced your art form?

GS: After my eyes were opened by Brancusi, I was awed by the skills of the figurative artists, including Rodin, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Degas. Due to my untrained hand and my Essential Tremor, my drawings and sketches told me figurative work was beyond my reach. But sculpting itself provided a consistent focus for my Attention Deficit Disorder and stone resists my shaking hands enough to allow satisfactory forms to emerge. It seems to help with the sanding and polishing, but I have to keep my fingernails short.


SNW: Why is art important to you?

GS: Sculpting gives me a sense of participating in both history and of leaving a legacy for the ages beyond my lifetime – my mark on the world. It is most of all a means to express things that seem to come directly from my soul – a place without words.


SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

GS: I’m glad you asked that question. Becoming a member of NWSSA has meant the opportunity to learn, to stretch myself as an artist and, most of all, to join a supportive community of people whose passion for their art is electric and invigorating.

SNW: Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.

GS: My art seems to follow a few themes. I love it when I can create a piece that seems to soar, to lift its own weight and carry the eye upward with it. Another group seems to include shrouded or hooded figures. I’m not Catholic so I don’t see nuns – babushkas or ponchos, perhaps. And now, thanks to a class at Camp B with Tone Orvik, and much help from Sabah al Dhaher, I’ve challenged myself to the figurative zone with some measure of success.


SNW: Is your art representational and/or non- representational?

GS: Although I do some representational pieces, which are a struggle for me to complete to my satisfaction, my real enjoyment is in the abstract, where form and movement are paramount. It is then that my soul sings.


SNW: How do you get your ideas?

GS: Nearly all my pieces are surprises to me. If you give me a squared-off stone, I can’t see into the stone enough to find what’s there that wants to come out. When I bought three blocks of Brazilian soapstone with square edges and flat faces, I found myself boring into the stone to develop movement and form inside – my Interiors series – where I left the exterior faces flat and corners square.


So I usually just start carving until the stone voices its preference. I keep my linear brain occupied with finding names that might fit the piece as it develops. Similarly, most of my figurative pieces evolve rather than follow a plan or preconceived idea. Once in a while I’ll have an idea that I work out in clay first. I did that with Muse and it took three modeling sessions and many classes with Sabah to make it work.


SNW: Do you work part or full time as an artist?

GS: I have the luxury of being retired, so I take what time I can to sculpt. For the past two years we’ve been building a new house and studio where our old cabin was on Vashon Island. I reread Bill Weissinger’s articles on building a studio and am almost finished setting it up so I can get back to sculpting.


SNW: What stones do you prefer?

GS: Soapstone, in all its wonderful colors and forms is both fast and forgiving. Alabaster has provided some wonderful pieces. I’m learning the harder stones, like granite and basalt. But limestone and marble, the kinds that are fine and dense, but not stiff are my favorites. Right now I have two limestones, three alabasters, and a marble in progress, with a sandstone, a pyrophyllite, and a chlorite waiting in the wings.


SNW: What tools do you use?

GS: My favorite tools are my old, angle-cut wood carving chisel, my Bantam pneumatic chisel and my angle grinders. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith and carpenter, my grandfather was an inventor and patent attorney, my father was an engineer whose workshop filled with the tools of his heritage. My love of tools was founded in that environment, and I seem to have more than any sane person should acquire.


SNW: Have you been influenced by any particular artist?

GS: Lots of them! Before I even took my first class from Kalia I was searching the Internet for sculptors and found Joanne Duby’s site. Her work showed styles I wanted to create. I emailed her asking if she ever taught in the Northwest. I was amazed and delighted when I met her two years later at Camp B.


The talent and skill of Sabah al Dhaher keep drawing me to learn more. But every time I go to a symposium I find myself rubbing shoulders with artists of wonderful skill and vision from whom I glean ideas and techniques and attitudes to add to my repertoire. The camaraderie and willingness to share offered by the members who gather there is like coming home from a long and lonely voyage.


SNW: What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?

GS: It is always wonderful to sell a piece to someone whom I know will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it. But I was recently touched deeply by one friend and customer. Several years ago I sold her “Mother and Child,” which she installed on a Thai pedestal in the corner of her living room. I was honored to find it there among her large and impressive art collection. She had been battling cancer for nearly ten years when she finally succumbed early this year. At the wake that was held at her home I noticed that the piece had been replaced on the pedestal with a very nice glass piece. I asked her daughter about it and she said that her mother had taken it with her to her daughter’s home where she spent her last days and that she had kept it near her until she died. I cried.

What more could anyone ask for from their work? That is more important to me than if I had a piece in MoMA or the National Gallery. I cannot top that for both satisfaction and inspiration.

Artist Spotlight - Lane Tompkins

SNW: Who are you?

LT: Oregon born, I was raised in Newberg and Portland where I enlisted in the Navy, spending four years as a sonar technician. In civilian life, I worked for Boeing, was a Forest Service district clerk, ran a subsistence farm with my wife and worked as a power substation operator on Catalina Island as well as in Santa Barbara, on the Oregon Coast and in Eugene where I retired from BPA in l997. Two years later I drove to Silver Falls State Park to see a sculpture show. Realizing I had found “my people,” I joined NWSSA the same day. I am now divorced and living in Creswell, Oregon, but am in the process of moving to Whidbey Island.


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

LT: I have always been a sculptor – I just never carved much until joining NWSSA. My early carvings were small and simple; some wooden heads and a handful of soapstone pieces, all carved with a pocket knife in the 60’s.


My drawing of human heads is also from the late 60’s and has always been a part of what I see as art. In the early 90’s I took a few classes at a local Jr. Collage, doing full figure studies in clay. But even there, I wanted to do portraits rather then the whole body. My peak in portrait work was modeling a friend in Roma Plastilina and having it cast in bronze. I thought it looked like him and when he said he was happy, I was too.


After being awed at Silver Falls, I jumped in and began to carve soapstone and alabaster. I still haven’t done much, but I love it all and am slowly beginning to use more power tools.


SNW: Who or what has influenced your art form?

LT: I love Bernini. He speaks to me of the intricacies possible in Italian marble. Most of what I know about him, I learned from a Rudolf Wittkower book republished by Phaidon. This book is full of exquisite photographs by the world renowned photographer Pino Guidolotti.


Bernini’s bust of Duke Francis I D’Este wears a lace collar including a roll of crocheted lace hanging down a couple of inches, just enough to “grab” me and make me want to give lace carving a try.

I’m currently cutting away at what was a 1200 pound piece of finely crystallized Calacatta marble from a quarry next to Carrara. I picked it up at Art City in Ventura, California, and had intended to carve crocheted lace folded to suggest flower petals. It now seems prudent to indicate lace on this large piece, and carve lace  on the next, smaller piece.


SNW: How does your art reflect your philosophy?

LT: I don’t know that it does, I hope not. I try to maintain a practical attitude about my art. It’s a rock. I’m going to cut away what obscures the thing I want to “make.” I’ve never been certain of what my philosophy is anyway. Cutting rock is difficult enough without asking it to submit to philosophy’s spider webs of possibilities.


SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

LT: The people of NWSSA have, individually and en masse, helped me get up on my horse of creativity. I haven’t caught a brass ring yet, but I am now in hot pursuit of the muse that carries them. I will forever be grateful for the leg-up I have gotten from my many good friends in NWSSA.


SNW: How do you get your ideas and how do you develop them?

LT: Occasionally I get hit with the whole business in one go. Whether I’m driving down the highway, lying in bed, or having a conversation; it is “presented” to me whole. I like it that way. It’s exciting. I want to do it immediately. ‘Buds’ came that way, all except for the haircuts, those came later. Other times I’m doodling with a pencil, nebulous ideas ghosting by. I feel uneasy, like something is going to happen, but I have no inkling what. That’s when the pencil helps me. Often, as I look back on the moment, I have no memory of “figuring it out.” It’s like someone else drew it and I’m merely recognizing it as a simply marvelous idea.


Getting an idea from brain or paper into stone is sometimes a challenge. I have often felt the need for a full scale model in clay, other times not. ‘Spirit Horse’ came through while doodling with a pencil. But I had no idea where to start on the cube of sawn alabaster without first doing it in clay. Making the nearly exact model gave me the confidence to start carving away those large, scary negative spaces.


SNW: Will you tell us about a couple more?

LT: Sure. I often joke about ‘The Voice of God’ speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear it until I had completed the full sized clay model. My plan of carving twenty plus mouths scared the hell out of me. Is there something you don’t know how to carve? Do twenty of them. And when I finally got to the stone mouths part, I was shocked at how easy it seemed. No, the mouths are not the best ever cut in stone, but they’re recognizable as human and some even show a hint of life.


The two faces on ‘Tendril Love’ (not showen here) did not scare me. I cut them almost with ease. That piece came in bits and pieces with no drawing or model at all. I just started carving. If there was a problem with that one, it was that I couldn’t stop carving tendrils. I was having so much fun doing it with hammer and chisel that I began to put them everywhere. Thank God a friend of mine finally told me, rather firmly, that it looked done to him.


SNW: What is the major theme or intent of your art?

LT: I don’t think I have a major theme. There are some shapes I like. In cross section, boat shapes with very sharp ends appeal to me. ‘Spirit Horse’ and ‘Gotcha’ have them, and ‘The Voice Of God,’ too. That sharp edge casts such a fine shadow.


The concept of a theme is the same for me in sculpture as it is in poetry. Anything is grist for the chisel or the written word – anything. If I do have a philosophy of art, that’s it; which results in me trying to carve and write about everything. It’s hard to find a theme that way.


SNW: What are you looking forward to (goals, commissions, new ideas, flights of fancy)?

LT: I’m winging it on flights of fancy most of the time, and always look forward to the next ride. I guess when that stops I’ll be pretty much done with earthly things. In more mundane words, I can hardly wait for the next sculpture to show up. I’m already getting vibes on it. A woman looking to the side holds my attention with the torn strip of crocheted curtain lace she’s used to tie up her hair...