Like so many journeys and adventures . . . you start off for one destination and end up going places you least expect. This is almost always true when viewing art. A great piece of art can take your mind half-way across the universe or half a life back in time. Such was the case on this Saturday visit to the American Art Company in downtown Tacoma to view a quilt exhibit.
As you walk in the door at American Art your eyes are drawn . . . and your head follows . . . to the right wall. In the spotlight is the intricate quilt September 28, 2010 - March 8, 2011 by Toot Reid. Toot is the reason we were there. We've known Toot since the 90s when Toot, her partner Scott, and the two of us were involved in the Tacoma Ad Club. Peg and I have been to quite a few exhibits featuring her work. They are always wonderful and always surprising. That's Toot herself, also. I get kick out of her.
The last time we met I asked about her kitty-corner neighbor, a friend of mine. She mentioned she had seen him out working in his garden. Toot said, "I waved at him, but he didn't even respond." I nodded my head, "Well, he is legally blind." Then we just laughed. She hadn't known.
Toot's piece in the exhibit is wonderful and is a great introduction to the rest of the pieces. I think of her quilt as Earth, Wind, and Fire. The colors and composition remind me of that phrase . . . except for the wind part. The quilt is covered with little hanging threads and I can imagine them waving like a sea of wheat with even the tiniest of breezes. But, you might say, they are not moving. To this I would add the words of my favorite Zen Koan, "The wind doesn't move, the mind does." In this case, the quilt engages my mind, and it moves.
In the hallway that leads to the larger exhibition hall in the back of the gallery I caught up to Peg and her sister Pat. They were studying Deborah Gregory's Choices and Pathways. Was it an abstract of 9/11? Mount St. Helens erupting? A blazing sunset? A blazing sunrise? A Shirley Temple of Sprite and cherry syrup with black straws? I may be reading too much into it.
Gregory explains about her work, "My goal is to go beyond the visible record of our climateís seasons and uncover what is just beyond. I expose the images hidden in the fabric to form a record of my spiritual connection to the earth and celebrate the mystery of our existence. I received a BS in psychology and a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Washington and practiced as a social worker for nearly twenty years. That experience helps me appreciate process and trust the slow, sometimes challenging task of uncovering what is hidden in the fiber."
I wanted to reach out and touch the fiber, but restrained myself. Could the subject be hellfire or is it merely part of an old red jacket washed up on the beach?
Gregory says, "The seasonís cycles in the natural world and the mystery of what is beyond the visible inform my art. I grew up on a tidal inlet in a New England fishing town. Salt water, the sea, and the rocky shore, the ocean smells and dampness formed my world. Now, I live on the Pacific Coast near Seattle, Washington, and water is still an important part of what makes me feel at home. The Northwest climate is green, lush and temperate. Organic matter decomposes quickly in our dampness."
Taking centerstage in the main gallery is Awaken by Ellin Larimer. It's 81 inches square. It's like the transition between a bright sunny morning and a star laden night. I could stare at it for hours and be happy.
Larimer didn't study art in school but art was waiting for her to find it later in life. She says, "I donít remember not sewing. I became interested in fabric and thread as art mediums a long time ago. I have always loved quilts; I became fascinated with the way traditional quilters were moving color through their quilts. The Art Quilt by Penny McMorris and Michael Kile opened the door to my next wonderful life.
I had promised myself some art education when we retired and have taken classes at the community college level and painting classes from a number of instructors. It wasnít until I walked through a Nancy Crow classroom at the Coupeville Art Center that I knew I could be taught to design art quilts. . . I dye fabrics and make and exhibit art quilts. I continue living a truly wonderful life."
Copies of Awaken should be made and dispersed to members of depression support groups everywhere.
At the lower left-hand corner of Awaken was one of my favorite pieces in the gallery. But it's really a case of mistaken identity. Sculptor Ned Block says, "Working in steel and resin, the body of work represented by my sculpture often depicts the graceful, but sometimes quirky, nature of nature." Indeed. I took his bird statue Half Asleep for that of a wide awake octopus.
In reality the sculpture is a forged bird wrapped around a granite egg. But, I see that intelligent mollusk eye looking me over and puzzling out how to use me to escape captivity or get him some fish.
Although Block was born in Chicago, he grew up in Seattle. His home was within blocks of the Seattle Art Museum. Today he lives on Camano Island, where he can see birds and octopus most frequently.
My grandfather built some beautiful furniture out of Missouri walnut fence posts (we have two chairs he made in our living room), so I appreciate craftsmen and artist who work with wood and let the natural beauty shine through. Christian Bouchard had several pieces on display that caught my eye and won my heart.
Like my grandfather, Bouchard doesn't just go to the wood store and buy chunks. He says, "I work just about exclusively with Pacific Madrone from the Arbutus family. My favorite parts are the burls that grow within the roots of these trees. They are harvested for the veneer market and I use the rejects from this harvest."
Born in Hamburg, Christian has been living in the United States since 1978. Starting out as a furniture maker's apprenticeship in Germany in the middle seventies, he studied sculpture and drawing at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver BC.
"In 1982 he opened Cold Mountain Studio in Southern Oregon. His early focus was on furniture and interiors, but gradually shifted to wood turning and sculpture, moving between vessel oriented forms and sculptural turning. His work has been included in most of the major turning related exhibits of the last twenty something years and is exhibited widely throughout the US. His pieces are part of many public and private collections. His current work includes wall sculptures and freestanding sculptural objects. He is also sought after as a teacher and demonstrator at craft schools and conferences and related turning events. He currently resides with his wife at the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon." - Zhibit.org
So many of our culture vultures from the Seattle-Tacoma area visit Ashland, that I think it would be worthwhile to include Bouchard's studio for the next theatrical season journey into Oregon.
I noticed a French landscape at the gallery, but did not approach it. Back at my computer I saw the name Neil Andersson on the American Art website. I remembered the name from my days as a fine art major at the University of Puget Sound. He wasn't a friend and I didn't recall him being an art student, but I did remember that at the time he was a member of the Fabulous Wailers, one of my favorite rock bands. And I remembered him playing a gig at the Student Union Building, which usually meant some sort of art connection. I looked him up. One and the same. From the Wailers, he went on to form Pearl Django (retired in 2010).
Online I looked at a series of oil paintings of Andersson's mostly French landscapes. One painting contained a scene I look at almost every single day. It's not in France. It's in Tacoma: Commencement Bay. And it's beautiful. I had just seen it a few hours earlier. As we drove home from downtown Tacoma, we skirted the shoreline and watched dozens and dozens of sailboats flying before the wind between Tacoma and Vashon Island . . . over a very blue Commencement Bay. Beautiful, simply beautiful.
At the same time we were enjoying the view looking out at the Puget Sound and Commencement Bay, my friend Maria DeVore was sailing on one of those boats.
Our short trip to a quilt exhibit involved centuries old Buddhist teachings, a connection to my grandfather, and my own history of art from half a lifetime ago . . . and ended with an oil painting that reminds me of why I love the Pacific Northwest.