Camera, tablet, pencils and a full tank of gas and my husband Mark and I were off to the Open Studio Tour of Pierce County. We decided to follow the directions mapped out in the brochure and see how well they could be followed. Our first stop was the Gallery on the Hill and Lucas Art.
Everyone who drives south out of Graham has no doubt noticed the gallery which has on sunny days a most splendid view of Mount Rainier. But if you’ve never stopped there, you are in for a treat. Yes, Karen Lucas is a fine artist. Yes, she is the studio’s proprietor. But, no, her works are not the only ones there. On any given day she is featuring some other artist’s work, or providing space for a fellow artist to teach classes. When we went in we made sure first to sign into the guest book and get our “Passport” stamped.
Gallery on the Hill and Lucas Art
The artist Paul Langston, who does paintings and wood-burning, is featured at the Gallery on the Hill during the Open Studio Tour (OST).
“I work with oak and ash woods, both of which come from Washington, and myrtlewood, which comes from Oregon,” he told us.
The table was laden with wood art of varying shapes, sizes and colors.
“There is only one place that myrtlewood grows, so I have to drive down to get it. And I’m very particular about the woods I choose. They are all hand picked for artistic potential.”
Joyce Barton of South Hill was talking with Paul when I stepped up, but turned to me, “I’ve never done this (OST) before. We came with our neighbors. This is wonderful!”
Langston continued. “I use burls to create my wood-burning, too.
For most of his life Paul has studied wildlife, rustic barns and landscapes, whcih he uses in his wood-burning and paintings. His art is remarkable for the accuracy in proportions and in the detail, as is his grasp on perspective.
“I do a lot of research before I do any piece,” he said. “For instance, in doing a deer such as the one here, I study them first in photos and books.”
He showed us a magazine that is devoted solely to understanding the anatomy and composition of deer.
“To really do this well, you have to know everything there is to know about deer. And it’s the same with anything else.”
As skilled as Paul clearly is, I couldn’t help wondering how long he’d been doing wood-burning.
“I’ve been at this for twenty years now. Well, actually, I got started when I was just a kid and somebody gave me a wood-burning set. Then, when I got into my fifties I picked it up again.”
Paul was happy to share some of his personal background, but he was quick to return to the art.
“Now, look at this piece of wood with the deer burned on it. Notice where the center of the tree grew. It’s way off to the left. You can see the whole history of the tree by looking at its rings. But I study a piece of wood before I ever begin. If you look closely, you will see that the fur of the deer is formed by the grain of the wood. Here, feel it,” he offered.
As we ran our fingers over the deer’s back we felt its “fur,” and that it was laying down.
When I asked him about his plans for next year, what he told me next made it clear that he had a lot to do just to finish this year.
“I have several wood-burning pieces to complete and five painting on the easel to finish, and I’ve been commissioned to carve a salmon.”
Then he became animated. “Next Saturday (November 12th) at 10 a.m. there will be a wood-carving show behind the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center, which is inside the Red Gate at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. I’m going to be there! We want everyone to come out, and it will be easy to find your way.”
I turned for a bit to look at other art hanging in one of the several areas in the gallery, and when I swiveled back Paul had my husband seated at the table trying his hand at wood-burning. And I thought to myself, This might just be a very nice gift for me to give to Mark for Christmas!
I told Karen that we were headed to the next studio on the route.
“Oh, that’s Doris Hansen’s studio,” she responded. “She teaches part-time, and I bet she’s been an artist for forty year now. You’ve got to see her work. Also, her daughter, Sharon Johnson is an artist, and has her work on display there, too.”
Rainier View Studio
Doris Hansen’s Rainier View Studio is a few blocks away and we found the directions in the brochure easy to follow.
We walked into a large room where mother and daughter shared the space, and painting after painting was arranged in rows for our viewing. My husband and I looked while Doris finished talking with a guest. Then she turned to me, and almost as if in anticipation of questions I might ask, began:
“I’ve been at this for a long time. I’m 80 years old. I’ve been to Africa and have done paintings of people and animals there.”
We admired a painting of a Kenyan native and fully concurred when Doris announced, “That was accepted for exhibit at the Puyallup Fair this year.”
As we observed her work we tried to grasp her methods. “Oh, I do collages and paintings. My medium is pastels, water colors, oils, and acrylics.”
I thought I might have to pry for information about how she got her start, but Doris was most forthcoming.
“My interest started in high school, which wasn’t much back then. But, I majored in art and never stopped.”
She turned to another artist present, Gloria Bacon, and asked when she got her start.
“I didn’t think about getting back into the arts until I was near retirement,” Gloria replied. “And I do photography and water color.”
I learned that Ms. Bacon has a studio down the Graham Hill near the tracks called the Freight House Studio. When asked if she had her studio on tour today she replied, “No. But after seeing this, I plan to next year.”
Doris picked up the conversation again. “I like working in oils, but they take too long to dry. So if I’m getting ready for a show, I can use acrylics and they dry fast.”
About that time, other guests arrived and Doris needed to welcome them, so we got our OST “Passport” stamped and took our leave.
Art Process Studio
This studio is Gretchen Mottet’s creation in Frederickson. While it may seem a bit out of the way, it was really easy to get to and so worth seeing! She is a ceramic artist and teacher who possesses a very large and well-equipped studio, along with a separate showroom for her finished pieces.
Fortunately for me, Gretchen used to teach art in high school so when I asked her for an overall tour and to explain each phase of the pottery process, she lived up to being a teacher.
She began by explaining “wedging.” She showed me to a table with square sheets of half-inch thick clay.
“First, the clay is cut into squares.” She had some already lying out on a table. “Then it’s rolled into large balls and made ready for wedging.”
“Wedging is a process where the air bubbles are pressed out of the clay.”
I was trying to think of something out of my own experience that might be similar. “Is it like kneading bread?”
“Kneading would be very similar to wedging except the goal is to remove all the air bubbles,” she affirmed.
She then walked me over to the potter’s wheel. “I put the clay in the center and form it into a vessel of my choice, and then remove it from the wheel.”
Along side the main potter’s wheel were two others. “These are for students,” she said.
Gretchen pointed to a tall, green cabinet. I wondered and so asked, “What’s going on behind the green doors?”
“I put the pottery into this cabinet so I have more control over the drying temperature. Especially in the summer – there’s a risk that the pieces will dry too fast to dry evenly.”
Nearby was another tool that trims the bottom to create a “foot ‘ for the vase or vessel to sit on.
“I do the cutting when the pottery in the cupboard is ‘leather dry’. In other words, the clay can’t be too soft or too dry when that’s done. And then I etch my initials on the bottom.”
But that wasn’t the end of the tour. Gretchen took us over to what looked like a vat. It was the kiln.
“Next the pottery is fired in the electric kiln – called a ‘bisque’ kiln. It is fired at a temperature so low that the clay will still be porous that it will accept the glaze.”
Gretchen took us to a table with clay squares on it. She was holding in her hand a bottle with some kind of green substance in it. I thought it might be acid that would eat the design into the clay.
“No,” Gretchen continued. “You paint your design on this,” she said, looking at the green liquid in the bottle, “and then when you wipe the tile, and the part that is not the design will come away. That leaves the design a bit raised and a little glossy.”
When she explained it like that it was easy to see the art this process produces.
“The last step is the final electric or raku firing.”
Raku sounded Japanese to me.
“Raku is the name of the family in Japan who invented the special process. The kiln is out back.”
On our way we stopped at another building where she displays her completed art. It was uncluttered and drew our attention to the multiple shelves where many kinds of finished works are on display.
Finally, Gretchen walked us out to show us the Raku kiln.
“This kiln heats up real fast and I can open it up very quickly, using tongs to pull out the pottery. Then I put it in a garbage can full of leaves and sawdust and shredded newspaper. As it burns, it creates black areas from the smoke. When I put the lid on the can, the fire goes out, and the coppers and metals in the glaze create beautiful lusters. This is called ‘American Raku.’ The Raku family used the same kiln, but put their pottery in water. In the end, the pottery had a crackled appearance.”
As we walked to our car, I asked Gretchen if she teaches pottery.
“I teach private or semi-private lessons. Often girlfriends will come in together. Maybe they haven’t done pottery in years, and they want to brush up and catch up on the latest techniques. That’s what they get here. That’s what I teach.”
I really appreciated the opportunity to get acquainted with these three artists whom I’d never met before and to chat with Karen Lucas and Sharon Johnson. I have it in mind to share their stories also in the not too distant future.
I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was to do the Open Studio Tour today. We’re going back out tomorrow to visit more of the artists. Right now, I need to keep wearing my reporter’s hat. Even so, as I go I’m getting some really good gift ideas. Pretty soon I am going to transform from writer into a well-informed shopper.
By the way, Mark and I found that the maps in the OST brochure are accurate and easy to follow.
© 2011 Judy Spiers