The sun was out; Day Two of the Open Studio Tour of Pierce County could not have been better for visiting artists in their studios.
The Becci Crowe Adventure
Our first visit was to see Becci in the environment where she creates her art every day. My husband, Mark, and I were greeted by Becci’s husband, whose name is also Mark. He signed us in, stamped our “Passport,” and started us on the tour.
Becci is unlike other artists I’ve met as she does not teach. However, other surprising differences also awaited us.
“If you come to my studio,” she told us, “I will share the experience of being on location in a wild place, with tribal cultures and wild animals because that’s where I go for my inspiration. It is in the remote parts of the world that I go to find and bring back photos and artifacts and film footage.”
Becci shared her vision. “We want people to have an experience when they come here. African music is playing and the DVD shows films of our adventures, which you can sit down and watch all you want.”
To say that Becci is a prolific artist is an understatement. Wall after wall is graced with her works. It is amazing to see the amount of art she had produced, and she excels in all of it.
When I first met Becci last fall, she and her husband had a trip to Africa scheduled for the summer of 2011 and were planning to take their sixteen year-old granddaughter, Makenzie, with them.
“Young people have so much here,” Becci said. “They have so many advantages that they have no frame of reference for how other people live. I don’t think they understand what it is like for kids who live in other countries. Makenzie went with us this time. We took her to a school in Africa, and now she understands completely.”
Makenzie’s uncle also traveled with the Crowes this summer. It was the first time there for them both.
“We were able to see through their eyes what it is like to go to Africa for the first time. Nothing is like that. You enter that world when you tour my studio,” Becci said.
I asked Becci if they had started working on the materials they just brought back from this year’s trip.
“No. We haven’t even unloaded that yet. In the spring I will premier “In Search of Tigers.” We went to India and Nepal to search for and document some of the last remaining wild tigers on earth.”
I was eager to find out where and when that might be coming, so we all can be watching for it.
“It’ll be showing at the downtown Puyallup Public Library on April 9th, 2012 at 7:00 pm, and will be free to the public. This work is so important. We hope everyone will spread the word and come.”
As we departed, we were given a pin to wear with a scene from the trip Becci made this summer.
“We only had one run of these made, and there are only nineteen of them left. That means that the first nineteen people to visit my studio tomorrow will get pins. When they’re gone, there are no more.”
I spoke with Becci by phone later and asked her how much activity she’d had.
“I did not have five minutes free today. The traffic was amazing. And it was like that yesterday, too.”
Becci Crowe is one artist a lot of people are watching. Those buttons she’s giving away today may become a limited edition keepsake in the future – along with the memories of her tour.
Brush of Art
Just around the corner from Becci Crowe’s studio is artist Mary Dubinsky. When I asked her to describe what she does, Mary answered simply.
“I’m an ‘everything’ artist. I paint on clear glass – I love the effect.”
She also displayed a selection of furniture pieces to which she has applied muted and subtle “Tole” paintings, which are a form of decorative folk art. Mary also paints animals, especially African animals. She has one of an elephant on exhibit in her studio.
“I love their eyes. Eyes are very important. You can see the soul through the eyes.
“My painting, ‘Serengeti Kiss,’ is among works of other artists from the OST that will be on display at the Puyallup City Hall through November 18.”
Mary also had a number of portraits on display. One in particular grabbed my attention because the technique she used was new to me.
“It’s on ‘Dream Canvas’ so you can see through it,” Mary explained.
It was interesting to see that Mary has available a number of things that are very affordable.
“I have cards starting at $4 and hand-painted glass dishware for $10 to $15.”
But, there were other pieces which were more expensive, of course.
If someone is thinking about buying a gift – or shopping for Christmas – Mary just might have what you are looking for.
Sherri Bails Studio
We stepped out of the car to the fresh scent of cedar trees and a canopy of lacey yellow maples overhead. The sun was still shining.
Aside from writing our names in her guest book and getting our “Passports” signed, artist Sherri Bails was most intent that we engage in her “interactive water color” before we saw anything else. She led us to a piece of paper containing original shapes and vivid shades.
“Everyone who comes here puts one swipe on the painting,” she said. “After the three days, it will be matted and framed and given away.”
If you should get the lucky draw, you will have contributed your own artistic flare to the final piece. Mark and I thought that was a very novel idea. In turn, we took our swipe.
Then the conversation turned to Sherri’s art.
“I do art on commission. I do portraits and batiks, and here’s my latest award,” she said.
“I belong to Women Painters of Washington, an organization that was founded in the 1930s by nationally known artists. It is the professional organization, and you must have an extensive résumé to apply for membership. Half of those who apply every year are rejected.”
That was a pretty impressive credential, and I wondered if she had others.
“I am also a signature member of the Northwest Water Color Society, and I teach. I have a B.S. degree in Art Education,” Sherri explained.
With this new knowledge under our belts, Mark and I looked more closely at her work. The quality and consistency of her work was instantly apparent. We never knew about these professional organizations, or that they represent such a high standard of quality.
Sam-Art by Sandra “Sam” Chavis
It’s a lot about kids.
We knew we wouldn’t have time to visit all the studios on the tour in two days, but when we saw “Sam’s” art in the OST brochure I knew I wanted to meet her. She greeted us with effervescent enthusiasm that is contagious.
Sam makes jewelry.
Entering her studio, we were surprised to find a comprehensive lapidary shop. Sam cuts, polishes and engraves precious stones.
“A lot of people don’t know it, but I start with the rough, raw rock and take it through to jewelry.”
She showed us a large piece of rock in red and green tones.
“This rock is called Sonora Sunrise and comes from Sonora, Mexico.”
Sam went on to show us the steps in making jewelry from stone. The artist must first slice the rock into a slab. Then she draws a pattern or design on it, trims it to the size she wants, and polishes it before it gets wrapped in wire for either design or attachment purpose. I thought the polishing was done by machine, but that’s only partially true.
“The polisher is a machine, all right. But the process of polishing requires that I stand here and manually polish it to create the look I want for the piece. And the rock has to be hard-polished on the polisher before it gets wire-wrapped,” Sam informed us.
Also at Sam’s was a man by the name of Jim Nicholls, teacher from the Puyallup Valley Gem and Mineral Club (PVGMC). Sam got her start working with Jim, so I asked him how long he’d been actively engaged in rock art.
“I did my first rock trip in 1989. Our club does rock hounding trips regularly and offers sessions at the Fruitland Grange for mentoring and on-going training. People who are interested get to use our equipment without making the initial investment. You can find our club on the Internet for more information.”
Moving further around Sam’s studio, Mark and I noticed another kind of rock that looked very interesting.
“This is my ‘Touch and Feel’ display of dinosaur bones. I have a whole display for kids. They love it. And as you’ll see on this rock,” she said, holding a piece up for us to see, “I polish one end so they can see the cell pattern, or structure, in the bone.”
Sam also teaches kids to see the flecks of agate or jasper in the bone.
“I am giving them a little education in fossils.”
It seems that wire-wrapping can be challenging and that Sam has the touch. She demonstrates wire-wrapping to artists who tried and failed. According to Sam, it’s usually because they used the wrong shape and wire.
I thought we’d gotten a real education. But there was still more to learn.
“I have fossil sand dollars. I teach kids where they come from and what they look like coming out of the ground before they are jewelry ready. They have to be 22 million years old to be a fossil.”
At the end of our tour with Sam, we felt that she’d taught us lot. And we really liked her focus on kids. I can see where her enthusiasm would kindle a young person’s interest.
“Oh, there’s one more thing I just found out,” she said. “There is what is called a ‘Shadow Program’ at the schools. One student, when she saw what I was doing, asked to shadow me for a day. She is from a local junior high. This will let me contribute to the community. I’m really excited about that.”
I couldn’t help thinking about the kind of community I was seeing where enthusiasts from the rock club mentor those with a new found interest in lapidary, who in turn mentor kids in our schools. I’m impressed. You will love meeting Sam and seeing the beautiful pieces of jewelry she makes.
How did OST all begin?
Curiosity brought me back to Karen Lucas’s gallery on Graham Hill. I had to know how she got involved in the OST, and here’s what she told me.
“I was originally from Westport, where I founded the Westport Art Festival, which is now in its fourteenth year, and the Cabin Fever Reliever Art Walk. Those are the two main things that I started. I left there and moved to Graham.
“OST was founded originally by a group of local citizens – not all of whom were artists – under the umbrella of Valley Arts United. When I learned that they were about to drop OST, I picked it up. And it’s been going for seven years now.”
When I asked Karen about the future of the OST, she replied, “It’s growing. I’m booking artists now for next year.”
About that time a woman, Cheryl Ann Bush, walked into the studio and overheard Karen and I chatting. Karen stepped to welcome her, but not before Cheryl had heard that part about Karen booking artists.
“I think I’ll do this next year, too,” she said. “I got third-place at the Puyallup Fair Art show for a water color dish.”
“Really,” I said. “Any chance I can get a photo of that?”
“Sure,” she replied.
As I snapped a photo of Cheryl signing the guest book, Karen glanced over at me as if to say, “See what I mean? The OST is growing.”
There will be a gala event with live music and drawings, where you can meet-and-greet the artists at 5:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the Puyallup Fair Grounds: Red Gate. Hope to see you there.
© 2011 Judy Spiers